Urbanisation (Developing Countries)

– in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 1st February 2006.

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Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North 2:30 pm, 1st February 2006

I am pleased to have secured the debate. It is not often that Westminster Hall makes parliamentary history, but we are now about to have the first debate on the subject in Parliament, so I am especially pleased that the Secretary of State is replying to it. It is an appropriate time to hold the debate, too, because it is estimated that by next year more than half the people in the world will live in towns and cities.

I shall explain the origins of the debate. Last year, the executive director of UN-Habitat gave an inspiring address on urbanisation to the all-party group on Africa, which is chaired by my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley. From that, it became clear that urbanisation had slipped down the political agenda, so this debate partly redresses the balance and presses the needs of the world's 1 billion slum dwellers. Previously, 75 per cent. of the world's dollar-a-day poor lived in rural areas, which is perhaps why so much development assistance has focused on rural communities.

The picture is now changing. We are seeing urbanisation not only of people, but of poverty. If we are to understand better, overcome and stop the enormous sprawl of slums in the megacities of the future, we need to understand better the nature and dynamics of urban poverty in developing countries. There is a lot to celebrate in cities. Throughout history, they have been a source of inspiration, dynamism and creativity. They have been the cradles of great civilisations and the engines of economic growth. They have also been the scene of abysmal squalor and human suffering.

I am sure that the majority of hon. Members in the Chamber will have walked around such slums and seen the open sewers, the so-called flying toilets, the putrid drinking water, hovels stacked together and so many desperately ill, semi-starved people—yet among them incredibly resourceful and resilient people using every trick, crime and act of ingenuity that they can find to fight their way out of poverty.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

There is something of a "Groundhog Day" about the debate in that, only days ago, a similar complement of people were discussing international development. I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Is she aware of the publication yesterday of the United Nations international strategy for disaster reduction? It observes that the bad news for urbanisation in developing countries is that people often crowd around the environmentally unsatisfactory areas close to big cities, and that will worsen the risk and the impact of future natural disasters. Is that something to which she hopes to refer?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that. I was not aware of the report nor was I about to deal with that point. However, since it is on the record, I am sure that others will refer to it. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will deal with it in his response.

Many people in those slums are the product of exactly the same economic forces that shaped our cities, our rural to urban migration and our economic growth. However, there are some profound differences between urbanisation today and the processes that shaped our country. First, the scale of the population shifts that are taking place today outstrip anything that we have seen in the past. Secondly, urbanisation is fastest in the developing countries in the south. Thirdly—this is perhaps linked to the previous two facts—the process of urbanisation is greatest in countries that are the least equipped to deal with it by virtue of the weakness of their economies and the fragility of the systems of governance. The result is that, of the massive growth of the world's cities, the biggest growth will be in the number of slum dwellers—people who live in urban settlements without water, sanitation, security of tenure and permanent shelter, and with chronic overcrowding.

I shall give a few figures. By next year, more than half the world's population will live in urban areas. By 2030, about 60 per cent. of the world's population will live in towns and cities. That means that the urban population will have increased from 2.9 billion to 4.9 billion and that the majority will live in the megacities, most of which will be in the developing world. The proportion of people living in slums has increased disproportionately. Already one in six of the world's people live in slums, which is a third of all urban dwellers. On current trends, that figure will have gone up to 41 per cent. by 2030. Almost half the people in the world who live in towns and cities will be living in slums unless things change.

Some of the figures on urban growth in Asia are astonishing. In China, by the end of the period 2000–10, 160 million extra people will be living in cities—the equivalent of nearly three times the population of this country. However, Africa will be the scene of the biggest changes and challenges. It is the fastest urbanising continent in the world. Cities there are growing at twice the rate of those in Latin America and Asia.

Cities such as Nairobi and Kenya are doubling in size every 10 to 15 years. Lagos will be the third largest city in the world by 2010, with 20.2 million people. The equivalent of about a third of the population of this country will be cramped into one city with inadequate services. Sub-Saharan Africa also has the world's largest proportion of urban residents living in slums. Almost three quarters of all urban residents in Africa—about 187 million people—live in slums. To put it another way, one in five of the world's urban slum dwellers is an African.

To try to stop the process of urbanisation would be futile. In some countries, its pace may be slow because of particular cultural, political or economic features, but efforts to prevent urbanisation in the past have been doomed to failure. With the urbanisation of the population comes the urbanisation of poverty. Some of the indicators are startling. The slums are the most dangerous places in the world to live, especially for children. For example, in Nairobi mortality among the under-fives is 0.78 per cent. in non-slum areas and 11.3 per cent. in the slums. HIV prevalence in Kenya's urban areas is more than double that of its rural areas. Our poverty-focused aid has to take account of that seismic shift.

Already the developing world, especially African Governments, is acting on the challenge. The Cities Alliance brings together cities in the developing world with their international partners, the World Bank and UN-Habitat, to improve the lives of slum dwellers. The African Ministers conference on housing and urban development—an initiative by the New Partnership for Africa's Development, the African Union and UN-Habitat—has its second meeting this April.

The international community has made its commitments, too. The millennium development goals include a target to improve the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. The Commission for Africa recognises the scale of the problem and made particular recommendations on finance for slum upgrading, clean water and infrastructure.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate and on her excellent contribution. When the Houses of Parliament were built, London was the biggest city in the world. Now, in 2006, many cities around the world are far bigger.

May I make a plea about utilities? This country has particular expertise in the delivery of water, electricity and gas systems. Would it be possible for the Government to make further efforts to encourage British utility companies to be involved in the provision of infrastructure in some of the poorest cities around the world?

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

The hon. Gentleman, my neighbour from Kettering, is right that the provision of utilities in slum areas is a major challenge. Access to clean drinking water, one of the targets for the millennium development goals, is essential, particularly for child health. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will refer to that when he winds up.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that one of the problems that has to be tackled now and in future, as we try to prevent the sprawl of slum areas, is the provision of infrastructure services for people as they move into the cities. He is right to highlight that as a major issue for urbanisation.

In addition to the Cities Alliance is the African Ministers conference on housing and urban development. That initiative was introduced by NEPAD and UN-Habitat and is due to hold its second meeting in April. The international community has also made commitments, and the MDGs include the goal of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. The Commission for Africa also recognised the scale of the problem and made recommendations on finance for slum upgrading and on water and infrastructure. The significance of the problem was reinforced at last year's world summit, which underlined the fact that the future of slums would influence the achievement of all the MDGs.

