Why water is key to beating poverty

Story highlights

  • Almost 750 million people around world don't have access to clean water
  • Dick Durbin, Pete Wentz: Investments in water programs make world safer

Dick Durbin is the senior U.S. senator from Illinois. Pete Wentz is a member of Fall Out Boy, which will be performing Saturday at the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day event in Washington. The views expressed are their own.

(CNN)Extreme poverty is one of humanity's grave injustices. Across the world, more than 1 billion people live on less than $1.50 a day for all their needs -- food, housing, medicine, water, sanitation, everything. What's more astonishing is that 748 million people around the world do not have access to clean water. And 2.5 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation -- that's one out of every three individuals on the planet. Think about that for a second.

We might seem like an unlikely team of authors to write an opinion piece together. But we are an example of what can be achieved when people from different backgrounds unite to help promote a solution to a global issue. In this case, it's access to water and sanitation, one of the best ways to address extreme poverty and save lives.
Ending extreme poverty requires tackling the global water and sanitation crisis, a valuable investment in public health that will help protect people from diseases such as Ebola and cholera. Doctors Without Borders explains that disease outbreaks are more likely to occur in areas where hospitals have poor infection control and limited access to running water. In West Africa, for example, this lack of access to water and basic sanitation has made responding to Ebola slower and riskier for everyone involved.
    Dick Durbin
    All of us agree that no child should suffer through stunting or lifelong chronic illnesses because he or she doesn't have clean drinking water. And this year, the U.S. Congress can help millions more people to stay healthy by increasing funding for water and sanitation programs.
    The United States is a key global leader in funding for water and sanitation programs. In December, President Barack Obama signed the Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act into law. The legislation was led by a bipartisan coalition and was endorsed by nearly 80 nongovernmental and faith-based organizations. The bill was passed unanimously by the 113th Congress.
    Water for the World builds on our country's leadership on water and sanitation efforts. Rather than creating new programs and bureaucracy or spending any new taxpayer dollars, the Water for the World Act makes foreign assistance more efficient and effective. It ensures that programming around water and sanitation is focused on the poorest communities in the world.
    Pete Wentz
    But we can't stop there. Now is the time for Congress to increase funding for these programs. We need to support countries such as Indonesia, which is working to achieve universal access to water by 2019 (bringing clean drinking water to more than 40 million Indonesians). And on Saturday, Fall Out Boy will join the Global Poverty Project and Earth Day Network at Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day on the National Mall to call on Congress to increase its funding for water and sanitation programs, as we know we cannot end extreme poverty without this support.
    Although U.S. federal spending on foreign assistance amounts to less than 1% of the total U.S. budget, it contributes to our national security, benefits our economy and fulfills America's deepest moral values. U.S. investments in water and sanitation programs make the world healthier, safer and more economically viable.
    We're not asking Congress to solve the situation alone. And we recognize that the United States has been a leader on numerous issues related to extreme poverty. But we are saying there is more that can be done to ensure every woman, man and child has access to clean water and sanitation.
    By increasing investment in critical water and sanitation programs, the United States can continue to demonstrate its leadership abroad.
    Water works. Let's make sure it's available to everyone.