Remarks by Vice President Harris at Global Water Security White House Action Plan Event
By: White House: Office of the Vice President
Indian Treaty Room
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
12:03 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you, Sonia. And this whole — what a powerful group of American leaders. I’m honored to be with all of you this morning and in this fight. So thank you, each one of you, for the work that you are doing.
I was remembering and talking with my team about how even when I was in the Senate, you know, we would talk about this issue in some of the committee hearings when we were reviewing nominees, and the connection between this issue and national security. And people laughed it off. “Oh, is that a serious issue? Is that — is there really a connection there?” And it’s only been a few short years, where people are — because of the — the extreme nature of it and the rapidity of the — of the time that has passed, in terms of the escalation of the issue, that people are finally understanding what you all have been working on for years and years and years. So, thank you for that, and to everyone here.
So, as many of you know, I am a daughter of California. And as a result, many things have probably flowed from that — pardon the pun — but one of them has been: I have been, my entire life, acutely aware of the reality of water scarcity.
I remember I was, I think, 12 — in middle school, about that age — 13 — when we experienced an extreme drought in California. And I remember watching in the Oakland Hills, northern California, the landscape turning from green to brown. And everyone — from my mother, our teachers, the radio DJs — KDIA “Lucky 13” — (laughs) — saying how important it was to conserve water.
And we understood that each of us had a personal responsibility, no matter our age, to take the matter seriously and to understand that with the extreme nature of the harm that results from drought, we each have a personal responsibility that may include and require some sacrifice. And I remember how unsettling it was to imagine how our access to a resource so basic and essential as water, how that could become so uncertain and we could not take it for granted.
It is a reality that more and more people in our nation are, however, experiencing and understanding this issue every day.
As our planet warms and weather patterns change, extreme drought is becoming increasingly common.
At this moment, about 90 million Americans are living under drought conditions. And the start of summer is still weeks away.
Across the West, we have seen the terrible cost of the climate crisis. And I have visited many of the places where we have seen the wildfires, where families have lost their homes and their loved ones, where entire communities have been wiped out.
I have met with and talked with the firefighters. My brother-in-law is a firefighter in California. And many of them who work 24-hour shifts in some of the most dangerous conditions that you can imagine to keep us safe.
Farmers and agricultural workers who lost their livelihoods because the rains just simply did not come. And communities who have felt firsthand how the economic impact of water scarcity ripples out, driving up prices and driving a real sense of urgency about what also results in terms of lack of opportunity.
And that’s not all. Our nation also faces water insecurity challenges beyond those driven by climate change.
For decades, of course, our country has chronically underinvested in water infrastructure, depriving many communities of reliable access to safe drinking water.
Take the issue, which many of us worked on together, of lead pipes. Lead is a poison. For adults, drinking water contaminated with lead — it can lead to an increase in blood pressure and a decrease in kidney function. For children, it can stunt growth, slow down learning, and cause irreparable damage to the brain.
And yet, today, as many as 10 million households get their water through lead pipes and service lines in America, as do up to 400,000 schools and childcare facilities. As a result, our country today — in this country, more than half of children under the age of six are at risk of lead exposure. Obviously, this is unconscionable and utterly unacceptable.
Every person in our nation deserves access to clean water, and every community in our nation deserves water security.
As a United States senator, I introduced legislation to advance smart water policy, to invest in efficiency and recycling technology, and to take on the problem of lead pipes.
Over the past year, I have met with many world leaders to discuss these issues — from the King of Jordan to the Prime Minister of Vietnam, to the President of Israel.
Our administration recognizes the urgency of water security, which is why our President, Joe Biden, invested over $63 billion in our nation’s water infrastructure through the bipartisan infrastructure law to put us on a path to remove every lead pipe in our country within the next 10 years and to fund water efficiency, water reuse, and groundwater storage projects — hopefully emphasizing underwater storage projects — in communities across our nation.
In addition, our administration has made drought resilience a priority. Today, we are releasing the one-year report of the first ever Drought Resilience Interagency Working Group. It will help chart our nation’s path forward to a more sustainable future.
Since we took office, our administration has made important progress in protecting water security here at home. We also recognize how important it is to extend that work beyond our nation’s borders.
Today, billions of people around the world do not have access to clean, safe water. And in the coming years, climate change, population growth, urbanization, and environmental degradation will only drive that number higher.
By 2030, almost half of the world’s population will struggle to meet their water needs. Think about that. Almost half of the world’s population will struggle to meet their needs — to have access to water. And it will, of course, have then a profound impact on America’s interests around the globe.
Water insecurity makes our world less stable. When water is scarce, it becomes more difficult for communities to produce food, as these experts have talked about, more difficult to protect public health and to drive economic growth. This, in turn, as has been discussed, can lead to mass migration, which can put significant pressure on neighboring communities.
Water insecurity also makes our world less safe. Disputes between countries or communities over limited water resources can, predictably and by extension, over time provoke armed conflict.
So let’s get in front of this. Let’s take it seriously. Let’s understand the various ramifications of this issue. And let’s also deal with the reality that within the variety of issues that are presented, there is the issue of equity — because finally we know that water insecurity makes our world less equitable.
Think about it this way: In many countries, the responsibility for collecting water disproportionately falls on women and girls. Worldwide, women and girls spend 200 million hours a day — 200 million hours a day — gathering water.
That is 200 million hours that could have been spent — we often, around this place, talk about opportunity costs; let’s have that discussion.
It is 200 million hours a day that could be spent by those women and girls in school, at work, or at home with loved ones. And unless we take action to make water more accessible for communities around the world, that number will only grow in the coming years.
So it comes down to this: Many of our most fundamental national security interests depend on water security. And that is why, today, we are releasing our Action Plan on Global Water Security.
This Action Plan will cement America’s role of leadership on water security issues. And it will do so first by fully committing our nation to the collective fight to provide access to safe water, hygiene, and sanitation services in every community in every country.
Second, by sharing our world-leading water data, which we are collecting on the ground, literally, and through satellite technology — collecting that data and sharing it, and technical expertise that comes with that, with the international community to help manage and preserve global water resources.
And third, by using our nation’s considerable diplomatic resources — the great leader of USAID; we have so many leaders — to elevate water security as an international priority.
This action plan will help our country prevent conflict and advance cooperation among nations, increase equity and economic growth, and make our world more inclusive and resilient.
The past two and a half years during the pandemic have demonstrated that our world is more interconnected and interdependent than ever before. Water scarcity is a global problem, and it must be met with a global solution.
So, today, we make clear: The United States will be a leader in the solution.
Thank you all for your partnership in this fight. Together, I know we will create a future in which every person and every community has access to our world’s most precious resource.
Thank you all. (Applause.) Thank you.
END 12:15 P.M. EDT