Clean Drinking Water

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 28th March 2007.

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Photo of Gordon Banks Gordon Banks PPS (James Purnell, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions 11:30 am, 28th March 2007

What measures his Department is taking to provide clean drinking water in developing countries.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

We will double our investment in water and sanitation in Africa, where the millennium development goal is most off-track, to £95 million a year by 2007-08, and then more than double our funding to £200 million a year by 2010-11.

The Department for International Development's global call to action on water and sanitation is pushing for more investment, for money to be better spent and for the right structures to be put in place to help to make that happen.

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Precisely how is this money going to be spent?
Are you aware that a model for improvement such as Ashkelon, Desalinisation Water treatment Plant, Israel
could be a very good long term investment?
D Collins 29/03/2007

Submitted by david collins

Photo of Gordon Banks Gordon Banks PPS (James Purnell, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that the voluntary sector and the Churches have a significant role to play in providing clean water in developing countries? May I bring to his attention one such project, which is run by Auchterarder parish church in my constituency? Through its endeavours, it is providing clean drinking water to 1,000-plus people in the villages of Debele Kejima, south-west of Addis Ababa. Will he take time to come to Auchterarder to speak to Stewart Robertson and other people from Auchterarder parish church to see the good work that they have done and are planning, and to see their future plans on sanitation and hygiene education, which are vital to developing countries?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I will do my best to accept my hon. Friend's kind invitation to visit his constituency. I congratulate the members of the Auchterarder parish church on the efforts that they are making. In the fight to bring clean water and sanitation to more of our fellow human beings, we need all the help we can get.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee

As the Secretary of State will know, the Select Committee on International Development is about to publish a report on water and sanitation. Sanitation itself is often under-valued. It is key to achieving many of the millennium development goals. Will he undertake to ensure that his Department's money goes to training and educating people in developing countries to enable them to deliver appropriately water and sanitation and to enable the millennium development goals to be achieved?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point. I look forward to receiving the report when it is published. People tend to focus on water and to forget about sanitation. What we really need are taps and toilets. He is right that education is important. That is why, in investing in education, we ensure that we invest in toilets in schools. As we know, without toilets, girls will often not go to school as they get older. Those programmes include education about the importance of washing hands. On a recent visit to Malawi to see one such programme, we saw a brand new toilet block that we helped to fund with our development assistance. There was a big sign over the seat that said, "Now wash your hands." That makes precisely the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

Further to that question and answer, may I ask my right hon. Friend to recognise the role of women in African villages in the management of water and sanitation projects? Will he in particular commend the health extension workers scheme, which the Select Committee saw in Ethiopia? We are prepared to provide much more money, but it is also necessary to encourage African Governments to make that a priority within their own spending Departments.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend on the last point. One of the puzzles in all this is why Governments in some developing countries have not got the message more loudly about the importance of clean water and sanitation. In my experience, as she says, it is women in villages and elsewhere who are most concerned about that matter, not surprisingly, as they spend most of their day fetching and carrying water. If girls have to do that, one of the consequences is that they cannot go to school. We know the impact that that loss of opportunity has on the lives of girls. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to do all the things for which she asks.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

I commend the Secretary of State for the work that he is doing on clean water. However, is it not true that the United Nations has 23 agencies dealing with water in one way or another? Would it not be better if there was much more focus among the donor communities and the organisations trying to help in that situation, so that we could really try to tackle the problem and some of the 6,000 children who die every day of diarrhoea would not have to die?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why, in answer to the original question, I said that we need to get the right structures in place. This year's "Human Development Report" was all about water. It was a cracking report. First, we need one every year to keep our eye on the ball. Secondly, we need the international community to come together and say, "What are the gaps? How are we going to fill them?" Thirdly, directly relating to the hon. Gentleman's point, we are arguing that in each country there should be one UN body that takes the lead. As a Government, we will put our money through the one UN body that is nominated in each country. That would be a powerful incentive to the UN system to get its act together. It is good that all those bodies take an interest, but when it comes to helping countries to make progress, they need one plan, one body and one way in which the international community provides help.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State), Department of Health