However, the international community's actions and commitments so far will not deliver on the goals that it has set. It is perhaps partly the size of the task that is daunting. There is the sheer number of people involved, and it is expected that there will be 1 billion extra slum dwellers. There is also the complexity of the services that are needed. As the hon. Gentleman said, there is the issue of utilities, water supplies and infrastructure. There is also the sheer cost of it all, particularly given the very statist view of housing in this country.

I therefore have three requests to put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as regards meeting the needs of the world's slum dwellers and achieving the MDGs. First, the UK Government must give priority to promoting slum dwellers' security of tenure and better urban governance. Without security of tenure, it will be impossible to achieve the rest of our goals. The residents' lack of security is a real barrier to upgrading slums, and slum dwellers can be swept away easily to satisfy a political elite's predilections, to make way for road building or as part of the ethnic cleansing of a capital city. UN-Habitat's excellent study of forced evictions lists a number of such removals, but I shall mention just two. First, there are the clearances in Khartoum, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State saw for himself. Southerners were moved to make way for, I think, road building—at least, that was the excuse; in fact, the move was thought to be political because it involved southerners. Secondly, there are the forced removals in Zimbabwe, which I saw on my recent visit there. It caught not only some of the poorest and most vulnerable people, including HIV orphans, their carers and many more, but half of the Zimbabwean UN staff working in Harare, as well as some of the locally engaged staff from the British embassy in Harare.

Secondly, I ask that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State prioritise the development of financial instruments for slum upgrading. If Mr. Hollobone makes a contribution, I am sure that he will talk about infrastructure and utilities, but I specifically ask for priority to be given to the development of financial instruments for slum upgrading, because this country has particular expertise in financial modelling and services. Prioritising financial instruments in that way would also underline the fact that slum upgrading is an economic project. Slum dwellers pay quite high rents. However awful the housing, and however destitute the people in those shacks in Kibera, they all speak of how much rent they pay and how much they owe in rent arrears. Shacks are good investments in the conventional sense, and it is calculated that a landlord in Nairobi will recoup his investment in a shack within nine months, given the rent that he can charge on it.

Thirdly, I urge my right hon. Friend to support the UN-Habitat proposal for a slum upgrade facility of $250 million a year for five years. Without it, there is little chance of meeting the MDG. The facility would provide a combination of short-term loans for housing schemes for poor people, loan mechanisms for grassroots schemes and funds for technical help in designing and setting up projects for slum upgrading.

Above all, however, what is required, and what the debate is intended to achieve, is a high priority for urbanisation on the international development agenda. The world summit rightly recognised that we cannot achieve the MDG if we simply react to the terrible and growing poverty of the burgeoning number of slum dwellers. The international community also needs to run ahead of the problem and to prevent slum development, not by stopping urbanisation, but by planning for it and providing the governance, infrastructure and financial capacity to cater for the 1 billion more people who will be living in towns and cities. Last year's world summit specifically recognised that.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will set out his response to the three particular requests that I have made and, above all, that he will make clear the UK Government's commitment to meeting the challenge of the world's 1 billion slum dwellers.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation 2:45 pm, 1st February 2006

I congratulate my hon. Friend Ms Keeble on securing this debate on an important topic. I was not aware that it is the first time that Parliament has ever debated it. It is to her credit that she followed up the meeting of the all-party group on Africa, which the executive director of UN-Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka came to address, by ensuring that we had a debate in this House to discuss the important issues that she raised.

Like my hon. Friend, I have seen, in squatter settlements, shanty towns and refugee camps in Africa, Asia and Latin America, poverty and squalor that is so intense that it takes one's breath away. There is poverty that robs people of their humanity. I am talking about children who do not have clothes because their parents have HIV/AIDS and have sold everything to buy food; people who do not have food or shelter; children without schools; sick people without health care; people without hope; and people who were driven from the countryside by violence, warfare or famine to the city because they hoped for a better life.

Like my hon. Friend, I have also seen how, in appalling conditions in cities in developing countries, community self-help groups and donor-funded development assistance projects can raise one's spirits and make one realise that there are those with the human capacity to rise above incredible adversity and make a difference to their lives and those of others around them. I think of KENWA, a Kenyan women's organisation based in the slums of Nairobi. It has brought together women who are infected with HIV to give each other support and, if one of them dies, to give support to their orphaned children.

Some 10 years ago, I met a Catholic priest in Khartoum who took me to see one of the displaced people's camps in the desert outside the city. It had housed people from the west—from Darfur—and people from the south of Sudan who were fleeing from the long-running civil war. At the settlement hundreds of homes had been bulldozed, as had churches, simply because the Khartoum state Government wanted to drive those people away, back into the countryside, but those people would not be driven back into the countryside—they had fled war and were looking for sanctuary, so they ended up sleeping rough in and around Khartoum until they found some other squatter settlement in which to build a rudimentary shelter. This man went out with sticks and polythene sheets to try to provide shelter for those people from the 130° heat in the desert.

I have seen Muslim women in villages in Uttar Pradesh, India, who went door to door to encourage other Muslim women to vaccinate their children against polio. Uttar Pradesh is one of the few parts of the world in which polio is still prevalent and claims lives. It is largely Muslim children who become infected, because a rumour has gone around that vaccination is a Hindu plot to make them infertile. That is utter nonsense. The most powerful message was carried by a Muslim woman who took her immunised child with her. If she is successful in that endeavour, which is funded by our Department for International Development, polio might be eradicated from India before long.

I have seen teachers of girls in displaced people's camps for Afghan refugees—people who fled from the violence of the Taliban. They found in the camps both refuge and education for their girl children, which was not available in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. There are enormous problems, but also thousands of people capable of overcoming them. The onus is on us in the rich world to provide help, support and funding to enable those people to do their work.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

In a debate last week, I pointed out that although it is important that relief, aid and advice come from international governmental organisations, companies and charities, smaller contributions from the country concerned or from other countries have a role as well. That was pointed out to me by the Building and Social Housing Foundation, which is based in Coalville in my constituency. The foundation researches such issues and is particularly worried about the plight of people who are in informal housing and facing eviction in Africa. We can help. It does not take a grand-scale organisation to contribute to the alleviation of suffering.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

I could not agree more. Such problems in urban areas need to be solved from the bottom up. Of course, they need help, support and funding from the top down; small organisations will not fund themselves. With support from DFID and from multilateral agencies, local grass-roots initiatives and small-scale projects—including twinning projects between organisations in the UK and those in developing countries, about which I shall say more later—can make a real and much-needed difference.

