public diplomacy

Afghanistan’s Water Crisis

On March 17th, 2017 the Trump Administration put forth its first budget outline.  Along with beefing up military spending and cutting back on government size, this initial budget asks for a 28 percent, or $10.9 billion, cut to the State Department’s funding and international programming. Leaders, such Senator Murkowski, saw this cut to global programs, as having the potential to bring forth a new instability internationally. Others, like Senator Lindsey Graham, criticized the priorities the Trump Administration seems to have, saying that these budget cuts and increases, “come at the expense of national security”. 

In this Trump era, especially with this new budget that increases America’s already swollen military budget, it is evermore important to operate abroad in a way that will satisfy our alliances, while working on our reputation with countries that may not look upon us too fondly. Continuing to build upon the relationships that we have with friendly countries abroad, while fostering new relationships, can work in the interest of American foreign policy initiatives by setting up new areas of allegiance in case of issues that may arise. Here I will discuss the example of Afghanistan to show how working with the population on a local issue can in fact better our relationship with the country, and benefit U.S. foreign policy in the long run.


Afghanistan has been ravaged by wars for decades, which has in turn heavily depleted Afghanistan’s water supply, and has destroyed most of the country’s infrastructure.  Consequently, less than half of the people in Afghanistan have access to clean drinking water.  What is more, more than 20 percent of the rural population practices open defecation in the same rivers where they get their drinking water, this leads to sickness and plays a role in the high infant mortality rate and relatively low average life expectancy that plagues the country. (Afghanistan’s Water Crisis, 2013)

The major advantage of the United States working with the Afghani people to help solve this issue would definitely be to help better the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States. This could become beneficial in the fight against ISIS in the future, by having more support from native people in the region. Especially if this support is bolstered using soft power methods, the Afghani population could be potential persuaded to work with the U.S. not out of fear but out of trust. Historically, the winner in guerilla warfare is usually determined by the support of the local communities. However, sentiment towards the U.S. is still low in the country, especially since one of the wars that ravaged the infrastructure and helped lead to the water crisis the country is currently in was one waged by America.  With this in mind, one proposed solution to the crisis would be working with the rural populations, through village and town leaders, to educate the masses about the importance of water sanitation.

USAID Afghan Sustainable Water Supply and Sanitation (SWSS) agents could meet with these local leaders and provide them with the information and training they would need to educate those whom they lead. The aim would to hopefully disseminate information about the safety issues related to unsanitary water consumption.  By working through Afghani local leaders, the hope would be that we could earn the trust of the heads of villages, while also ensuring the message gets through to people, as it would be coming from leaders they trust, instead of Americans.  Another option, of course, would be a top-down approach that works with the leaders of the country to disseminate information about water sanitation over the radio. However, this would require jumping through the loops of their media censorship by the Afghani government, and the restraints and requirements that would have to be met would probably render this plan not worth the cost.

SWSS had a program similar to this from 2009 through 2012, where they met with village leaders, assisted in education of those in rural areas, helped build bathrooms in villages that lacked them, and worked to achieve better access to clean water for Afghani’s in general. These programs have proven to better the health of the local populations. However, this program ended after 36 months. While it was beneficial, another campaign, like the one mentioned above, would only continue to help foster pro-American sentiment in the country, and assist those Afghanis who still, even after the great work SWSS did from 2009 through 2012, have limited drinking water access.

Campaigns, such as the two described above, may seem loosely connected to public diplomacy; however, these are huge opportunities to allow state department officials, and professionals in the public diplomacy field, to reach out to populations in order to bolster the reputation of the United States.  This could be achieved by grassroots campaigns where officials reach out to local leaders, who can then voice public support for the programs: through this channel work to establish credibility in towns and communities throughout the country. This could be advantageous, especially under the current administration, where so many of America’s past policy stances are being questioned, and the way that the United States interacts with the world has the potential to change drastically.  Grassroots projects where local leaders are invited to advocate for American policy of water sanitization in Afghanistan and spread the word locally in tandem with public diplomacy professionals is one of the best ways to protect the reputation of our country, and ensure support in other endeavors from foreign nations.