My right hon. Friend will be aware from the correspondence that we have had of the concern of many of my constituents about water issues in developing countries, and I thank him for his response on water privatisation in particular. What have his Department's budgets been for water and sanitation over the past five years?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

We have just published a further report looking at the total effect of our investment in water and sanitation, and in the last year for which the figures are available we spent bilaterally and multilaterally £242 million. I have a lot of correspondence about water and sanitation, which I greatly welcome. When it comes to public, private or community-led provision, I am interested in investing more of our money in what works to bring clean water to people, and that is where we should put our effort.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Is the Secretary of State aware that Norway has withdrawn its funding for the public-private infrastructure advisory facility, because its projects involving water have so often failed and been so widely criticised? How does the Secretary of State scrutinise the use of UK taxpayers' money? If we are unable to do so effectively, is he likely to withdraw British funding from the PPIAF?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

The PPIAF is having a real impact, not just in relation to water, but in other areas. The one example that I can think of is that it has helped to improve the availability of mobile phones in Afghanistan, which is good for helping the economy there to grow and develop. As I said a moment ago, in the end I am interested in investing money in what works. There are examples of private sector water provision that work and there are spectacular failures. There are examples of public provision that work and there are those that have been spectacular failures. The conclusion that I draw from that is that it does not matter so much whether it is one or the other, we should be putting cash, effort and time into what really makes a difference. I will assess our contribution to the PPIAF on that basis.

Photo of Andy Reed Andy Reed PPS (Rt Hon Dawn Primarolo, Paymaster General), HM Treasury

Hon. Members have come up with many useful suggestions that will improve the situation and my right hon. Friend understands the issues of water pretty well, but does he agree with Tearfund, which in its report "Making every drop count" states:

"But, first and foremost, 'quantity' of finance issues stand out as being absolutely paramount to the problem of increasing coverage in the country."— in this particular case referring to Ethiopia? All the improvements would make a difference, but can he assure me and other hon. Members that he will make every effort internationally to pump up the amount of money that is available to tackle the situation, so that we get somewhere near the 2015 millennium development goals.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. That is exactly why in Africa where the problem is greatest, as I told the House a moment ago, we will double and then double again our investment. We need more investment, but we also need to help countries to be able to spend it. Apart from rural areas, the big challenge will be to provide clean water and sanitation to the growing cities and towns of the developing world, because in the next 50 years, first in Asia and then in Africa, that is where a majority of people will be coming to live. Just as in the 19th century in Britain local authorities were responsible for providing the sewers and putting in the taps, we need to find ways of getting more funding to local authorities in developing countries to make the investment and to regulate the provision of water and sanitation, because it is on them that the burden of dealing with the problem will fall.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development)

I have recently observed in Bangladesh that it is possible to make progress on water and sanitation with, for example, microcredit schemes, enabling the manufacture of sanitation facilities in small, rural communities. The Secretary of State has admitted that DFID has not performed on the issue and has taken its eye off the ball. As my hon. Friend Mr. Streeter rightly pointed out, the UN has 23 unco-ordinated agencies working on water and sanitation, and the EU water initiative has been excruciatingly slow and mired in bureaucracy. For the sake of the 2.6 billion people who do not have access to water and sanitation, what steps is DFID taking to improve its performance, international coherence and donor co-ordination to ensure the replication of such schemes across the developing world?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman might give a bit of credit for the change that has been taking place over the past couple of years. It was the international community that took its eye off the ball, but that is beginning to change too. The World Bank is now investing more money, in part supported by our efforts, and we have a large programme in Bangladesh, which I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman had a chance to see.

The EU water initiative has been pretty patchy. Much more impressive is the EU water facility, because that allows countries to bid for funding to invest in the kind of things that I was talking about a moment ago, both rounds of which have been oversubscribed. In the global call for action, I am now arguing that we should embed funding from the EU in an EU water facility on a permanent basis through the next round of the European development fund, because it is about increasing the quantity of investment and about putting the right structures in place. That is why at the World Bank spring meetings we will have a gathering, at which Paul Wolfowitz will be present, in order to make progress.