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Senate Approves $19.1 Billion in Disaster Funding After Years of Climate-Fueled Disasters

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Flooding in Winfield, Missouri this month. Jonathan Rehg / Getty Images

Update, May 31: Another Republican Congressman has foiled a third attempt by House Democrats to pass a $19.1 billion disaster package Thursday, Reuters reported. The Senate finally passed the long-delayed bill last week before lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day recess. The House has tried and failed three times since then to pass the bill by unanimous consent before Congress people return in early June, at which point it is expected to pass easily. The House did manage to pass a temporary extension of the national flood insurance program, which was set to expire Friday.

The Congressman who blocked Thursday's passage was freshman Tennessee Representative John Rose, who objected to approving such a large expenditure without a full vote, The Washington Post reported. Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the objections of Rose and two other Republicans for holding up aid long-awaited by the survivors of various climate-change related disasters that have beset the U.S. in recent years.


"We were sent to Congress to solve problems, not to make them worse," New York Democratic Representative and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey said, as The Washington Post reported. "Yet House Republicans have again delayed desperately needed relief for American families and communities — even as tornadoes and storms continue to hit the Midwest. It is beyond comprehension that anyone would think 15 minutes of fame is worth making disaster victims, like those in flood-battered Tennessee, wait even longer for the help they need."

President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.

"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.


The bill passed the Senate 85 to 8 Thursday, just after a tornado warning sounded in the Capitol building, The New York Times reported. It also included $900 million to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria, something Trump had initially objected to.

"It's a good deal," Republican Alabama Senator and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard C. Shelby told reporters, as The New York Times reported. "This disaster issue has played on for months and months."

House leaders say they will try to pass the bill Friday using unanimous consent. Though if anyone objects, they will have to wait until representatives return from the Memorial Day recess in early June.

The bill is intended to meet the needs of Americans who have suffered the impacts of extreme weather events largely influenced by climate change. Global warming made some of the precipitation-heavy storms responsible for record Midwest flooding more likely, sparked the hot, dry conditions behind California's deadly 2018 wildfires, and played a role in the intensity and rainfall of Hurricanes Michael and Maria respectively.

Congress has not passed a disaster relief bill since February 2018, before Hurricanes Michael and Florence, California's 2018 wildfires and record Midwest flooding this year. Such bills usually pass quickly with bipartisan support, but this time there were difficulties, as Trump initially opposed more funding for Puerto Rico and then requested money for the influx of asylum seekers at the U.S.'s southern border.

"Each time the president messes in, things get messed up," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, as Reuters reported. "So I suggested this morning that we just do disaster aid and no border, and that's what we're doing ... We got all we wanted for Puerto Rico."

While negotiations continued, some food aid to Puerto Rico had expired in March, The New York Times said. The new bill includes more nutrition assistance for the island, Reuters reported.

CNN gave a run-down of the bill's contents:

A summary of the bill written by the office of Sen. Pat Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations committee, said the deal included more than $3 billion to "repair damaged infrastructure" and to "reduce the risk" of floods and hurricanes in the future, about $3 billion to "rebuild our military bases and coast guard facilities," $3 billion to support farmers, $2.4 billion for Community Development Block Grants to "rebuild and mitigate future disaster," $605 million for food benefits to Puerto Rico and an additional $304 million in aid to Puerto Rico.

The Senate said it would tackle funding for the humanitarian situation at the border after the recess.

"Some of this money is badly needed, and there's no dispute about that," Leahy said, according to Reuters.

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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