First, I welcome the Secretary of State for International Development to the debate. I know that he has taken a great interest in these matters over a long period of time.
As I walked through Westminster Hall, I noted the exhibition on slavery. We know the figures involved and the amount of commitment given in the late 18th century and early 19th century to ensuring that people would no longer suffer as a result of that despicable crime. I am also bound to consider the matter before us in the context of the number of people who have died as a result of the lack of provision of water and sanitation. Obviously, we are not talking about deliberately inflicted circumstances, but people are dying unnecessarily on a scale commensurate with many of the other great concerns that we ought to have. I ask the House a simple question: why does a child die from water-related disease every 15 seconds? That situation cannot continue.
Clean water is life; foul water is death. We, as parents and grandparents, ought to consider that in the context of our own kith and kin. How would we feel if our children or grandchildren were dying of such terrible diseases? In the 19th century, Chadwick and Snow both addressed the question in not dissimilar circumstances. In the aftermath of the industrial revolution and in the slums of Manchester, Birmingham, Sheffield and so on, there was no proper water provision. In the 1830s, 1840s, 1850s and 1860s, a series of reports was produced, because people realised both how awful the situation was and the fact that it was capable of being remedied. It was not only a moral dilemma and problem, but a practical problem. To begin with, Chadwick did not get the reasons for the problem of bad water right—it was John Snow who did so—but in combination they managed to solve the problem, although it took a long time. We now have the technology and the facility, but do we have the political will?
I am bound to add a personal anecdote. In 1849, my great-great-grandfather, William Cash, died of cholera in the great epidemic. Prince Albert also died of cholera a short time later. The curious thing was that my great-great-grandfather was chairman of the National Temperance Society, so he drank water. Even at this distance in time, one must acknowledge the fact that that was, to say the least, something of an irony, because when he and the other directors of the company that he had founded—the National Provident Institution—were gathered together for lunch, the others all drank beer, wine or whatever else was on offer, but he drank water and regrettably died within days.
This important debate is about a present issue. I do not want to overstate comparisons, but I want to contextualise the discussion. We shall have a debate later today on Darfur, and we face the problem of civil wars and conflict in Africa. I have mentioned slavery, both historical and modern, and there is also the problem of AIDS. However, to my mind, it is inconceivable that we cannot give the problem of water and sanitation the attention that it requires. I repeat: a child dies every 15 seconds as a result of water-related disease. I seek an increase in the amount of attention given nationally and internationally to this issue.
I should mention a number of articles. I want to get the problem out in the open because there is a question that we have to address to the media at large. We live in a media age: we know perfectly well that the best way to keep a secret is to make a speech in the House of Commons. A number of people have played an important part in trying to raise the question, but we need a continuation of that process. We need awareness to be built up in the same way as awareness of the other subjects that I mentioned. Larry Elliot and Ashley Seager of The Guardian have written important articles, as have Fiona Harvey of the Financial Times, Paul Vallely of The Independent and Tom Stevenson of The Daily Telegraph. They have taken an interest, but they are isolated examples in the context of a child dying every 15 seconds. We need a continuous commitment.
The Select Committee on International Development recently produced a good report. I pay tribute to Tearfund and WaterAid, to Laura Webster and Jennean Akadiri, both of whom have been enormously helpful to me. I also pay tribute to the 220 MPs who have signed my early-day motion on this issue, and the approximately 300 MPs who signed my motion on the reduction of third world debt.
I am interested in the subject because, leaving aside other matters—sovereignty, Europe and things of that ilk—the practical questions of life and death and of people's lives are of ever greater importance, because they can be solved by combined action throughout the world and through the national and international agencies. I appeal not only to the newspapers, but to The Economist, the Economist Intelligence Unit, the New Statesman, and The Spectator. I ask them to give this subject space, to give it attention and the coverage that it deserves.
Recently the British Medical Journal, for the first time in 150 years, did a report on which issues the public throughout the world regarded as the most significant and the most important. It discussed which medical and related solutions had led to the biggest change in the world, and some 15 milestones were chosen. Interestingly, sanitation came above antibiotics, by a clear head. When people focus on sanitation and water, they realise that it is the issue that spreads its tributaries throughout all public health problems and throughout the entire global landscape, in a way that deserves the sort of attention that I hope it will receive.
