Water action planOn June 1, 2022, the White House unveiled its Action Plan on Global Water Security, spearheaded by Vice President Kamala Harris. The White House aims to help achieve water security domestically and abroad, citing the connection between water and U.S. national security interests. In particular, five countries that need the water action plan will benefit from gaining access to clean water and reducing deaths.

Three Pillars

The White House said it views water security as “sustainable access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as water to sustain ecosystems and for agriculture, energy and other economic activities.” 

The water action plan focuses on three pillars to implement its goals:

  • Increasing the U.S. role in attaining universal water security and ensuring sustainability without increasing carbon emissions.
  • Encouraging sustainable practices for managing and building water resources and ecosystems to build economies and cooperation.
  • Utilizing cooperation among organizations like the G-20 Summit and the U.N. to achieve water security.

While the plan did not specify nations, five countries that need the water action plan especially are Angola, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Papua New Guinea.


Angola is a southern African country with a population of roughly 35 million. Only about half of Angolans have access to basic sanitation and clean water. In 2020, the U.N. reported that access to both had stagnated, hampering the efforts to achieve SDG 6 by 2030.

Malaria deaths account for over 11,000 deaths in 2020. In addition, Angola has one of the highest child mortality rates, with 71.5 of every 1,000 live births dying before age 5.

Water treatment is just one way to curb malaria and child mortality in the country. Investments from the water action plan could fund water treatment and basic sanitation services, especially in rural areas.


Like Angola, Somalia is on the U.N.’s list of least developed countries (LDC). Clean water and sanitation services are not easily accessible in the eastern African country, as only 32% of the population used a sanitation service in 2020. In a country of roughly 15 million people, this amounts to more than 10 million people without that access.

Somalia is also amid a severe drought. The U.N. estimates that Somalia is heading toward the fourth year in a row without a successful rain season. This has devastated Somalia, with over 100,000 people relocating to find access to water.

The White House highlighted the link between global water security and national security. Somalia is a prime example: In 2014, at the height of its civil war, the terrorist group al-Shabaab used “water terrorism” to further the conflict between the citizens and the Somali government. By cutting off such a crucial resource, tensions flared, and anger toward the government grew, furthering the war.

Somalia could benefit from the water action plan’s funding to expand water access and treatment, which could have a resounding impact.


Somalia’s neighbor to the west shares its water insecure status, as well as being one of 46 LDCs, according to the U.N. Ethiopia has been the focus of foreign aid for decades, stemming from the Ethiopian Civil War in the 1970s.

Ethiopia met its Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for clean drinking water, the precursor to SDG 6. Since 1990, it has slashed the percentage of people without access to clean drinking water in half, with 57% of people having access to clean drinking water. This success comes from the government-run water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program.

Still, Ethiopia struggles with sanitation and waterborne illnesses, contributing to child mortality rates. According to UNICEF, the lack of treatment and sanitation of water contributes to 60% to 80% of communicable diseases in Ethiopia. In terms of child mortality, this level of water insecurity leads to 70,000 deaths of children under 5 years of age each year.


Uganda is also on the U.N.’s LDC list. Uganda has stagnated on SDG 6, with only 55.9% of the population having access to drinking water.

Sanitation is one of the critical issues surrounding Uganda’s water crisis. In Uganda, 8.8 million people practice open defecation, contaminating the natural water supply. According to the nonprofit, 28 million Ugandans lack access to safe sanitation services, which plays a vital role in SDG 6.

The White House’s water action plan could help enrich existing aid programs through the U.S. Agency for International Development, giving 750,000 Ugandans access to clean water and providing resources to become open-defecation free.

Papua New Guinea

Though not on the LDC list, the Sustainable Development Report finds that Papua New Guinea still needs essential water services. Only 45.3% of Papua New Guinea’s citizens have access to clean drinking water, and only 19.2% have access to sanitation services. The U.N. reports that only 30% of the population can access soap and water at home for a hand washing facility.

According to UNICEF, 30% of the population use surface water daily. This likely correlates with illness and poverty among those who contract waterborne diseases.