My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North spoke about the 2003 UN-Habitat report, "The Challenge of Slums," which reported that, of people living in urban areas, 72 per cent. in Africa, 58 per cent. on the Indian subcontinent and 32 per cent. in Latin America and the Caribbean live in slum conditions. If we go back through our own country's social history, we see that there were similar conditions here not so long ago. In 1901, Seebohm Rowntree wrote a book called "Poverty: A Study of Town Life," which was the first ever door-to-door survey or census of poverty in one city—the city of York, my constituency. The survey revealed that at the turn of the last century, a quarter of people in the city of York were living in poverty. Charles Booth did similar studies in London, of course.

Photo of David Taylor David Taylor Labour, North West Leicestershire

My hon. Friend mentions Charles Booth and his seminal work on poverty in London. It is no surprise that Charles Booth was a north-west Leicestershire person, who was equally generous with his time, ideas and resources to the people of Thringstone, in my constituency, where his memory and successes are venerated to the present day.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

We have a lot to learn from the history of this and other European countries. Those lessons must and can be applied by leaders of urban communities in the developing world.

The scale of the problem is enormous. Some 924 million people, roughly a third of the global urban population, live in slums. The number of people migrating from the countryside to towns, or being born in towns, means that the world's urban population is growing by 180,000 people each day. Roughly speaking that is the same as the population of the city of York and its surrounding suburbs and villages. That is the scale of the problem with which the world must grapple: can we build cities, homes, infrastructures, schools and health clinics around the world at the rate of a York a day? I believe that we can. We managed to overcome urban squalor in this country in a century, and I think that it is possible to do the same globally. That is the challenge that we face.

It is important for us not to fall into the trap, as do some people who write about the problem of urbanisation, of setting towns against the countryside in a competition for scarce resources. In the countryside and in towns it is the same phenomenon that leads to human desperation: poverty. Poverty in the countryside is what drives people to the towns to seek a better life, and poverty in urban slums holds people back from finding that better life. For instance, the poor rickshaw puller in Dhaka in Bangladesh has probably come from the countryside and a poor existence as an agricultural day labourer. So it is not possible to solve the problems of the countryside at the expense of the towns, or vice versa.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, said, the process of urbanisation is irreversible. Bulldozing settlements—as the Sudanese Government have done around Khartoum, the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe and the Kenyan Government in Nairobi, and as has happened in Lagos—does not relieve the pressure on scarce resources in urban areas. Those people remain, and they still need education, health care and shelter.

If we look back at the history of our own country it can be seen that local government has played an enormously important part in overcoming the problems of urban squalor. There is a growing recognition of the importance of local government in overcoming those problems in developing countries. After the Gleneagles G8 summit, the Prime Minister said that for the G8 deal

"to translate into poverty reduction across the continent it is important that Africa builds effective, accountable central and local governments".

The Prime Minister has also emphasised the importance of local government in achieving the millennium development goals, some of which are particularly the responsibilities of local government, such as goal 7, target 11, on slum upgrading. The report by the Commission for Africa, of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was a member, stressed that devolving power and taking decisions locally brings politicians and decision makers closer to those who use their services. That can also enable excluded groups, such as the disabled, women and, more generally, the poor to participate in the process of government.

The Commission for Africa report, however, also rightly stressed that municipalities in most developing countries are hampered by a lack of trained personnel and resources. All too often, therefore, the services that they provide are patchy and inadequate. Donor countries such as ours and the Governments of African countries need to invest in capacity building in local government, in training local government officers and in making policy development, revenue collection and revenue spending more transparent and accountable locally. The Ghanaian Government, for instance, receive budget support through Government-to-Government aid from the UK and have a common fund that devotes a fixed percentage of national revenue to local authorities.

At a grass-roots level, my city has a twinning link with Fanteakwa district in Ghana. I once visited Begoro, the main town of Fanteakwa district, met the chief executive of the council and saw some of the services that it provides in the district. They are good, well run services. There are schools and a technical college; he showed me a library that they were building. When I returned I talked to York and North Yorkshire library services and to the university college of York St. John to see whether we could obtain some suitable books—sending any old books would not be useful—for their library and ship them out. We collected books from academic and public libraries in North Yorkshire and e-mailed a list of titles to Begoro. They chose those that they thought suitable and appropriate and we shipped the books out to them. As my hon. Friend David Taylor pointed out, small-scale, local, town-to-town links can make a difference.

The Commonwealth local government forum, which receives £2 million of DFID funding and about twice that in support in kind from local authorities in the United Kingdom—usually in the form of staff seconded to work for short periods in developing countries—has built some effective partnerships under what its good practice scheme. Lisburn city council in Northern Ireland, for instance, has worked with Swellendam municipality in the western cape of South Africa to create an economic development strategy. Plymouth city council works with Shama Ahanta council in Ghana to devise and implement a sustainable tourism strategy. Newham council works with Thiruvananthapuram council in India—I apologise to my hon. Friend Dr. Kumar if my pronunciation is poor—to use geographic information systems mapping to target economic development projects more accurately on poor communities in the area.

Local government, if it is properly resourced, works. South Africa, after the move to enfranchise all citizens of all races, held its first local government elections in 1995. Since then, the number of homes in urban areas with electricity has increased from one third to three quarters. The number with clean water has increased from 62 per cent. to 85 per cent. Achieving connections in South Africa is the responsibility of local government.

In Uganda, the local government association has created a scheme called city community challenges, targeting resources on urban areas of need. In Jinja, where the Nile leaves Lake Victoria, a city community challenge built 700 low-cost homes, using local materials and local labour—unemployed people from the slum areas of the city who received training in the craft skills they needed to build homes. Those selected to move into the homes were people who were excluded generally from society, such as disabled people and households headed by women. They, too, were provided with training as well as a home so that they could build a secure economic future.

When Anna Tibaijuka from UN-Habitat came to speak to the all-party group in November last year, she mentioned her organisation's new report on financing urban shelter. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, I was struck by the following statistic: most slum dwellers rent shacks from private owners—I had assumed the shacks were self-built when people arrived in the city although in the majority of cases they are not—and the shack owners can get the cost back within nine months. How do they get their cost back so quickly? By charging exploitative rents.

