The Ripple Effect

Posted by Maria Otero
October 15, 2010
Kenyan School Children Walk With Water Bottles

About the Author: Maria Otero serves as Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs. Under Secretary Otero has worked for the last year responding to the Secretary's call to elevate water issues in the U.S. foreign policy agenda and on the global stage.

Many of us have happy childhood memories of our school playgrounds -- if you think back you can picture the scene: groups of friends, carefree games in the sun, perhaps a pause to grab a drink of water. All innocence and fun.

But for me, what should have been an innocent playtime turned into something much more serious. When I was nine, growing up in my native Bolivia, I paused one day from a particularly active game during recess to quench my thirst at the school tap. What I didn't know was that the water was contaminated.

The price I paid for that innocent drink of water was a serious bout of hepatitis and three months of missed school. Unfortunately, this type of story is all too common in the developing world. While I was lucky to have access to good medical care and I recovered, around the world 4,500 children die each day from water related diseases. This is something we must change.

One of the reasons I became inspired to work on water issues is because of the impact small changes can have. Just as a pebble thrown in a pond creates huge ripples, so too can small modifications in infrastructure and behavior have a tremendous impact. Providing school children access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene has a much wider effect -- children remain healthy and stay in school, more of the population is educated, communities thrive and local economies improve. This illustrates just one aspect of why water issues are so critical.

Indeed, water represents one of the great diplomatic and development opportunities and challenges of our time. At the State Department, Secretary Clinton has made water issues a top priority, and has asked USAID Administrator Shah and me to lead our efforts on “five streams of action” to approach international water issues.

First, we are helping to build capacity at the local, national, and regional levels. We encourage local and country-led water and sanitation plans. Second, we are elevating and better coordinating our diplomatic efforts. Currently, more than 24 UN agencies, development banks such as the World Bank, and financial institutions are engaged on water issues. Third, we are helping to mobilize financial support. Small investments have had large impacts on water security. In Ecuador, USAID supported the establishment of a trust fund, which now has grown to $6 million, for the future protection of Quito's watershed. Fourth, science and technology are major pieces of our strategy. For instance, research has created new methods for disinfecting and storing drinking water, waste water treatment, desalinization, predicting floods and droughts, and improving the productivity of water for food and economic growth. Fifth, we are broadening the scope of our partnerships. Just as we are reaching across the U.S. government, we also need to incorporate relationships with NGOs and nonprofits, who are vital implementers and advocates, as well as the private sector, which contributes great technical expertise and capital to face water challenges.

I am proud to be part of Blog Action Day organized by to highlight the issue of water. In the year ahead, I will be writing monthly pieces to share stories of my work on water issues.

This is just a start though -- we need to build on the ripples created by our blogs so that we can achieve a world in which no wars are fought over water, no children die from water-related diseases, and clean water is no longer a luxury but standard.

Related Content: Why Water Matters and Raising Clean Hands: How WASH Is Essential for Achieving Universal Education



Pamela G.
West Virginia, USA
October 15, 2010

Pamela G. in West Virginia writes:

What a touching story. It is so true. No Mother should have to worry about finding clean water for their children. This should be a top priority of world leaders.

Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
October 15, 2010

Patrick W. in Maryland writes:

Hopefully, New Technologies will make things better. So this Wouldn't Happen Again.

Virginia, USA
October 15, 2010

Jen in Virginia writes:

Clean water is something we take for granted here in the USA. I applaud the efforts of Secretary Clinton and the State Department to improve global water sanitation.

California, USA
October 15, 2010

Jordan in California writes:

The issue of water scarcity is becoming an increasingly more prevalent issue in industrialized countries. Only 2% of the world's water is fresh, in that 2% only .59% is Groundwater,.014% Temporarily stored in lakes, rivers and plants and the rest is temporarily stored in snow fields and glacial ice. Essentially the only water we have available to fuel our societies and rapidly growing population is less than a percent. LESS THAN A PERCENT!

From a human scale the amount of water we see in in a river or a lake is adequate, but from a global its practically negligible. Negligible like the numbers you push aside when doing calculations. Negligible like the uncertainty you put on a laboratory number. Negligible means that is not important enough in the bigger picture. However, for us, all 6.9 billion of us this half of a percent means EVERYTHING. We need to conserve our most precious half percent of the world. If we continue to break the cycle that filters this half of percent of we will seize to exist. If we continue to pollutant the only half of a percent that we have we will seize to exist. The Earth has the ability adapt to live without this negligible less than 1 percent, the Earth has done it before. It's us who we have to worry about, we have to conserve our small amount of precious resources that we have.


United States
October 15, 2010

O.C. in the U.S.A. writes:

Water is such a unifying theme as water molecules maintain a sort stickiness through its distinct molecular bonds not found in other elements. Using water as a unifying concept and developing a whole national science curriculum around water could help the developing world ensure and install water systems throughout a developing area. Using 13-18 year olds as the water quality police to check, install and maintain systems is an excellent way to ensure and train a future army of water specialists and medical personnel. A water curriculum could include all aspects of water viability from A-Z including parasitic infection, management and water systems. If a community can maintain the cleanliness of its own water source and this is multiplied exponentially throughout a region, soon a country's water source is stabilized. Schools can send their water testing data to a national data bank so that potential outbreaks or diseases can be quickly monitored. When students are given important and responsible work it improves their self esteem and prepares them for a life of national service. Students are the army needed to save a developing country. Use their time, intelligence and positive outlook to make a lasting and positive change to the developing world.

Lions I.
Illinois, USA
October 15, 2010

Eileen O. in Illinois writes:

Wonderful post about water issues. Lions around the world are also working to provide clean water, and change the lives of villagers in Africa:


Eco l.
Texas, USA
October 15, 2010

Eco in Texas writes:

Thank you for sharing your story. I believe in ripples too.

New York, USA
October 18, 2010

Christine in New York writes:

VIDEO on the human impact of climate change: "".

Water – whether too much or too little – is often the heart of the problem. ""

Piet O.
October 20, 2010

Piet V.O. in Bolivia writes:

Thanks for sharing your thought. Although I am not a Bolivian, I blogged about Water in Bolivia for Blog action Day. ""

Alyssa T.
District Of Columbia, USA
October 25, 2010

Alyssa T. in Washington, D.C. writes:

On the bright side, I think it is clear that the "ripple" is already taking place. More and more groups are becoming vocal about the need to ensure access to clean water. The inclusion of clean water access in the Millennium Development goals is a sign that this is a priority. Hopefully, with new technology that can create efficient filtration, and increased awareness on preservation, there will be greater access to clean water each year. The fact that by simply providing clean water we can greatly decrease a plethora of waterborne diseases should be stressed as the long-term benefits. So much aid is dedicated to treating diseases that should have never come about in the first place.


Latest Stories

October 18, 2010

DipNote: The Week in Review

Writing for the U.S. Department of State DipNote blog, Managing Editor Luke Forgerson reflects on the events of the last… more
October 18, 2010

Innovation and American Leadership

Writing for the U.S. Department of State, DipNote Bloggers highlight U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remarks on innovation… more