One billion people globally lack access to safe water, and 2.6 billion people lack access to sanitation. As I have said, a child dies every 15 seconds from diarrhoea, and 443 million school days are lost globally each year to the illness. Half the world's hospital beds are taken up with people suffering from water-borne diseases, 40 billion working hours are lost each year in Africa to the need to carry water, and 11 per cent. more children attend school when sanitation is available. Improvements to water and sanitation are crucial if development interventions are to be effective. New hospitals will remain full and new schools could remain empty unless water and sanitation are included in the bundle of essential services that are given priority nationally. Water and sanitation are also important to improving the lives and status of women. However, globally, aid to the sector has fallen and less aid has been focused on the countries that need it the most. Although spending on health and education has doubled since 1990, the share of global aid spent on water and sanitation is contracting. The problem is compounded by the fact that renewable freshwater supplies are running low due to a sixfold growth in consumption in the 20th century, and that issue is likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
I very much welcome this debate. As a member of the International Development Committee, I have visited a number of pit latrines this year as part of our investigation and report. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the lack of funding for sanitation, which is much more severe than the lack of funding for water, is a very serious problem? People fail to address the issue, sometimes simply out of embarrassment, but it is vital to do so if we are to save the many lives that he has spoken about this morning.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She has taken a great interest in this subject and was a contributor to the Committee's report. I agree with her 100 per cent. My constituency abuts Stoke-on-Trent, where sanitary ware has traditionally been produced in this country, and I shall be in touch with people there to try to promote their interest in the subject for the very reason that she has mentioned.
Some people might think that provision of latrines, lavatories, toilets, sewerage and so on is a difficult subject, but I disagree. It is so vital and the pit latrines that the hon. Lady mentioned are so fundamental that we must take it seriously. Piped water, for example, can be provided, but what is the point of piped water if it becomes contaminated by sewage? It is essential that we tackle those issues, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention.
It is estimated that the target for water and sanitation in the millennium development goals will be met in all regions only if donors and developing country Governments double their spending from $14 billion to $30 billion per year immediately, with priority given to Africa and south Asia and to the issue of sanitation. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for his work, and I hope that he will take my criticisms, such as they are, in good heart. With a change of Prime Minister, who knows what might happen to the right hon. Gentleman? However, the plain fact is that his voice in such matters will continue to reverberate, and I sincerely trust that the new Prime Minister, when he takes over, will give water and sanitation the sort of priority that he has given to education in Africa.
I turn to the Government's record on the issue. United Kingdom aid to the water and sanitation sector fell steadily between 2000 and 2004, but the Secretary of State has made a number of positive recent announcements. In March 2004, the Department for International Development produced a water action plan and in 2005 the Secretary of State announced a doubling of aid for water and sanitation for Africa by 2007-08 from £47.5 million to £95 million. In the context of what I have said, I am bound to ask whether that is enough—even though it is considerable.
DFID's 2006 White Paper included water and sanitation as one of the four key basic services—the others are health, education and social protection—on which it will spend 50 per cent. of its aid. The White Paper also announced a "doubling of the doubling" to Africa, with aid increasing to £200 million per year by 2010-11, as the Secretary of State said in reply to my question in the House the other day. DFID is drafting a new policy paper on water and sanitation, and it published a document earlier this year called, "Why we need a global action plan on water and sanitation". I am not going to say that those are just fine words; they are important, but the Department must do better.
The Secretary of State has demonstrated considerable commitment to the issues, but with the Chancellor championing education and the Prime Minister closely linked to commitments on HIV/AIDS, it could be argued that water and sanitation have not received the same high-level political commitment from the UK at international summits. The Committee's report also accused DFID of having a blind spot when it comes to sanitation, as Ann McKechin said.
Aid from other European Union member states has also declined. The EU water initiative, launched in 2002, aimed to increase high-level support for those issues and to improve mechanisms for co-ordination between donors nationally. However, despite DFID attempts to improve the initiative, there remains a general lack of commitment from most member states, and we believe that the initiative has largely failed to achieve its objectives.
Other major donors to the sector include the United States and the World Bank. The amount of money that the World Bank provides for water and sanitation is great, but it, too, must do better. Major donors have tended not to focus on the poorest people in the poorest countries; instead, they have spent more on a small number of major infrastructure projects in middle-income countries.
