Water. It is the world's most essential commodity, and yet most of us take it for granted. We have only to turn on our faucets for clean, plentiful water. Bottled water lines our grocery aisles and water fountains can be found in most any park. But for nearly a billion people worldwide, many of them women and girls, this ubiquitous access to water remains only a dream.
Today, I was joined by nearly 300 people in the State Department's first ever six-kilometer "Walk for Water." Why six kilometers? Because this is the typical distance that a woman in the developing world walks every day to collect water. Many walk further.
As nurturers and homemakers, women bear the overwhelming responsibility of finding and collecting water for their families. For many, this means spending more than 15 hours a week carrying heavy loads of water.
But the effects of this crisis reach far beyond the physical hardship of collecting water. It keeps girls out of school and women from more productive economic activities. And often the water that these women carry for many miles is not even safe to drink. Dirty water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene kill over 5,000 people every day, mostly children.
But there is hope. Women are not just victims -- they are change agents and their own best advocates. When women and girls are involved in decisions about the use of water resources, they find innovative ways to create economic opportunities that can dramatically improve their health, access to education, personal empowerment, and living conditions for their families.
The United States is working to make these types of solutions possible around the world and is among the world's leading bilateral donors in the water sector. We know, however, that we cannot do this alone. That is why on World Water Day last month, Secretary Clinton signed a Memorandum of Understanding among the State Department, the World Bank, USAID, and nearly twenty other agencies declaring a mutual commitment to collectively address the growing water crisis and find long-term sustainable solutions to this daunting challenge.
So today, we came together -- U.S. government employees and their family members, NGO representatives, students, media, the diplomatic community, and interested citizens -- to walk in the footsteps of the millions of women in the developing world who collect water each day.
We walked so that children no longer die from preventable water related diseases, so that girls no longer fear going to school for the lack of a toilet and so that no woman has to spend most of their day collecting water for her family. We walked towards a future in which clean water is no longer a luxury but a standard.