330. Paper Prepared in the Department of State1


The Government of the United States of America is committed to playing an important part in the International Decade for Drinking Water and Sanitation and, in accordance with the Action Plan adopted by the Mar del Plata Water Conference2 and the decisions of the Third Special Session of the Committee on Natural Resources and ECOSOC,3 is prepared to share its experiences with other governments and to assist interested countries in upgrading their drinking water supply and sanitation facilities.


Few issues of public policy offer a greater complexity than those associated with water resources and water management. In the U.S., the availability of good quality water is considered a necessary element of an acceptable standard of living. At the same time, increasing efforts are under way to bring together science, technology, economics, management skills, and political awareness in order to assure responsible planning and management of our water resources.

The advent of the International Decade for Drinking Water and Sanitation is serving to raise the consciousness of every nation to the need to adopt not only national plans but also to examine the possibilities of regional and global cooperation in this vital sector. The United States welcomes this opportunity.

Water in the U.S.A.

In the United States, adequate safe drinking water is accessible to most of the population. The quality of drinking water is now generally high, but this has not always been the case. As recently as seventy years [Page 1106] ago the United States was plagued by massive outbreaks of typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and other waterborne diseases. With the development of improved treatment techniques for sewage and drinking water supplies, including drinking water disinfection, epidemics have been eliminated.

In a 1974 law, Congress required that public water systems supply safe drinking water.4 Each of the fifty States had to adopt new drinking water standards at least as strict as national standards and had to conduct adequate monitoring and enforcement programs. To help the States meet their responsibilities, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was directed to provide financial and technical assistance.

The United States has recognized the importance of safe drinking water and sanitation. Through diversified programs, the problems of water pollution have been studied and solutions to solve these problems established, but the problems are not completely solved. It is recognized that more research and interagency coordination are needed. While much progress concerning water management has been made in the United States, many problems remain to be solved during the coming decade.

U.S. Policies and Programs related to Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation for Developing Countries

At the Mar del Plata Water Conference, it was agreed to “increase attention to” community water supply and sanitation for the world’s poor over the decade of the 1980’s. The U.S. has committed itself to support the principal objective of the Water Decade, which is to provide safe water and sanitation facilities for all by the year 1990. U.S. participation will be carried out both multilaterally and bilaterally with developing country governments.

U.S. participation in the Water Decade will be government-wide, involving many of the agencies and departments which have responsibility for domestic water policy as well as those principally involved in international assistance. The International Development Cooperation Administration (IDCA) will develop policy and coordinate bilateral assistance programs for the U.S. Government. The principal operational instrument for bilateral assistance, however, will be the Agency for International Development (AID).

The Peace Corps also will make a major contribution to the bilateral assistance effort. This agency has long experience working with water, sanitation and related matters in rural villages and can supply [Page 1107] technicians trained to work with villagers in their native language to resolve problems at the village level.

AID and the Peace Corps have agreed to consult and collaborate as closely as possible in future programs so as to combine creatively the technical resources, expertise and funds of AID and the rural community based practical experience of the Peace Corps.

The U.S. Government in its bilateral programs will focus on rural and peri-urban water supply and sanitation where it perceives the greatest need. In the U.S. view, the proper strategy is to seek to improve the availability and quality of water in conjunction with primary care and efforts to increase food supplies in order to improve both health and the general quality of life.

Accomplishment of that goal requires not only supplying funds, material and technicians to build water supply and sanitation systems. Equally important is the training of village workers and the development of community participation in the planning and management of projects so that there subsequently may be adequate monitoring and maintenance of facilities. Without such training and maintenance, expenditures on facilities may be wasted. Training in health and hygiene is another essential component if water supply development is to benefit fully the community concerned.

Also essential in the U.S. view, is that water supply and sanitation projects, whether small or large scale, should be planned carefully within the context of overall water management including supplying of water for agriculture and industrial use.

The U.S. plans to increase significantly its contributions to multilateral agencies and bilateral programs in support of the UN Decade for Water Supply and Sanitation. The magnitude and trend of existing bilateral programs reflect the strong support of the U.S. for the objectives of the Decade.