The White House Action Plan on Global Water Security could help these five countries in desperate need of aid to create stability and health through water and sanitation services. The World Bank estimates that global WASH programs and infrastructure would cost $35 billion to maintain each year, according to a White House report.

While more funding is called for, USAID committed to $1.2 billion in aid for three years to strengthen global water security. The water action plan is a step in the right direction and provides a starting point for these five countries and others to achieve water security.

– Emma Rushworth
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Rainwater Harvesting Systems
With a rapidly growing population and unpredictable climate, the citizens of Kenya find themselves in an increasingly dire situation of water insecurity. However, a few recent innovations using rainwater harvesting systems are taking key steps towards changing that and eliminating water insecurity in Kenya.

In a population of 46 million people, nearly 50% live below the poverty line. To make matters worse, an extreme weather climate means that the country at times enjoys plentiful rain and an abundant water supply, while at other times drought leaves much of the country with little water.

The resultant water insecurity in Kenya means that many — particularly women and children — spend as much as one-third of their day walking to get water. In times of extreme drought, citizens can be forced to walk more than nine miles in search of fresh water.

Several non-governmental organizations in Kenya and abroad are currently working hard to end this trend and create innovations to combat water insecurity in Kenya.

The Africa Sand Dam Foundation, along with several other organizations, have begun partnering with communities to build rock catchment systems that can be used as effective rainwater harvesting systems during Kenya’s wet seasons.

The system uses naturally occurring rock outcroppings to divert the rainwater into a large collection tank where it can be saved and stored for later use. Using the new system allows villages to collect upwards of 90% of the total rainwater in the area and because it uses no chemicals or fuels, the system has very little environmental impact.

Experts who’ve developed the infrastructure work closely with local villagers to teach them how to build and maintain the system. Each village also has the opportunity to form a committee to oversee the construction and maintenance of the system, ensuring that it will be used properly and continue to be efficient long after the experts have left.

This new method has the potential to dramatically change the situation of water insecurity in Kenya since a consistent, reliable water source will allow citizens to be more productive and focus their energy on other areas instead of spending much of their day searching for water. Many schools have already seen benefits and many no longer have to ration water during lengthy dry seasons.

Since the rainwater is run through a filter embedded within the system, the number of waterborne diseases has also been dramatically reduced and places that have begun to use the system have already seen improvements to overall health.

Water insecurity in Kenya isn’t the only thing being improved by these new innovations either. The village committees that oversee the systems are also able to sell some of the excess water that is collected that they can then use to invest in other projects.

One village, for example, earned $160 from selling water that they used to purchase ten goats for the community. The goats can then generate their own income that results in a multiplying effect within the community. The end result is a drastic improvement to the overall health and welfare of the community and an avenue through which these communities can lift themselves out of poverty.

Water insecurity in Kenya is a significant, ongoing problem that for years has hindered growth in the country and left Kenya’s citizens at the mercy of the weather with few resources to combat their situation.

New rainwater harvesting systems currently being developed have the potential to reverse this problem and provide the people of Kenya with the help they need to make the necessary push towards development. The hope is that in time the entire country will have consistent access to clean water and the ability to thrive without development assistance.

Sara Christensen

Photo: Flickr

How World Rowing Is Changing Poverty

Clean water is a very important part of people’s lives. However, for many poorer nations and communities around the world, access to clean water is limited. Some people have to travel for several miles just to find drinkable water. Many individual people and organizations have tackled this problem, but there is no singular solution to having clean water.

In 2011, World Rowing, the international organization, for rowing began a project with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to give to disadvantaged people the vital thing that makes the sport of rowing possible: water. The alliance began as a way to educate people about the importance of clean, fresh water, not just for humans but also for the environment.

WWF and World Rowing further developed this movement to find an area where water was endangered the most by various threats to water security. Some such threats include the effects of pollution, industry, agriculture, flooding, damming, hydropower, other ecosystems and human consumption. The resulting location was the lower water basin of the Kafue River in Zambia. This basin is a key area for economic resources, but it is also an important home to wetland wildlife and the main source of clean water for locals.