Businesses generally want a higher rate of return in developing countries than in the developed world because they perceive that the business risks are higher, but no legitimate business or finance house expects a rate of return of more than 100 per cent. in a single year. That makes me think that it must be possible to invest in higher quality housing at lower rents and still be able to achieve a sensible rate of return of the kind that an investor might expect in a developing country—perhaps a 20 or 25 per cent. return. If the council became involved in partnership with the financier, it could contribute real value by granting title to the land to the people who lived in the housing, and because the rent would be lower more money would be available to pay the local authority, or a private provider, for services such as electricity and water. Therefore, I warmly support UN-Habitat's slum upgrading facility proposal, which my hon. Friend mentioned.

The second policy issue that we need to address in relation to the problems of urban areas in developing countries is crime. Most people in slums are decent, honest people, and they are far more likely to be victims of crime than criminals. However, there is sometimes a political correctness that leads to crime being overlooked. One of the UN-Habitat documents that I read on its website before this debate is entitled "Today's Slums: Myths versus Reality". It states:

"Slums are often associated with crime, but in some places this is more a fabrication of the media than a reality."

It is not a media fabrication if someone is a victim of crime—if someone is forced to be a drug mule for a drug baron in order to pay their debts or unpaid rent, or if someone is intimidated by a criminal gang as part of a protection racket or to secure their vote in an election.

In the United Kingdom, crime is worst on our most deprived estates, even though the vast majority of people who live in those areas are perfectly honest, and it should come as no surprise that things are much the same in developing countries. Crime is highest where living conditions are worst. The development community cannot shy away from crime because of a form of political correctness; we must accept that law and order are vital for providing human security and an environment that allows economic development.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK branch visited Jamaica last September. I attended its report-back meeting, and learned that in poor, inner-city Kingston there are places called garrison constituencies; they are parliamentary constituencies that are affiliated year in and year out with one or other of the main political parties—both of them are involved in the same way. Poor people support the party in anticipation of benefits that might accrue to them: access to employment, getting their child into school, or other basic services. At one stage removed from the politicians are criminal gangs that use violence to maintain the status quo.

I spoke this morning to Andrew Tuggey, the secretary of the CPA UK branch. Before he came to work for the CPA branch in Parliament, he served as an Army officer in Northern Ireland. He drew a parallel between the situation in Kingston now, and the situation in Belfast in the early 1970s. Two things are vital to overcome those problems of politically related crime and violence in slums in developing countries. The first is effective security. The United Kingdom has seconded two assistant chief constables to the Jamaica police, and we also provide some training for the Jamaica defence force. The second thing is political reform. A new younger generation of politicians in Jamaica, in both parties, is pressing for change. Kingston city council's urban renewal policy, for instance, has stressed the need to build social housing in both green and yellow garrison constituencies, irrespective of political allegiance, and to allocate housing centrally, not through the constituencies.

There are policy lessons to be drawn. I have been helped in forming my thoughts by an article by Dr. Aldrie Henry-Lee of the university of the West Indies, which appeared in a journal called Environment and Urbanisation last October. First, politicians must be divested of the power to distribute scarce benefits, including, as happens in many developing countries, budgets for buying small projects and works in their constituency. If they are seen as people who dispense favours or services from funds that they personally control, a form of clientism is bound to develop.

Secondly, politicians must have nothing to do with criminal or violent gangs, or the leaders of those gangs, even if the latter appear to be a leadership divorced from the gangs themselves. Thirdly, politicians must identify any members of their party who associate with criminals, and deprive them of office, if they hold it, in the party or publicly. Fourthly, they must make sure that their security forces and municipal authorities give no protection to gang members. Finally, and importantly, as in this country, the police must provide protection to those who supply them with information about wrongdoing and act as witnesses when cases come to court.

Perhaps what is happening in Kingston sounds a little like Chicago or Sicily: it is. The solution to the problem is the same. There is a need to clear out the corrupt politicians and introduce a new, clean politics.

The week before last DFID published its consultation document seeking input to the White Paper that it intends to publish in the summer. I hope that today's debate will be seen as part of that consultation process, and that the White Paper will closely examine the importance of good governance and political reform—the Department has already made it clear that it will tackle that issue—as well as developing the capacity of local government to deal with the severe urban problems. Without stronger local government in developing countries they will not rise to the challenge of creating decent conditions in which people can live and prosper in the growing cities of the developing world.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, Scotland 3:14 pm, 1st February 2006

I congratulate Ms Keeble on securing the debate. As Hugh Bayley mentioned, it is key that the issue be discussed and absorbed by the Department for International Development. One quality of urbanisation—the hon. Member for City of York mentioned this—is that it is irreversible. That is important now, but will become even more so in the years ahead.

Urbanisation and the urbanisation of poverty have been described as the second biggest challenge for the developed world, after the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Clearly, the process of urbanisation is one of the most significant changes taking place in developing nations. The world's urban population multiplied tenfold in the 20th century and now stands at about 3 billion. Properly managing that change is one of the key challenges facing the international community today.

Despite its importance, urbanisation is often misunderstood in international politics and we have yet to adapt to some of the challenges it poses. Africa now has a larger urban population than either north America or western Europe—I found that hard to believe about western Europe—yet it is often perceived as being overwhelmingly rural. Our aid efforts often seem to focus on farmers and rural challenges when the biggest challenges are perhaps in the more urban cities and townships. All too often donor agencies prioritise investment in rural areas, and it does not reach the majority of the poor.

It is clear that the locus of poverty has fundamentally shifted away from rural areas to cities and townships. There is no point in denying that that change has occurred. It has happened and is, as the hon. Member for City of York said, irreversible. How best to deal with the urbanisation of poverty is one of our biggest challenges.

Although rapid urban growth is often seen as a problem, it is worth remembering that it is normally the nations with the best economic performances that urbanise most rapidly. Also, there is a proven link between rapid urban change and a marked increase in standards of living. It is an often overlooked fact that some of the world's fastest-growing cities of the past 50 years have among the best standards of living in their respective nations, but that is not the picture that we see in many developing countries. Our own cities grew as our rural population declined, and that is a classic example of the shift from rural to urban. Edinburgh, for example, has grown steadily over decades and centuries while the population in the countryside has reduced dramatically.

