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This White Paper addresses the growing global challenges of dealing with the devastating effects of increasing water scarcity and declining water quality. Across the planet, in developing and developed regions alike, poor governance and mismanagement of natural resources coupled with rising population growth, increasing urbanization, and economic development have led to a growing imbalance between water supply and demand. This imbalance is reaching crisis proportions in many regions. It will have even more significant consequences for economic development, stability and security unless the there is a more dramatic and urgent international response. Several international forums have arisen to address just this issue. The question remains how the United States could and should engage these forums and formulate a response to the world’s freshwater challenges. The goals of this White Paper, therefore, are to (1) make the case for elevating the response to global water challenges as a strategic priority; (2) identify the most effective responses to global water challenges; and (3) explore U.S. policy options, current and future.
From previous experiences across the planet, it is clear that institutional capacities in governance systems across the world (varied as they are) must all be strengthened to adequately address the magnitude of future challenges involving water. Improving governance will enable and facilitate the development of strategies and responses engaging the full range of available water-related technologies—from high-tech, high expense to low-tech, low expense. Solutions across that range exist today and must be deployed at new and greater scales in order to reduce the impacts on public health, economic development, environmental degradation, and political stability. Continual effort and investment is needed to develop as-yetunknown technologies, policy approaches and synergies that could jumpstart new solutions in the decades to come. Policy and technology must evolve together to effectively link innovative strategies with innovative technologies. For these reasons, this White Paper emphasizes the development of strategies to address current and future global water challenges with a specific focus on governance and technology and the critical linkages between the two.
This paper is organized in four parts to explore the three goals outlined above. Section One describes the nature and scope of the global water challenges that face the world. Sections Two and Three explore potential areas for innovation and synergy in policy, governance, capacity building, and the application of technologies. The paper culminates in Part Four with an examination of how the United States should integrate water into its foreign policy.