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One Step Closer to a World Where the Poor Have Safe Water

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Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee showed great political and moral leadership by passing the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2011 (S. 641).

In moving this vital piece of legislation forward, the committee has prioritized creating a world in which all can live with dignity and in healthier and safer surroundings.

The committee's unanimous vote in favor of the Water for the World Act continues a great tradition of bipartisan support for safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), building on passage of the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act in 2005. This law recognized the critical role of these very basic services in meeting the rights and needs of people everywhere and made them a foreign policy priority of the United States.

The Water for the World Act aims to save more lives by doing better with what we already have, focusing on the poorest of the poor, and improving transparency and monitoring of programs so we can be confident we're having the biggest impact. In other words, increasing our impact without spending new money.

Widespread support for the bill, which is led by Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as being endorsed by more than 50 NGOs and faith-based organizations working on poverty reduction, applauds its affordability. The ability to prevent more needless suffering and deaths without increasing the dollar amount spent is logic that's difficult to argue with.

What's more, expenditure on this crucial sector leads to healthy economic benefits for the world's poorest communities. Investment in water, sanitation and hygiene services yields a return of $8 in saved health care costs and increased productivity for every $1 spent, a rate of return few other development interventions can match. The use of taxpayer dollars to address such basic needs will make the world a better place and serve as an expression of the compassion of the American people. As a senior State Department official said at the Frontiers in Development conference in Washington, investment in such programs that address the seeds of poverty provide the groundwork for stability and security.

We at WaterAid, the largest NGO in the world focused exclusively on providing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services, join with many partners in calling on the full Senate to quickly pass the bill, and for the House to follow suit.

Recently, I was one of the CEOs of 33 U.S.-based organizations who sent a lette to the House of Representatives asking for their support of the House version of the Water for the World Act. This letter was followed by one signed by more than 30 faith-based organizations, including World Vision, Catholic Relief Services and the Unitarian Universalist Services Committee. We are proud to be in the company of so many partners who recognize that they cannot succeed in their missions without successful water, sanitation and hygiene interventions.

Lack of access to clean water and improved sanitation stops children from going to school, keeps women out of work, and contributes to the two leading killers of children under the age of five years old worldwide -- pneumonia and diarrhea. These crises are undermining public health as well as condemning millions of people to live in poverty.

We urge you to join us in showing support for the human right to water and sanitation by asking your Members of Congress to support the Water for the World Act today.