Many commentators see the rapid growth of sub-Saharan cities over the past 50 years as a serious problem, if not a full-blown disaster, but that approach over-simplifies the situation. One reason for rapid urbanisation is the achievement of political independence and the end of discriminatory controls over people's lives. In Uganda, urban growth was slower than expected in the early post-independence period because violence and instability crippled the country's economy. However, once stability was restored, the economy expanded and urbanisation was more rapid. More obviously, in post-apartheid South Africa, it is because of the legacy of apartheid that that country remains relatively non-urbanised, although there is a move to urban centres. Much of the explanation for that is the strict control imposed on the African population's right to live in urban areas. Those examples should be a warning against viewing urbanisation as necessarily a bad thing. Often it is the result of positive changes in a society.

Urbanisation brings with it a whole range of problems if it is not managed effectively. Cities and urban centres can and should be hubs of creativity and economic growth, but rapid urbanisation in the developed world has left 1 billion people living in slums and squatter settlements; estimates suggest that that number will double by 2030. Almost no large city has had its initial urban expansion guided by a rational plan, but it is unrealistic to expect that.

In cities in this country and other high-income nations, it is taken for granted that systems of governance exist to facilitate and monitor urban expansion. Planning controls, building standards, sewerage, drainage, schools and hospitals are more or less taken for granted. We all accept that the staff of urban governments should be answerable to elected representatives, but it is important to remember that the well worn paths of local governance are a relatively recent occurrence that we cannot take for granted. They simply do not exist in many cities and urban centres around the world.

In many poor and developing countries, city governments are corrupt and unrepresentative with the result that decisions are afforded little legitimacy by the local population. The accountability of local authorities to their citizens is a fundamental tenet of good governance, but the widespread prevalence of patron-client relationships has further undermined and corrupted democracy and accountability. Corruption takes resources from those least able to afford the loss, and they work their way through to the richer. It undermines credibility and deepens urban poverty. As a result, investment in the basic infrastructure lags far behind what is desperately needed.

As I mentioned last Thursday in the debate on international development, the Select Committee on International Development visited a clinic in Nairobi where, for want of the local authority connecting the water and electricity supplies for eight years, the doctors and nurses in that clinic had to remain in an outdated building. It is vital that the local authorities in such cities play their part. It is common for half or more of the population of cities in the developing world to be without access to water taps in their homes or yards, and for more than three quarters to have inadequate provision for sanitation.

When the hon. Member for Northampton, North mentioned flying toilets, I was reminded of my visit to Kibera, the slum on the outskirts of Nairobi. I come from a city —Edinburgh—with a history of such things; in days gone by, people emptied sewage out of the high storeys of buildings with a cry of "gardez l'eau". It is a disgrace that in today's world the waste from toilets is still flying through the air. In that same slum, we also visited a shack, and were amazed by the quality of life. The children were immaculately turned out to go to school. With so few basic facilities—no water supply, no sewerage—families were able to pick themselves up and did the best that they could.

Sadly, that was by no means an isolated example. Most cities in Africa have sewerage connections for less than 10 per cent. of their populations, and many have no sewerage system at all. The harsh reality is that hundreds of millions of urban dwellers in Africa, Asia and Latin America have to rely on water sources that are unsafe, unreliable and difficult or impossible to access. As a result, it is common for one in every four children in poorly managed cities to die before their fifth birthdays. Many of those deaths can be directly attributed to chronic lack of infrastructure and services. In this country, we do not question the fact that our bins are emptied and, in some cases, our material for recycling is collected; street lamps line our roads; and our water runs hot and is clean enough to drink. We have become so used to the web of institutions that provide these services that we sometimes forget their fundamental importance.

We have all seen satellite images of the world at night, showing a stunning map of brilliantly lit cities. Only across Africa do many cities remain dark at night. In the absence of appropriate or effective governance structures, too few planning controls are in place. Those that exist are often bypassed as a result of corruption, or for other reasons. As a consequence of ineffective land use planning, cities expand chaotically, causing problems along the way. Many cities have no city-wide plan because the built-up area falls into different local jurisdictions and no governance structure exists to enable co-ordination.

The hon. Member for City of York mentioned the high rate of return on shacks in city slums. In New Delhi, there are massive slums—some officially recognised and some not—and what struck me was the fact that the return on a fast-food restaurant in one of the wealthiest parts of London is only one third of the return that a slum landlord can achieve in such a city. That is an outrage, and unless it changes, people will, for economic reasons, drive on with the continuation of slum dwellings.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the fact that slum properties can generate money makes it possible to look at the financial mechanisms that can be used for slum upgrading, and to provide improved housing and greater security of tenure for slum dwellers?

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, Scotland

That is a valid point; clearly there are money and businesses in the slums and there are dynamic entrepreneurs. If that money could circulate in the same area, there could be a vast improvement. Without a doubt, those who receive those high rents do not live in the slums. Money is pouring out of the pockets of slum dwellers into the pockets of those living Californian lifestyles just around the corner.

As many of the people in the Chamber have seen first hand, many walled residential developments that are protected by security firms are only two blocks down the road from squatter communities. Such communities are sometimes unrecognised by the Government and lack the most basic infrastructure and services. Indeed, it is now common in some parts of the world for between a quarter and a half of a city's population to live in a squatter settlement without official approval or recognition.

Such stories paint a bleak picture, and other hon. Members have pointed to the immense problems that we face. The scale of the challenge is indeed daunting: cities have become places to fear, where crime and disease are rife. Nairobi was mentioned earlier and it is sometimes called "Nairobbery". Even on the recent Select Committee visit, a colleague was unfortunate enough to be robbed and mugged.

However, the situation might not be all doom and gloom. There is no automatic link between rapid urban growth and urban problems. In his impressive body of work on the issue, David Satterthwaite of the International Institute for Environment and Development says that cities provide many potential advantages when it comes to tackling the problems that hon. Members have mentioned. The goals of ensuring universal provision of infrastructure and services, keeping down waste levels and de-linking a high quality of life from high levels of resource consumption are all more achievable in an urban setting. Far from being a cause of the current problems, cities can provide part of the long-term solution if they are governed in the right way. It is often easier to provide water supplies, drains, schools and health facilities to a static population of reasonable size in an urban area than to a smaller, mobile, rural population.

There are many examples of expanding cities in low-income countries that have managed to avoid many of the problems about which we have heard. Curbita and Porto Allegre in Brazil, for example, have grown rapidly in recent years, but they have a high quality of living and innovative environmental policies. One reason for that is the improvement in local government planning, which involves all groups in the city. Many cities in poorer countries have created local Agenda 21s in response to the guidelines in Agenda 21—the action plan on sustainable development that most world Governments endorsed at the UN Earth summit in 1992. Unlike conventional city plans developed by consultants or town planning officers, these local plans involve all groups in the city in an attempt to gain a consensus on the priorities that need to be addressed. They have helped many cities to develop viable long-term planning that involves all key stakeholders and responds better to local needs and problems. That is community politics at its best.