13 thoughts on “Afghanistan’s Water Crisis

  1. This is a well-written post that really emphasizes the importance of programs operated by other US government organizations and how they can contribute to PD. USAID is considered a separate government organization, but often works in tandem with their policies, making them a perfect pair in implementing change. Your suggestion to work with local leaders in order to gain support for water operations is inspiring, and hopefully the project will be considered a necessary expenditure!

    Posted by kirstenzee | April 30, 2017, 11:59 pm
  2. I agree with your point that educating and providing resources to get clean water can have positive ramifications for the United States in a public diplomacy sense. I wrote my blog about how the State Department can work with American companies to establish clean water programs. Here it is:

    Posted by Robert O'Shaughnessy | April 30, 2017, 2:50 pm
  3. I think your close look at Afghanistan does a good job of explaining the ways that the U.S. could boost its image and create new relationships by helping with the current water crisis. This topic seems very similar to what Lola was describing in her blog It would be interesting to know where the two of you think your topics intersect and what steps the new administration should take regarding WHD and Afghanistan.

    Posted by Logan Botts | April 30, 2017, 12:38 pm
  4. This is a wonderful example of how the president could use the budget to provide humanitarian aid and make a positive difference in the world. This is also an excellent suggestion as to how to improve relations with Afghanistan. Soft power is influential, and as you have mentioned, will lead to support when hard power is necessary and the US wants to work with Afghanistan.

    Posted by jennacampolieto | April 30, 2017, 11:07 am
  5. Morgan, you are correct in saying the proposed budget by the current administration has been seen as doing more harm than good. In proposing to cut international development programs, the United States could potentially be opening the door to letting organizations that are not friendly to our values gain space in various countries due to their perceived help. Not only is the proposed budget troubling, but also Secretary Tillerson’s comments about wanting to cut staff in the State Department leaves some to wonder if programs will continue to get a thorough look – which they need in order to be a success.

    Posted by Anthony Abron | April 30, 2017, 2:09 am
  6. Since this type of problem is seen throughout the Middle East, it could serve as a cooperation mechanism between the affected countries, considering current conflicts throughout the region. It is difficult to argue for effectiveness of humanitarian aid because it does not have an immediate effect, which is possibly one of the reasons why the Trump administration is heavily investing into hard power versus soft power. This research paper ( goes into detail of effectiveness of humanitarian aid, and links it to promoting development and bolstering economy, which in turn would raise US standing in the region.

    Posted by egorpelevkin | April 29, 2017, 9:33 pm
  7. Your work does a great job of showing the importance of the smaller programs, especially when the standard citizen doesn’t necessarily understand the effects of these programs beyond their standard intention! I think that it ties in well to a piece titled ‘Clean water should be a priority for the State Department’ ( which bolsters your argument~

    Posted by Anna Pokrovsky | April 29, 2017, 6:21 pm
  8. Most media and academic attention to Afghanistan is primarily focused on the United States’ military and hard power interventions in the country. I found your discussion of the need for soft power diplomacy in Afghanistan to not only fill a very necessary gap in the literature, but also to be thoughtfully and carefully researched. I also appreciated that the ideas you propose in this blog are immediately actionable and practical.

    Posted by Allison Crowe | April 29, 2017, 5:16 pm
  9. This post does a good job of indicating how subtle actions and programs by the State Department can go a long way in changing the nature of foreign audiences’ relationships with the US. Humanitarian work that empowers local leaders can create trans-national relationships that benefit both sides. This article shows how much of USAID work may be cut under the new budget.

    Posted by brettm17 | April 29, 2017, 1:32 pm
  10. Well thought out and provides an a good look at the new US attitudes toward foreign aid.

    Posted by Jeff Altman | April 28, 2017, 6:06 pm
  11. Interesting perspective, important message, humanitarian, incorporating positive, forward thinking ideas

    Posted by Claire Altman | April 28, 2017, 4:52 pm
  12. It’s very interesting to bring up how the U.S. should be increasing relations with Afghanistan through the lens of the Trump Admin’s budget. While you don’t explicitly say that the Trump administration should redefine its budget to appropriate more money to education and mutual understanding programs, you do a good job at intimating that Trump and his administration needs to rethink just spending money on the military as national security. This article from NPR also does a good job at detailing the new budget:

    Posted by melissaholzberg | April 28, 2017, 4:27 pm

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