December 19, 2007
Today, hunger, poverty, and desperation remain prevalent throughout much of the developing world. If we are to live in a 21st century more prone to peace than violence, the developed countries must move expeditiously to address the developing countries’ requirements for energy, water, and agricultural production. The availability, accessibility and affordability of energy, water and food supplies are vital to the economic development that is required to alleviate global poverty, to reduce global tensions, and to address global environmental degradation.
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The challenge ahead is to ensure adequate supplies of energy, water and food to the billions of people currently deprived of these necessities. The needs of the developing countries cannot be met by following the historical pattern of development in the industrialized countries. Growing concerns over resource availability and the potential adverse environmental consequences of following historical industrialization patterns lead to the conclusion that the world is on an unsustainable growth path. In order to address such issues, the International Energy Agency recently concluded that "unprecedented cooperation will be needed between the developed and developing regions, and between industry and government". The magnitude of the challenge is immense and requires urgent actions.

Without a radical change in policies in the developing and developed countries, there will still be about the same number of people without access to electricity (1.5 billion) and the same number of people continuing to rely on non-commercial biomass fuels (2.5 billion) in 2025 as today. This will occur even if the developing countries consume almost 60 percent of the growth in global energy supplies and increase their share of global energy supplies from 30 percent today to over 40 percent in 2025.

Similarly, by 2025, over 60 percent of the world’s population will continue to live in countries with significant imbalances between water requirements and supplies, largely in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Today, over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion do not have access to improved sanitation.

The UN estimates that only one-third of the world’s population of 6 billion enjoys a nutritional food supply, while one-third is severely undernourished and one-third is over consuming. This means that almost two-thirds of the world is facing health problems related to either an inadequate or unhealthy diet. Dietary-related health problems are most likely to be exacerbated by the world’s growing population.

Energy, water and agricultural issues are inexorably bound together. Energy production is a major user of water as well as essential to the supply of water. Agriculture consumes over seventy percent of available water supplies in many countries and there is a growing tension between the production of agricultural crops for energy and food. Energy, water and agriculture problems stem from many of the same issues:

- Insufficient financial resources

- Inefficient usage or production

- Inadequate institutional arrangements

- Lack of coordination between sectors

- Lack of political commitments

- Inadequate human resources

- Insufficient community involvement

- Inadequate operations and maintenance

- Insufficient information and communications.

While the UN, the World Bank and numerous other developmental institutions and individual countries are addressing a number of energy, water and agriculture issues relating to sustainable development, it would be timely for the United States to undertake a private/governmental initiative to develop a Marshall Plan for Energy, Water and Agriculture in Developing Countries. Recognizing the many agencies and organizations already working on these issues, the Plan would entail a sharply focused approach, concentrating on individual countries receptive to the concept, and on working in conjunction (rather than competition) with other organizations. In each country a holistic approach would be taken to analyzing the interfaces between the three sectors and an inclusive collaborative dialogue would be undertaken in preparing the specific recommendations and investment programs

The Plan would be developed as follows:

1. Public and private institutions should use proven means of bettering the world through economic cooperation and development.

2. A senior executive corps in the service of creating a better world should provide much of the human resources for the transfer of techniques, procedures and know-how.

3. An extensive list of institutions should be compiled, that could provide capital to support energy and water infrastructure development.

4. Assistance should be provided on a country-by-country basis with specific time frames for assistance in each country.

5. The participating countries would assume responsibility for the development of work schedules, national costs and personnel associated with the development of their individual country reports.

6. In the participating countries, processes and plans would be established for developing energy, water and agriculture resources in a complementary manner increasing the probability that environmentally sustainable economic prosperity can be achieved in a world facing a growing scarcity of resources.

7. Each participating country would assume responsibility for the implementation of plans within its own territory.

The initial proposal for creating a Marshall Plan for Energy, Water and Agriculture has been developed by a working group organized by the Atlantic Council. The proposal should now be refined with input from U.S. government agencies, interested industry groups and private institutions. (At a later date, it might be appropriate to expand input and participation to include key experts from the European Union, Japan, developing countries and development banks.)

Input from the above groups would also be used to determine an appropriate organizational structure for managing the Plan activities. The long-term magnitude of the proposal and its potential to impact relations with developing countries and international lending institutions suggest that the U.S. government should assume responsibility for implementing the Plan.

A steering committee would be established to provide continuing oversight to the process and to the development of reports, recommendations and plans emanating from the participating countries. The Atlantic Council could assume a major role in coordinating the work of the steering committee. Oversight by such a steering committee is critical to obtaining the commitment and support of major international financial institutions, supporting governments, and private corporations and foundations.

The Plan activities are envisioned as creating a network of public and private institutions capable of raising the investment capital required to assist in the development of clean, affordable and viable energy, water and agriculture programs in selected developing countries. The Plan would initially be focused on a few (3-4) countries and over time be expanded to other countries based on success with initial participants.