The other most obvious development that is needed to address the problems facing many urban centres is sustained investment in infrastructure and services in the poorest areas. Poverty, corruption and other social problems often mean that a major backlog of investment must be met before any real improvements can be seen. That is already happening in many cities, where major upgrading programmes have been set up.

Obviously, it is impossible to generalise about what is needed in different cities in different countries, but the importance of good governance is a constant thread running through these issues. Investment and the adoption of local agendas have often been effectively supported via stronger and more accountable local democracy. For example, the introduction of city mayors and councillors has helped many city governments to be more accountable and more responsible to their citizens. When cities and smaller local authorities have power devolved to them and are empowered with sufficient resources and autonomy, they are more likely to meet their responsibilities.

I want to give the Secretary of State ample time to comment, so I shall keep my concluding remarks brief. Obviously, the spectre of global poverty will hang heavy over any such discussion; indeed, the sheer scale of the problem makes it hard to see a solution. However, far from being a cause of poverty, urbanisation is one potential vehicle out of it. Rather than fretting about the pace of urbanisation, it is far better that we try to ensure that cities have effective, democratic local governments to allow them to meet the challenges that urbanisation poses. The problem is not the reality of urbanisation, but the lack of many basics of life, including infrastructure. As has been mentioned, to deal with the ill effects there must be sustained investment in water supplies, sewerage services, hospitals and schools. That will require a vast increase in investment, better planning controls, more decentralisation of power and responsibility, and increased efforts to tackle corruption.

The problem of poverty in developing countries will not be solved overnight. However, urbanisation, if properly managed, may give us one tool to provide real improvements in the medium and long term. I look forward to hearing the views of the Secretary of State and his Department on this issue.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 3:30 pm, 1st February 2006

I congratulate Ms Keeble on securing a debate that she described as historic; it has been enormously interesting and at times illuminating. At the beginning of her speech, she set out the issues that she wanted to cover today, and she has set the scene extremely well.

In a speech that showed great expertise on this issue and a profound understanding of the history of his city, Hugh Bayley made many interesting points to which the Secretary of State will no doubt want to respond. I want to echo three of the hon. Gentleman's points. First, we should never underestimate the effect of conflict in enshrining poverty in the areas affected by this issue. It goes without saying that if people are being forcibly dispossessed or shot at, no amount of aid or trade will lift them out of poverty. Last week I returned from a visit to Rwanda, and I am particularly conscious that in the past neither international institutions nor Governments recognised adequately the importance of conflict prevention, which must be at the centre of the work of DFID, as I know it is under this Secretary of State.

The second point made by the hon. Member for City of York was about the consultation process on the White Paper published last week. I want to echo his comments on the importance of that process, which ranges widely across the many interesting aspects of this subject. I strongly agree with his third point, which was about good governance in areas of the world where Britain is focusing its aid efforts. He will acknowledge that many of the foundations of the Government's current policies on good governance were laid by Chris Patten when he occupied a ministerial position, and indeed by Lynda Chalker. The good governance provisions that inform our policies in this area are immensely important for achieving the outcomes that we so fervently desire.

One thing that strikes me about this debate and indeed the whole subject—this follows on from what John Barrett said—is the extent to which all the political parties have pretty much converged on the same territory. We all agree on the importance of different policy aspects. There is very little between the aspirations of the two major political parties of this country. There are certainly issues on which the Opposition think that the Government can do more and issues on the international agenda on which we are as restless as the Government about the speed of progress. However, on many international development issues, there is no longer a Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat agenda—there is a British one. The Government derive great strength from that in pursuing important tasks in international forums as well as in their bilateral involvement in poor countries around the world.

The secret minutes of an internal Labour party meeting happened to land on my desk, and they say that the Secretary of State suggested that the Conservatives were hanging on the coat-tails of the Labour Government on some of these issues, although I am sure that the comment was not delivered in quite as churlish a way as I represent it. In a number of important international development areas, the unity between Front Benchers and unity of purpose across the House of Commons are a great strength.

On the interesting comments made by the hon. Member for Northampton, North, the developing world is an increasingly urban world, as she said. In coming years, the rural population of developing countries is projected to remain stable at about 3 billion, but the urban populations are expected to expand from some 2 billion today to about 4 billion by 2025. How does that affect development? Urbanisation in itself is no bad thing. Indeed, it offers a number of advantages, as higher population densities make it possible to provide a range of services such as education, infrastructure and health services in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

Cities are often vibrant centres of innovation, culture and politics, but in too many places across the developing world the opportunities afforded by urbanisation are not being realised. Many national and local governments fail to provide the essential services that poor people need, leading to urban squalor and decay, weak economic growth and high unemployment. That foments discontent and radicalism, particularly among urban youth. As the hon. Member for City of York set out, the most vivid manifestation of the downside of urbanisation is the massive slums in many cities in the developing world. Anyone who has travelled in a major city in the developing world will be familiar with the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which millions of people are forced to live. The worst thing about those slums is often the dramatic lack of basic services, such as in health and education. For me, the journey from the airport in Mumbai to the centre of that great city is a strong example.

Any response to the challenge of urbanisation must have at its heart measures to tackle infectious diseases, particularly HIV/AIDS; in general, infectious diseases spread more rapidly in urban areas. Providing clean water and sanitation is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways of saving lives and reducing mortality, particularly infant mortality.

Around the world, 1.1 billion people lack access to clean water. Many of them live in towns and cities, and in many cases, the urban poor actually pay more per unit for water than the urban rich. What is to be done? The primary responsibility, as ever, lies with Governments in developing countries, but there are things that Britain can do: we can use our money and influence to support the extension of access to Government water services, and we can champion innovative approaches that harness the dynamism and capital of the private sector to expand access to water in urban areas.

DFID has sometimes been criticised for failing to reflect the importance of clean water and sanitation in its spending priorities. Will the Secretary of State explain what plans he has to increase the proportion of aid that DFID spends on this vital sector? In an interesting speech in February 2004, he posed an important question:

"If relatively few developing countries see water and sanitation as a priority for inclusion in their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, what then? Our commitment to the MDGs"— the millennium development goals—

"and to country ownership point in two different directions."

It would be interesting to hear how he plans to handle that tension in future.