The issue at hand is how to reconcile the importance of the water basin with the harmful environmental effects. If people were to stop using it for industrial and agricultural purposes, the area would lose a large portion of its economic support, which could throw more people into poverty. However, if industry pollution and pesticides continue to contaminate the water, then there will be no safe drinking water.

The project has two goals that, if reached, can help end water insecurity and poverty. The first is to create a world-class water research center at the Kafue River Center. The center will team up with universities and researchers from around the world. Here they can study the effects of pollution, various ways to clean water, the balance of industry and wildlife and much more. The results found here will be open to the public, so that all water sources can benefit from the research.

The center’s second task is to provide a meeting place for all the people involved with this water project and other similar projects around the world.

While the project will do work to clean up the water in the Kafue Basin and provide cleaner water for the people, the research done at this center will help the world. It is a local project with a potentially global impact that can help solve the issue of water resources and poverty by finding a balance for all of the uses of water. The research here will hopefully solve the problems of water usage and water access, problems that keep people in poverty. It will be a balance that can provide sustainability and allow people to bring themselves out of poverty.

Katherine Hewitt

Sources: World Rowing, World News
Photo: International Water Security Network

Dryland ecosystems are classified as having long periods of drought with very short seasons of intense, heavy rainfall. They cover approximately 40 percent of the earth’s surface, particularly in developing countries, where 1/3 of the global population lives.

Drylands have extremely limited access to clean drinking water. However, there has been a recent surge in the construction of sand dams, currently the most cost-effective technology in water collection.

Sand dams combine ancient rainwater collecting techniques, everyday building materials and local manpower to collect clean water that would otherwise become runoff, carrying away fertile topsoil essential to subsistence farming. A moderately sized dam can supply over 1,000 people with a consistent supply of filtered water, even during the year’s driest seasons.

According to reporter and producer Russell Beard, “A sand dam is a reinforced concrete wall built across a seasonal riverbed. Over three or four rainy seasons, sand is washed downstream and deposited in the reservoir behind the dam wall, which stores up to 40 percent of its volume as water. The sand slows evaporation, filters the water, and protects it from contamination by livestock or disease-carrying mosquitoes.”

Timber, rocks, cement, sand and water are the only raw materials needed to build a sand dam, all of which are supplied by donor funding. Local community members work together to build the dam structures and the women and girls are usually deemed responsible for water collection.

Excellent Development, a UK based nonprofit organization, has devoted its entire efforts to distributing sand dam technology to dryland areas, in hopes of providing stable water security to poor, rural populations all over Africa.

Excellent Development published a report, Sand Dams: The World’s Most Cost-Effective Method of Conserving Rainwater, which outlines the desperate need for sand dam construction.

The report states, “Drylands cover approximately 40% of the world’s land area and support 80% of the world’s poorest people, mostly in the rural areas of Africa and Asia. Approximately 10% of drylands display symptoms of land degradation: Water scarcity, sparse vegetation, soil erosion and nutrient depletion; further diminishing the ability of ecosystems to absorb and store rainwater.”

Sand dam construction not only provides clean drinking water, but also replenishes local ecosystems, increases food security and promotes community cooperation.

Executive Director of Excellent Development Simon Maddrell said, “Sand dams are the most cost-effective method of rainwater harvesting known. They have the potential to provide communities living in dryland areas with a clean local water supply for life, even during periods of drought. We know how much this is needed, especially in dryland areas of the world – where 80% of the world’s poorest people live. We also know that access to water in these areas is likely to worsen: Climate change is already altering rain patterns, creating more droughts, more floods and shorter, more intense rains.”

To date, Excellent Development has pioneered the construction of 838 sand dams, planted 935,000 trees, dug 1.5 million meters of terraces, built 43 community seed banks, built 51 school water tanks and brought fresh, filtered water to nearly one million people.

– Hanna Darroll

Sources: UNDP, The Water Project, Excellent Development
Photo: Excellent Development