We’ve been busy this fall, with events on both coasts touching on issues from civil liberties, national security and terrorism (with the Kennan Institute); to the global migration crises and human rights, and its impact both in Washington State and internationally (a Jackson School conference); to “Water and Security in an Uncertain World” with the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.
I’ll focus in on one of these provocative sessions today. In the packed half-day, public and private event on water security on the East Coast in October, the Jackson Foundation joined with the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program to address what Foundation President John Hempelmann termed “the close intersection of climate change, national security, and water.” Sherri Goodman, former Deputy Undersecretary for Defense and a current Wilson Center Public Policy Fellow, concurred and called water “the front line of climate change.”
The two sessions assessed the risks to water security globally and explored responses to both ongoing problems and short-term water crises. Lieutenant General Jeffrey Tailey (ret) lamented that “many people are indifferent to water security, which often takes a crisis to make us respond adequately.” When asked how to generate both interest and policy progress to ensure greater action on water security and water rights, Christian Holmes, Global Water Coordinator, U.S. Agency for International Development, talked of generating a long-term strategy: “You need to tell a story to engage people. We haven’t been delivering a narrative.” This approach could also help interest a U.S. President or Congress in taking more decisive action.
Foundation Vice President Craig Gannett noted in remarks seconded by many that the U.S. has historically – even in Senator Jackson’s day – not done well in water management in its own backyard. “We are not a great model for the world,” he cautioned, even as this program focused primarily on international water concerns in regions such as South East Asia, Africa and the Middle East – and often on America’s leading role in the water management field abroad.
Ken Conca, American University Professor, raised the need to extend robust human rights protection to people advocating for water rights: “Water is one of the real fulcrums for multiple goals – rights and democracy,” he stressed. Sherri Goodman highlighted the reverse side of the importance of water: “Water can be a source of strategic instability,” exacerbating international conflicts and worsening human rights violations globally.
Roger-Mark de Souza, director of the Environmental Change and Security Program at Wilson, in closing the session, sought to pull together the threads of policy suggestions from the discussion. He reiterated that major national reports, including the September 2016 Presidential Memo on Climate and Security, as well as the World Bank 2016 Climate Change Action plan, had raised to the highest policy levels the links between climate, security and water. It is through gatherings such as this that water, climate, and national security will continue to be assessed and pushed forward to the front burner of the policy world.
We’re excited that our programming is diverse, and this program on water, climate and security concerns keeps us focused on critical policy issues that matter to the Jackson Foundation.