We should consider carefully how the private sector can help in delivering essential services such as water. It may well be damaging to keep water supply as a monopoly of the state in countries where the state is manifestly failing to deliver adequate services to its citizens. If there is proper supervision, regulatory bodies and contract enforcement, well managed privatisation has the potential to help expand access to clean water and to save lives. I should be grateful to hear the Secretary of State's assessment of the merits of greater private sector participation in service delivery in developing countries.

An important way to empower the urban poor is to strengthen and formalise property rights. The poorest suffer most when property rights are weak. Weak legal systems combined with dysfunctional political arrangements offer the urban poor no protection from arbitrary state force.

The worst example, to which the hon. Member for City of York alluded, comes from Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe's latest repression has destroyed the homes of between 200,000 and 1 million people under the pretext of slum clearance. The campaign is called "Operation Clean Up Filth" or "Operation Drive Out Rubbish". Children have been killed as houses were demolished around them. Some people have been forced to burn down their own homes. Weak property rights are also damaging in less dramatic ways.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

What the hon. Gentleman says about Zimbabwe is right, and he is right to speak out against it. May I invite him to speak out as loudly and passionately about the very similar slum clearances in Lagos, Nairobi and Khartoum? The danger of always focusing only on Zimbabwe is that we allow Mugabe the excuse that we speak out on Zimbabwe because we are angry about white property rights being taken away and that we do not speak out with the same passion when the Government of the Sudan, for instance, bulldozes camps around Khartoum.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman is right that we must condemn the slum clearance schemes in other countries—I entirely endorse what he said. The reason why I have not done so is partly the time left for debate and partly that he did so very effectively in his speech. When I talk of Zimbabwe, I am talking not about the dispossessing of white farmers and about their property rights, but about the 200,000 to 1 million Zimbabweans who have been treated in this way.

Weak property rights are also damaging in less dramatic ways. A lack of formal property rights means that poor people cannot use their assets to create wealth, to trade assets outside local circles where people know and trust one another, or to use their assets as collateral for a loan to start a new business and to invest for their future. Without formal property rights, the basic machinery of wealth creation comes grinding to a halt, and people stay trapped in poverty.

I was interested that the Secretary of State recognised in his speech to launch the White Paper consultation the importance of property rights in generating a climate in which capitalism can flourish, foreign investors can have confidence and economic growth can take hold. I would be most grateful to hear what plans he has to strengthen the Department's work in this vital area and his thoughts on the specific role that property rights can play in improving the lives of poor people in urban areas.

In conclusion, urbanisation in the developing world is a source of both opportunity and new challenges. It impacts on a wide and divergent range of policy areas and issues: provision of basic health and education services; water and sanitation; property rights; the response to infectious diseases, in particular HIV/AIDS; and migration policy, and how to deal with refugees in emergency situations.

The Department for International Development is doing good work in addressing those challenges, but its efforts can be enhanced. I look forward to hearing how the Secretary of State plans to improve our response to these important issues.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development 3:43 pm, 1st February 2006

I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend Ms Keeble on having done us all a great service by securing this debate. She has a keen interest in urban matters, which dates back many years. It was evident during her time as a Minister in DFID and I am glad that it continues today. Her interest is shown not least in her having secured what we now learn, having come through those doors, is an historic debate on poverty and urban development.

May I say to Mr. Mitchell that I welcome the fact that there is apparently now quite a large degree of consensus? Had the Conservative party any coat-tails that the rest of us could have hung on to as far as development policy was concerned, we would perhaps have been pleased to do so. Since he provokes me just mildly, I must say that I enormously welcome the fact that the party that managed to cut our development spending as a percentage of our national wealth in half in 18 years has come to recognise that that was a fundamental mistake.

I unreservedly welcome the fact that we are now able to debate the challenge of development in the spirit that we do. It demonstrates how development politics has moved from the margins, where it was in some people's minds, to bang in the centre of the big political questions of our age, because it is about the future of our planet. If we do not sort these problems out, we are all in big trouble, as the hon. Gentleman said.

The movement of people to cities is as old as humankind. We have all agreed, during the debate, that that is an irreversible process and it is no good wishing that it could be different, because human beings will do as they will. The debate has brought out clearly the variety of reasons that lead people to move, including to find employment and flee conflict, as the hon. Gentleman said.

Cities such as Kathmandu, Addis Ababa and Luanda have grown for many reasons. People have moved there because they might be marginally safer when the countries were going through conflict. Women have fled domestic violence. People have tried to escape the stigma and poverty of their caste. People have always come to cities to acquire a new identity. My hon. Friend Hugh Bayley talked about people not having enough food to eat.

In the past 20 years, the number of people living in Mumbai has grown by 100 per cent., but the number of squatters has increased by more than 1,000 per cent. That illustrates the scale of the problem.

In our country during the 1970s, we thought that there was a bias towards urban areas and that we needed to concentrate on reducing poverty in rural areas, but we now recognise that we need to consider the problem in a much more rounded way. Indeed, there is a lively debate to be had about where urban areas stop and rural areas begin, particularly as technology makes it possible, in some countries, for people to live and work in ways that were not possible in the past.

I want briefly to deal with four issues: how to understand better what is happening and what we are grappling with, economic growth, governance, especially local government, and finance. We have heard some of the statistics mentioned forcefully. The truth is that most—almost all—of the population growth in developing countries in the next generation will be in towns and cities. The total urban population in Africa, Asia and Latin America will double to 4 billion by 2035. Africa is the fastest-urbanising continent in the world. Nearly 40 per cent. of Africans currently live in cities.

It is particularly striking that in 1960 Johannesburg was the only city in sub-Saharan Africa with a population of more than 1 million, but by 2010 there will be 33 cities in Africa with populations of over 1 million. That tells us all we need to know about the pace of change. One of our tasks is to understand better what is happening and to monitor the trends, because good information is vital if the Governments of developing countries are to make decent decisions about that fundamental change.

Target 11 of the MDGs requires us to make a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020. Some countries are making progress and others are off-track and we need to understand why. Having reliable data on slums—the face of urban poverty—is vital. That is why we are working in partnership with UN-Habitat. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Anna Tibaijuka and UN-Habitat for the work that they are doing and for flying the flag of this debate. UN-Habitat is responsible, as well as the World Bank, for global monitoring to ensure that we get decent data that will assist us.

A number of hon. Members have said that cities are the powerhouses of economies. Urbanisation has been central to the sustained economic growth in Asia that has enabled a number of countries in that part of the world to lift many of their citizens out of poverty.

