Sunday, April 22, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere

I am finding that the real world is having a real deleterious effect on my blogging.  Working backwards, I attended a USC Center on Public Diplomacy briefing in DC on Water Diplomacy last monday.  The event was a follow-up program to the Water Diplomacy conference that CPD hosted in LA earlier in the spring.  The program opened with CPD Director Prof Seib discussing the notion that public diplomacy is not about advertising but rather service.  He also made a good point related to niche diplomacy about how it can both reduce global maladies while advancing national interests.

The discussion continued with The World Bank's manager of Water and Sanitation projects  Jaehyang So.  She noted the necessity of access to water for green growth, and that lack of access could cause serious issues to developmental growth.  She pointed out that 2.5 billion people around the globe lack access to clean sanitation, some 600 million in India alone (fyi, more people in India have cell phones than access to clean sanitation).  So noted about water access as shaping innovation differently, for example using cell phone based mobile app to map water points.  She also discuss a program called the Water Hackathon, and the role of using networks to address water access issues.  This program essentially crowd-sourced support to deal with water access issues ("Random hacks of kindness").

So also pointed out about how evidence collected is being used to inform policy goals.  For example, there is a 6.4% loss of GDP in India due to lack of clean sanitation, so getting policy makers to appreciate that it isn't just an issue of development but also economics.  There was also discussions about partnerships in the 21st century focus on dealing with such issues, and seeking out public/private partnership as a means to address the surrounding issues.

The next speaker was Katherine Bliss the Director of the Project on Global Water Policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  She discussed such policy measures as the 2005 Paul Simon Water for the Poor.

Next my friend Naomi Leight, who is CPD's Asst Director for Publications and the driving force behind the program spoke on what public diplomacy tools can help address water issues.  She spoke about the need for listening, and hearing the interests of the communities affected not just our own interests.  She also spoke about the role of international exchange and tech training.  Furthermore, she highlighted the role that pd's advocacy can play is raising the issue of water access.  Naomi pointed out that the U.S. invested $3.4 billion in water aid, the 4th largest of any country.  She forwarded the notion that as a long term goal, the US can be a leader in coordinating international working groups on water issues.

During the Q&A session, we heard about some work that VOA is doing regarding a $300,000 campaign to use its radio broadcasts and expertise to help with access to water (I think- unfortunately, the details escape my notes).

I asked a question related to the fact that this was a good middle power niche diplomacy issue, and asked which countries were using access to water as a niche issue for PD focus.  The answer was a little muddied. The Netherlands, which had a rep on hand at the meeting, is doing a lot of work on issues of access to water.  Other countries like Germany and Spain are investing in water aid.  I think the issue of desalinization as a niche diplomacy issue could be a good issue for countries like Kuwait, which does a lot of work on desalinization.  Israel has done some PD development work on water issues and drip irrigation in its developmental aid through MASHAV.  But in short, there don't seem to be any countries that have internalized the need to make water a central niche diplomacy focus.

On the whole, the program was quite good.  I applaud CPD for putting on a fascinating program that really had the full conference room brimming with thought and discussion.  CPD did a nice job convening experts and academics together to have a tangible discussion on a significant issue.  I raise my glass of DC tap and offer a cheers to CPD for a great program.

PS: there was an interesting 5 myths piece in WaPo a bit back on Water that is also worth a read.

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