The flags on the capital were at half-staff for Monday’s Oklahoma tornado victims as I began circling the Old Senate Office Building looking for where to go in. Three quarters around I came upon a queue of dyspeptic government types. But, directly in front of me there was a young man, who had a flyer that let me know he was also bound for the USAID Press Conference.
“What is your mission to the Water Policy meeting?” I inquired nodding to the paper in his hand.
“Oh,” he said brightly “I am from BIG-Name-Brand-NGO and happened to be in the Capital this week; so, I thought I would go.
“I am a volunteer looking for new ways to fund sanitation projects with ‘Charitable Bonds” in Guatemala.”
“Are there such things?” he asked.
“Not exactly… My Wall Street ‘Source’ told me that the Nature Conservancy of New York and Rudolf Steiner Foundation had recently funded land buys and school construction. And, she allowed that, in this economy, public private/partnerships are a necessary trend in municipal funding. And, she thought that an entity like USAID or the Canadian CIDA might guarantee the Bonds instead of forcing the NGO to put their own Balance Sheet on the line. She cautioned me that a big hump for NGO’s is the cost of filing because underwriting a Bond Issue and selling in all states it is an expensive proposition.
He asked me which NGO’s I was tracking in Guatemala and then he told me, cryptically, that USAID was only giving out “IQC’s.” As we made our way to the coffered, gold leafed, chamber he explained that small NGOS would probably have to band together and form consortium in order to even be considered for an Indefinite Quantity Contract. These contracts are only awarded to giant NGO’s because they are able to deliver the minimum and can live with a capped contract since it promises them the follow along work if there is any.
USAID’s initiative was driven by the Senator Paul Simon 2005 Water for the Poor Act that made water management part of Foreign Policy. Undersecretary of State, Robert Hormats told us that “State Failure” can follow from short sighted water policy. This is a real “security issue;” particularly in a time of crisis like drought or flooding. Mr. Hormats said that for every $1 spent for sanitation $9.00 worth of value accrued. Speakers would tell of the global strategy with two concrete and specific goals: First, water for health – give communities access; and, second, water for food. Policies will support “climate smart” strategies for agriculture going forward. USAID will now be using “evidence based approaches” and measuring results. There are 2.5 million people living without sanitation. USAID was proud of the innovation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and thanked them for their partnership with “entrepreneurial projects” like the Foundation’s Toilet Challenge. Coca Cola was also praised for its “new way of working” with USAID.
Women and the time they loose and dangers they face came up in three speeches.
“Women waste 200 million hours gathering water,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the “Global Water Coordinator.”
“Two thirds of the world population is in water distress and we are seven billion people heading for nine by mid-century.”
There were photos and stories of projects in Africa, India and Haiti but not one mentioned Central America.
One speaker would let us know that, “Not all resources are given to ‘strategic countries.’”
Another would tell us that the budget for USAID is less than 1% of the Federal Budget. And so, I began to wonder if any little NGO’s would participate in USAID’s Development and Innovations Program. And, when, I looked into what measures favored the Euphrates Valley over, say, Motagua it seems that the politics of the country and the attitude of the local leadership play a large part in determining which countries are favored. Perhaps, this explains why Guatemala has not been a USAID priority and, more importantly it predicts why that status is not likely to change.