Senator Durbin – USAID Water Strategy

Senator Durbin – USAID Water Strategy


SENATOR DICK DURBIN: As we meet in this historic
room, and if you have a moment, take a look at the history of this room that’s printed
on the back wall here; a room where they had the hearing on the sinking of the Titanic,
a room which has had the Watergate hearings, Iran-Contra. And in addition, two men announced
their candidacy for presidency in this room. That would be, I guess that’s Chuck Schumer
calling me again. I’ll call you back. [laughter} We’re in an immigration bill mark-up, this
goes on all day. Two men announced their candidacy for presidency in this room, John Kennedy
and Robert Kennedy. And I think back to the first person that I worked for in public life,
who ran for president as well, and that was Paul Simon. He ran in 1988, and this was the
year, of course, with Ronald Reagan’s presidency. And one observer in Washington wrote that
Paul Simon had written more books than some presidential candidates had read. Paul was
an amazing man, did not have a college degree, dropped out of college to become a newspaper
publisher, and published more than 25 books. None of them were big best-sellers making
a lot of money, but each of them in its own way had an insight into the human condition
or history that was unique. And it was about 30 years ago that Paul wrote a book entitled
“Tapped Out”. It was not a big seller. I have a copy; there are still a few around. And
he identified the challenge of water in the world. And it opened my eyes to this issue.
And as the administrator has said, his widow Patty has kept that dream alive, that memory
alive, and I’ve tried to do the same. I was lucky to have two staff people who have
been extraordinary in assisting me, Chris Holman and Aram Abraham, who have helped me
put together some legislative approaches to this. It started in 2005, and it was the Paul
Simon Water for the Poor Act. I picked that, not only because it was his cause, but because
I knew the man well enough to know he would never want a statue erected in his name, nor
a highway or building named after him. But to name a program after him that is helping
poor people around the world, he would consider a fitting tribute — so did I. And that program
got started and grew into a much larger undertaking, thanks to the commitment of this president
and this administration. What has it done? Well I happened to be in
Port-au-Prince a few years ago, and I went to an NGO named GHESKIO. GHESKIO is in Port-au-prince.
Those of you who have been there know it’s one of the poorest places on earth. The woman
who was taking us around on the tour couldn’t wait to show us her knew well, right there,
smack dab in the middle of Port-au-Prince was a well which, to all appearances, was
very simple. But she said, thanks to the Paul Simon program, we have this well. I said what
did this well cost? She said $25,000. And how many people are served by this well?
100,000 people, served by the water from this well, clean water, in a part of the world
where waterborne disease sadly is an ongoing challenge. It was not only honoring the memory
of Paul Simon that led me to do this, but my basic belief that this is so fundamental
when it comes to the challenges of the world. Thomas Friedman reminded us on Sunday in the
New York Times how the political turmoil in Syria had some of its roots in a fight for
water. The battle over the Middle East and its future is hinging on water. The future
of young women around the world depends on water. The survival of babies and other people
all over the world depends on water. I said to Secretary Clinton and to Secretary Kerry,
and I don’t need to tell administrator shop, the United States can define itself its values
and its role in the world, by standing up for things that are so basic and so fundamental
they are apolitical and water is one of those things. If the United States were identified
around the world as the leader in bringing clean drinking water to the poorest people
in the world it would be the biggest breakthrough in terms of the American image to people who
may now even know who were are, and we have done this. [applause] Thank you. I’m lucky to have some great allies.
Earl Blumenauer said we seem to pop up in many of the same places when it comes to these
issues, and Earl thank you. As a Congressman from Portland, Oregon, he has been a real
leader on many, many issues, and thank you for joining us on this, we appreciate it so
much. He deserves a round of applause. [applause} I also want to acknowledge several of my colleagues
who are not here at this moment but have been with me, Christ Coons, an extraordinary new
senator, and, oh, Chris just arrived, hi Chris, didn’t see you sneak in here. But as Chairman
of the Africa sub-committee and a true globalist when it comes to these issues, couldn’t have
had a better friend and ally. And he would say as I will say, Johnny Isakson, Republican
of Georgia, has been with us now, no longer on the committee, but certainly with us on
many of these great issues, and Bob Corker, who was my co-sponsor of this legislation,
making it a bipartisan effort. Let me just close because there are so many good speakers
that you’ll be hearing this morning, to say thank you to each and every one of you, who
in some way, large or small, made this a reality. It’s not often, those of us who are in public
service and public life, can really point to real changes that make a difference. I
saw it in Port-au-Prince in Haiti, and I think we can all see it, all around the world. This
is a cause worth fighting for, and I wanted quote a little closing here that I think was
aptly written by my speechwriter, who put this together for us. She said, the way to
douse the flames of global poverty and disease and conflict is not with fire, but with water,
thank you.

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