Currently, the U.S. is carrying out a broad based assistance program in water related development. Expenditures by AID for investments in water projects will increase substantially in the course of the decade. In addition to actual water supply and processing programs, the U.S. supports related programs such as water-disaster assistance; environmental health training; land conservation and natural resources management; and development of new energy technologies, including remote sensing applications. All these activities have water components and, thus, are relevant to U.S. involvement in the Decade for Drinking Water and Sanitation.

In its future assistance efforts, the U.S. will seek opportunities to promote Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries. This policy will include the use of third country consultant firms to implement projects, support for training programs located in developing [Page 1108] countries, employment of third country nationals for water projects, procurement of materials in third countries, increased co-financing of aid projects by the U.S. and middle income countries to be carried out in third countries, and the use of U.S. owned local currencies to fund TCDC projects.

The Congress has passed legislation which calls for the establishment of a new Institute for Scientific and Technological Cooperation.5 When funded this Institute plans to undertake programs of research, training and institution building in a variety of development areas, including water resources management, agriculture and environmental planning.

In order to increase U.S. effectiveness in assisting developing countries to develop their water supply and sanitation facilities, new approaches must be formulated, tested, evaluated, and improved. Coordination and cooperation among multilateral and bilateral agencies, non-governmental organizations and technical cooperation among the developing countries themselves can help greatly in this process. In addition to AID, other U.S. agencies carry out activities which can support the objectives of the Decade. These include: technical assistance for assessments, program planning and project development; manpower development at all levels; institutional infrastructure development; financing of materials, equipment and services; research on implementation and evaluation methodology; collection, evaluation, selection and dissemination of technical information; and impact studies on the relationship between water, sanitation and health.

The United States believes that developing countries participating in the Water Decade have an excellent opportunity to improve greatly the dental health of their populations by incorporating fluoridation capability in their new water systems. The U.S. will assist governments desiring this improvement to include it in community water supply projects.

On the basis of the best available data, which are unavoidably sketchy, the UN estimates that providing a billion rural people with “safe” water and improved sanitation will cost at least $44 billion (1977 prices). Of this, about two-thirds would be provided by the developing countries themselves, while the remaining one-third would come from external sources.

The U.S., through its contribution to multilateral agencies, through its own bilateral activities and those of private organizations, plans substantial support for water and sanitation projects over the Decade, [Page 1109] subject to funds being appropriated by the U.S. Congress and on the assumption that:

a. Developing countries accord high priority to such projects and commit themselves to cover an appropriate share of the costs over a sustained period.

b. Other governments and international financial institutions are prepared to provide substantial support for these projects.

The U.S. Government believes safe water will have many direct as well as indirect benefits, including:

—Improved health by protection from infection from ingestion of unsafe water.

—Improved health from increased availability of water for more frequent washing of persons, clothing, and household effects, thus resulting in better home and personal hygiene.

—Better nutrition since food utilization is inhibited during diarrhea which often is caused by waterborne organisms.

—More productive labor and ability to work harder for longer hours.

—Increased life expectancy because of less disease caused by contaminated water.

—Saving in labor and time if water is more conveniently supplied, thus freeing people, particularly women, to do other things with their time and thus improve the quality of their lives.

In summary, the United States stands ready to do its part. We fully support the objectives of the Water Decade and plan to provide technical assistance and additional funds for the Decade.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of International Organization Affairs/Health and Narcotics Programs 1980 Health Files, Lot 83D343, Box 3, HLT 80 WHO—Programs Water Decade; UN. No classification marking. Drafted in AID/IIA/IA and IO/DHP.
  2. The Action Plan is printed as a portion of the Report of the United Nations Water Conference, Mar del Plata, 14–25 March 1977 (United Nations publication: E.77.II.A.12)
  3. The third special session of the Committee on Natural Resources was held in March and April 1979 to follow up activities related to the Mar del Plata Conference, specifically, those related to providing safe drinking water and sanitation. At its meeting in July and August, ECOSOC took note of the Committee’s report (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1979, pp. 671–674)
  4. Reference is to the Safe Drinking Water Act (P.L. 93–523), which Ford signed into law on December 16, 1974.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 328.