In recognition of World Water Day, March 22, 2010, Secretary Clinton delivered remarks at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. The event was co-hosted by National Geographic and Water Advocates.
Secretary Clinton said, "Water -- it kind of goes without saying -- certainly deserves the attention it's receiving today. Because in many ways, it does define our blue planet. It's critical to almost every aspect of human endeavor, from agriculture, to industry, to energy. Like the air we breathe, it is vital to the health of individuals and communities. And both literally and figuratively, water represents the wellspring of life on earth.
"Now, of course, water can also bring devastation. Floods and droughts now touch more people than all other natural disasters combined. And inadequate access to water supply, sanitation, and hygiene cause the deaths of more than 1.5 million children each year. Water challenges are most obvious in developing nations, but they affect every country on earth. And they transcend political boundaries. As water becomes increasingly scarce, it may become a potential catalyst for conflict among -- and within -- countries."
The Secretary continued, "And as pressing as water issues are now, they will become even more important in the near future. Experts predict -- and many of you are in this audience who are experts -- that by 2025, just 15 years from now, nearly two-thirds of the world's countries will be water-stressed. Many sources of freshwater will be under additional strain from climate change and population growth. And 2.4 billion people will face absolute water scarcity -- the point at which a lack of water threatens social and economic development.
"But water challenges are not an inevitable cause of crisis. With the right policies and priorities, and with the will, many countries in arid climates are managing water resources effectively. In the process, they are delivering tangible results for their people, encouraging sustainable economic development, and promoting stability across their regions.
"Access to reliable supplies of clean water is a matter of human security. It's also a matter of national security. And that's why President Obama and I recognize that water issues are integral to the success of many of our major foreign policy initiatives.
"The United States is making major investments to combat preventable diseases and improve child survival through our Global Health Initiative. Increasing access to safe drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene will help save lives that are now being lost to preventable diseases.
"Seventy percent of the world's water use is devoted to agriculture, and the outcome of our work to promote global food security depends in part on having a successful water policy and sound water management. Floods and droughts can wipe out crops, and decimate economies that depend on agriculture.
"We are also working to empower women around the world, because depending upon which continent we're talking about, the average is 60 percent of the farmers are women. In addition to that, women who gain access to sanitation, who are freed from the burden of walking for hours each day just to locate and carry water, will find it easier to invest time and energy in their families and communities.
"The stability of young governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other nations depends in part on their ability to provide their people with access to water and sanitation. A lack of water, sanitation, and irrigation we know leads to economic decline, and even can lead to unrest and instability.
"Part of being serious about dealing with and adapting to climate change is about being serious about water. As the earth warms, rainfall patterns can shift, bringing new patterns of drought and flooding. And we need to get out in front of that problem.
"Successful engagement on water can also affect how our country is perceived in the world. We spend a lot of time working on issues such as terrorism and arms control and nuclear proliferation. These are obviously important topics that deserve our attention. But the reality is that they are not problems most people deal with on a day-to-day basis. Water is different. When we demonstrate our concern for the issue, it speaks to individuals on a whole different level. Everyone knows sensation of thirst firsthand. We all have daily personal experience that we can think about and relate to, even if the nature and magnitude of that experience varies widely. Our ability to satisfy our need for water depends on our location and our circumstances. But as a matter of biological necessity, access to safe, sustainable supplies of water is a priority for everyone on the planet."
Read the Secretary's full remarks here.