Shanghai has just over 1 per cent. of China's population and contributes 12.5 per cent. of its GDP. I went for the first time last year and spent most of the time with my jaw on the floor. It is an astonishing place. To see the pace of change that is occurring there tells us just how important that city's contribution is to China's economy.

That is happening not only in Asia. Nairobi comprises 12 per cent. of the population of Kenya. It contributes 30 per cent. of the GDP. That tells us in part about the great wave of migration within countries. We talk much about migration between countries, but that is dwarfed by the movement within countries as people leave the places where they have lived for towns to seek work and a better life. As the debate has demonstrated clearly, such growth comes at a price. Very poor people crowd into spaces that no one else will take. They are around open sewers, perched on the side of embankments along railway lines and live in the intense squalor to which my hon. Friend the Member for City of York referred.

Land is the central issue. The poor rarely have tenure on the land that they occupy. It is not always clear who owns the land. We have heard about landlords who make a healthy return on renting their land, but what if there is no clarity about who holds the land? If people are unsure about their future on the land, there is less incentive to invest in improvements. Slum dwellers often have no right to services. In Dhaka in Bangladesh, it is formal policy not to provide them with services. Slum dwelling brings stresses and strains. Mental ill health is a problem. Crime is another problem. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of urban population living in slums.

There is spectacular wealth living alongside intense poverty, and that can bring violence. Indeed, the Commission for Africa said:

"Africa's cities are becoming the powder-keg of political instability and discontent".

We ignore that at our peril. I could not agree more with my hon. Friend the Member for City of York when he talked about crime and ensuring that people are not abandoned because they are poor. Security is indeed the precondition for progress while communities try to deal with the enormous problems that such areas face.

As my hon. Friend John Barrett said, slum dwellings are also places of inspiring resourcefulness. People make a living. They manage to turn their children out in the way that has been described, despite the shacks in which they live. It is possible to make changes. On my recent visit to Bangladesh, I saw a project that we had helped to fund. For about 25 years, a group of people had been living on the embankment going down to the river and by which the sewage was flowing not very fast. That project has provided clean water and sanitation facilities for members of the community, which played an important part in making that happen. According to their ability to pay, people contribute towards the cost. They keep a list and the community decides who can afford to pay what. The project was a striking example of what can be done. I asked the women, because it was they who led the work, about the impact on diarrhoeal diseases. Drinking dirty water gives children diarrhoeal diseases, which is why 6,000 children die in the developing world each day. They do not have clean water to drink. The women said that they had noticed a reduction.

That is an illustration of what can be done to change people's lives for the better. However, above all, jobs are needed. Barriers that prevent people from migrating to towns to work must be removed. People must have the opportunity to set up their own businesses, which goes back to the title to land and property rights, a topic to which I shall return. It is necessary for people to be able to move around the town. Much of the economic life of cities depends on the contribution that is made by the people who live in the slums. They might be working in domestic service or contributing to the manufacture of goods that are exported.

As several hon. Members have said, the process reminds us of what we have been through. It is exactly what happened to us at the start of the 19th century. The conditions were just as appalling. Let us draw on some of those lessons and the social reformers who reported on the condition of human kind, and motivated change through the political process in the 19th century, such as the great pioneer of health, John Snow, who finally proved that cholera was associated with dirty water by taking off the handle from the famous pump in Broad street. There were pioneers in local government who got together to decide what to do about the conditions—the problem included, of course, the great stink outside, which encouraged Parliament to take a greater interest. Joseph Bazalgette was responsible for building the sewers and the water supply system that probably did more than anything else in this country to increase life expectancy.

That brings me to my next point, which is about Governments. Many countries are thinking more about how to devolve power to local level. We should welcome that unreservedly. The truth is that people know best what they need locally. What is striking about the issue of water—I want directly to deal with the point that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made—is how often, in many conversations that I have had in towns, villages and urban areas in developing countries, clean water has emerged as people's priority for improving their lives. Yet that priority does not seem, in many developing countries, to be reflected when national priorities are set.

That is why, in my speech on world water day, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I committed us to double our spending on water in Africa. I shall be reflecting on how things have gone—we have been working in slightly different ways in the past year in implementing that commitment—in a speech that I shall give later this month.

The private sector has a contribution to make. My view on that score is fairly simple. I am profoundly uninterested in an ideological debate about whether the approach should be this or that. I am interested—and so I think are all hon. Members—in what will work to bring more clean water to the largest number of people. When developing countries and their communities have worked out how to do that, let us have more of it, and faster. That is the task that we face.

Property rights are extremely important, but acquiring rights is the first stage. People have to be able to exercise them. I recollect from my first visit to Bangladesh that the landless poor there had rights—but when they tried to exercise them, the police used to come and beat them over the head. It was only through wonderful civil society organisations and their work to help them, which we funded, that those poor people were able to exercise the rights that the law accorded to them. However, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point.

Power without money at local level will not do any good. There is a lack of capacity, and building capacity is fundamental to progress. I pay tribute to all the people in local government in the United Kingdom, and in particular the UK Local Government Alliance for International Development, who are working to build links. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North referred to some of those. I recollect that in one case—that of Daventry and Iganga town—the link came about through environmental health officers. There was a rubbish problem, and progress was made in dealing with that.

Those two towns learned from each other. We make a big mistake if we think that we have all the answers. We do not. In Dhaka in Bangladesh plastic bags have been banned, and the cacophony of two-stroke noise that assaulted me the first time I went was missing on my return in November because all the three-wheelers have been converted to using liquefied natural gas.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Clearly the debate must continue. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will take the matter up in the White Paper. Will he ensure that the urbanisation agenda is given a higher priority?

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

I certainly will, because that is one of the issues that we must deal with. I want to come directly to my hon. Friend's question about slum upgrading. We are funding work on that, and I saw an example—the concreting of alleyways—on my visit to India last year. We are supporting the slum upgrading facility to which she referred. We currently give it just under $11 million. It is a pilot run by UN-Habitat. There are pilot projects in Ghana, Tanzania and Sri Lanka. We need to see how that goes to support others.

It is possible to make progress. Thailand, Mongolia and Uruguay have taken real steps in reducing the number of people living in slums. The biggest challenge, if good governance and local government are secured, is the cash to make things happen. The way in which we finance the work, and developing countries raise the necessary resources to finance the improvements in their towns and cities that the people who live in them, above all, want, is our big challenge for the coming months and years.