Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a U.S.-Hosted United Nations Water Conference Side Event Titled “Stronger Through Water”

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 24, 2023


Good evening – wow, this is a – good evening, everybody. [Applause.] You guys are tired? Did we keep you too busy today? [Laughter.] Let me start by welcoming all of you to the New York Public Library. This is such a special venue for this important event. Mayor, I’ve been planning to come to the library since I got here to New York, and I didn’t do it, so I look forward to coming back for a real visit.

But before I get my remarks started, I just want to extend my sympathy to one of the co-hosts of the UN Water Conference, Tajikistan, where a horrible earthquake took place – and to express our deep sadness. Our hearts are with you and with your people.

Tonight, we’re fortunate to be joined by local, state, federal, and international leaders. In particular, Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for co-hosting this event with me, and for being such a strong partner for all of our UN initiatives. And Assistant Secretary Medina – thank you for making the trip to New York, and for bringing a special guest with you, and for all you do to advance clean water – I see you over there in the corner – clean water initiatives.

Let me tell you, it’s been a while since I felt this kind of buzz at the UN. This morning, I saw lines of people waiting to get into the conference stretched around the block! I hope none of you were in those lines [laughter,] because I think most of the people who were there are still in line – because they were long.

I think there’s so much pent-up demand because we haven’t had a UN Water Conference since 1977. That’s right – 1977. It’s hard to believe. And it’s long overdue. And I’m sure that many of you in the room weren’t even around in 1977. I was. [Laughter.]

For most of us privileged to live in New York, we don’t have to worry about whether our water will turn on in the morning, or whether we’ll have access to sanitation services.

But not everyone around the world, including too many people here in the United States, enjoys such certainty or confidence.

As we speak, billions of people across the globe lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation, or regularly face water scarcity. Billions – that’s with a “B.” And here’s the most troubling part: we’re headed in the wrong direction.

A 2022 study by the University of California Los Angeles estimated that almost half of the world’s population will suffer severe water stress by 2030. For me, this isn’t an abstract problem.

Over the course of my life, I’ve seen the impacts of water issues with my own eyes. My home state of Louisiana is facing the devastating consequences of rising sea levels. And as a refugee coordinator stationed in Africa, when I was a bit younger – I met with countless refugees who didn’t have enough water to meet their basic drinking, cooking, and sanitation needs.

In my current role, I have traveled to so many countries where conflict and climate change have ravaged water supplies and exacerbated food security.

The water crisis is a humanitarian crisis. It is a security crisis. It is a moral crisis. And it is a global crisis – one that demands global cooperation. And the UN Water Conference is a perfect venue for such cooperation.

It’s an opportunity to come together around shared goals – and to turn our shared goals into concrete actions. Because it’s not enough to simply talk about what needs to be done.

As President Biden likes to say, “Don’t tell me what you value, show me what you budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” For our part, the United States is committed to action, to making major investments in water security – at home and around the world. And we are excited to show you our budget.

Just yesterday, I was proud to announce that the United States is committing 49 billion dollars toward equitable, climate-resilient water and sanitation investments. That’s 49 billion. [Applause.]

This announcement builds on the first-ever White House Action Plan on Global Water Security. The Action Plan laid out an innovative and unified approach that brings together U.S. diplomatic and development tools, as well as science and technology, to respond to rising global water insecurity. And this plan engages civil society and the private sector to support a more water-secure world for all.

Since the launch of the Action Plan, our targeted investments have helped provide more than 5 million people with water and more than 6 million people with sanitation. Eighty percent of those reached with sanitation services had never had access to sanitation.

Here’s what these numbers tell us: it’s within our power to stamp out water insecurity.

To ensure farmers have enough water to grow their crops and feed their communities.

To ensure that children can wash their hands and fend off disease.

To ensure the water that comes out of people’s sinks is safe and reliable.

These are basic needs. They are fundamental to health, to peace, and to life. And it’s on us – all of us – in government, civil society, and NGOs, to build a future where water flows freely for all.

So let me end by thanking all of you for being here – thanking you for your commitment to that brighter future. With that, I want to welcome – the mayor.

Mayor Adams the stage is yours. [Applause.]