Harris unveils White House plan to address water scarcity as a national security priority

Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday unveiled a first-ever White House plan to address water security as a foreign policy priority in light of the ever-tightening global water supply.

The plan commits U.S. leadership to lead efforts to ensure there is enough water to support food supplies and health systems. As part of this initiative, the US government will also spearhead ways to defuse potential conflicts over access to water, Harris said.

Water-related conflicts are increasingly common around the world, with supplies coming under increasing pressure from climate change, urbanization and population growth. Research has shown that global warming is intensify the water cycleleading to more severe droughts and floods.

“Water insecurity makes our world less stable,” Harris said at the White House, noting that water scarcity makes it harder for communities to produce food, protect public health and boost Economic Growth. “Many of our most fundamental national security interests depend on water security.”

According to the United Nations, approximately 2 billion people live in countries where water supplies are under severe pressure.

In many agricultural regions in the world, from India to California, water tables are depleting due to intensive pumping, leaving water reserves in aquifers to diminish. Many parts of the world also lack adequate water infrastructure, with a estimated at 2.2 billion people living without access to a safe water supply.

The White House’s latest plan builds on other Democratic-led investments in water infrastructure in the United States, including the bipartisan Trillion-Dollar Infrastructure Act that included $63 billion in provisions for eliminate lead pipes, improve drinking water and support drought resilience.

As a “California girl,” Harris recalls her own experience growing up in the midst of extreme drought and watching the Oakland Hills landscape “turn from green to brown.”

“I remember how unsettling it was to imagine how our access to such a basic and essential resource as water, how it could become so uncertain,” she said. “It is a reality that more and more people in our country experience and understand this problem every day.”

She noted that about 90 million Americans are living in drought conditions, with the onset of summer still weeks away. By 2030, Harris added, almost half of the world’s population will struggle to meet their water needs.

Water-related conflicts are on the rise internationally. The Pacific Institute, an Oakland think tank, follows water conflicts every year around the world and has seen a dramatic increase in violence against water resources. Droughts in India and Iran in recent years, for example, have led to more conflict over access to water. And water infrastructure has been targeted or damaged in fighting in Iraq, Yemen and other countries.

Samantha Power, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, cited Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an example, with attacks on the country’s water supply leaving nearly 11 million Ukrainians without access to drinking water.

The limited water supply has also become a growing challenge in the western United States. Scientists have found that since 2000, the western United States has endured its driest 22-year period in at least 1,200 years.

“Water scarcity is a global problem and it needs to be addressed through a global solution,” Harris said. “So today we are making it clear that the United States will be a leader in the solution.”

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