THE HILL

Byline: Susan Barnett

We tend to think of hunger as the absence of food, but far more often it is the inability of the body to absorb nutrients due to other illnesses. And far too often, these other illnesses and diseases have a shared root cause:

Water -- filthy, disease and parasite-ridden water, to be exact.

When the U.S. invests in reducing hunger and increasing global health and development, it is vital that WASH (water/sanitation/hygiene) always be included in the plan. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) understands this well. He recently inserted a few, very key words into important legislation currently proposed in Congress that will improve the efforts of developing countries to build resilience to food shortages caused by natural and manmade disasters. In addition to helping these countries create stable and secure food supplies, the bill would also help them improve child nutrition and health.

A plug for passage of the House Global Food Security Act (H.R. 1567): When “one of every three dollars invested in development progress is lost when a crisis hits” [Ebola-Free, but Not Resilient” New York Times, May 10, 2015] this legislation is not just a good idea. It’s a smart investment.

But any global health and development legislation is not a smart investment if access to safe water and sanitation is neglected. Poe wisely amended the House Global Food Security Act to address the “underlying causes of malnutrition, including lack of access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene.”

His amendment to H.R. 1567 recognizes the large and growing body of evidence that demonstrates the lifesaving link between access to clean drinking water and sanitation and child nutrition. It may be 2015, but 17,000 children under five continue to die – every single day – from mostly preventable disease and illness, like diarrhea and pneumonia. Both are directly linked to the lack of access to safe water and sanitation, as are some 50 different illnesses and diseases.

Poe’s amendment will help improve the nutritional status of children. It will save lives, and it reduce the incidence of lifelong stunting, which leaves children physically and mentally disabled for life.

Poe’s amendment will help reduce the costs of sickness, both medical costs and lost productivity for impoverished families; and students will miss far fewer days of school.

Poe’s amendment will help women and girls. Millions must walk miles every day to find any water for their families, and it’s often unsafe. They must wait until the cover of darkness to find a bit of privacy to meet their biological needs. This burden of gathering water and the absence of sanitation is physically harmful to their bodies and puts them in danger of being attacked and raped. It forces girls to leave school to help their mothers and keeps mothers from earning additional income for their families.

As an original co-sponsor of the Water for the World Act passed last December, Poe recognized that it is within the strategic interest of the U.S. to more effectively and efficiently provide access to safe drinking water and the dignity of sanitation to people living in some of the poorest regions of the world. It’s no less true that more effectively and efficiently ensuring food security is also vital to U.S. interests.

Thank you, Rep. Poe, for reminding all of us that without safe water, we cannot alleviate hunger or poverty, control disease, improve the global economy and create viable trade partners. Every global ill demands this one element that is so vital to all life that anything short of it undercuts success. Every person, every village, every country needs access to safe water and sanitation. We raise a glass of clean water in your honor.

Barnett is a former award-winning network news investigative producer. She consults with nonprofits on strategic communications, working at the nexus of media, faith, and social justice. She is founder of Faiths for Safe Water, which seeks to unite the faith voice around the single symbol shared by all religions.