As you know, the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act was signed into law in late 2005 by President Bush, making water and sanitation priorities of U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, Congress did not see fit at that point to fund the Act, making the Act basically the same as the President writing "Water is Important" on the back of a cocktail napkin and moving on. But it was a start - and water remains the only Millennium Development Goal that is officially a priority of U.S. foreign policy.
This lack of funding was rectified when the President signed into law the omnibus spending bill a few days ago, in which the following language was included:
"Provided further, That of the funds appropriated in this Act, not less than $300,000,000 shall be made available for safe drinking water and sanitation supply projects, including water management related to safe drinking water and sanitation, only to implement the Senator Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act of 2005 (Public Law 109-121), of which not less than $125,000,000 should be made available for such projects in Africa."
This is important for two reasons: it's give-or-take $100m more than last year, and more importantly the statutory language above makes it at least more likely that the taxpayer dollars will be invested in longterm safe drinking water and sanitation programming, and not sunk into Iraq, Afghanistan, or disaster response. The legislation essentially says "keep going with those other things, but re-emphasize the importance of longterm capacity-building for water and sanitation where the need is greatest." The most important word in the statutory may well be the "only."
Rep. Payne recently said, in support of precisely this sort of appropriation, that it's the "Water for the POOR Act, not the Water for the WAR Act." Although it is too early to tell how this will turn out, this is clearly a huge step in the right direction and I will be tracking progress closely.