When one looks at who suffers the most in Africa, and in sub-Saharan Africa in particular, it is important to note that the poorest people in the poorest slums pay the most for water. There are rackets in certain countries. In Kenya, for example, there are disparities in the amount of money that the water carriers and suppliers seek, and the net result is that poor people pay disproportionately more for water. That is inconceivable when one considers the impact that it is bound to have on poor people and their children. No wonder, one child dies every 15 seconds.
The G8, which is about to reconvene, last discussed water and sanitation in 2003, when it signed up to the Evian action plan on water and sanitation. The plan, however, was more a broad statement of intent than a concerted strategy for meeting the MDG targets. With two days to go before the G8 meeting and with one child dying every 15 seconds, I believe that now is the time to revisit the issue of water and sanitation and for the G8 to commit itself to a comprehensive plan of action.
Will the Secretary of State speak to the Prime Minister? Will he push for a global action plan on water and sanitation at the G8 summit, the day after tomorrow? That is a specific request—in fact, I would call it a demand. I do not want to overstate the case, but I want to ask: will the Secretary of State please speak to the Prime Minister and raise the issue as a top priority in the G8? That is needed as a first step to providing high-level political commitment to action. The Prime Minister has just made a speech in Berlin about commitments made at the previous G8 meetings being not fulfilled by other countries. Now we have an opportunity to raise the issue in the context of a child dying every 15 seconds as a result of water and sanitation problems. Certainly DFID has acknowledged the need for a plan at that level, but we need more commitment immediately.
Given the fact that 220 MPs have signed my early-day motion and that five chairmen of all-party groups on African matters were among the first six signatories, the fact that we went to Downing street with WaterAid and Tearfund only three weeks ago and presented a petition—I have a reply from the Prime Minister acknowledging that—and the fact that we are setting up a new all-party committee on water and sanitation to look more deeply into these questions, I again urge the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister to respond. I am writing to the Prime Minister today to urge him to bring the issue up at the G8. I look forward to hearing him report back to Parliament on the issue, presumably on Monday. I do not think that what I have proposed is a challenge or an unreasonable request. In the context of what I have said, it is essential.
Finally, we must ensure that sanitation is fully integrated into all health, education and other development initiatives. I say this to my hon. Friend Mark Simmonds, who is my party's Front-Bench spokesman. We are giving a great deal of attention to the subject, as I have no doubt he will demonstrate when he speaks. No schools or health facilities should be built without latrines. Indeed, I understand that the new health care strategy is to be launched today in relation to this matter. We must fulfil our commitments on spending in the sector and work hard to ensure that other countries make it a priority. That includes countries within the EU, although I am always concerned about whether it will manage to achieve its targets. We must ensure that efforts are made to integrate the water sector fully into climate change plans, too.
I end by simply saying this. If I have demonstrated a passionate concern about the issue, it is because I believe that it matters. It matters because, as I said at the beginning of my speech, clean water is life; foul water is death. We can no longer allow a child to die every 15 seconds as a result of a failure on water and sanitation.
It is an enormous pleasure to follow Mr. Cash. I congratulate him on achieving a debate on a such an important subject, and on the eve of the G8 summit, too, as he said. He has shown a great interest in the subject and has pursued it with the diligence that we have come to expect from him.
I am also particularly grateful for the excellent support that the hon. Gentleman gave to the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, which I sponsored last year. Now that a first-class report has been presented to Parliament—the first of its kind arising from that Act—I am sure that, when we have a debate in the House, he will continue to pursue the subjects dear to his heart and to present his case in the well-informed and comprehensive way that he has done this morning.
I am pleased, too, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is present. I am sure that he will confirm that the issue is very much at the heart not only of the Government's approach, but of their endorsement—also now included in the 2006 Act—of the millennium development goals. At least one of those goals—perhaps more—impacts on the issue of water and sanitation, and of course we all want that pursued. The intention in millennium development goal 7 is to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by the target time of 2015. I know that the Government accept that objective; indeed, from everything that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, it is fair to say that he would feel that we can do even better than that. Nevertheless, there is a commitment to the millennium development goals.
The hon. Member for Stone acknowledged that, as reflected in DFID's recent White Paper, the UK is striving to ensure that our commitments on basic services and on doubling the water spend in Africa by 2007-08 are achieved, and that the spend is then doubled again, to £200 million by 2010-11. We all accept, however, that our current trends suggest that we will simply not meet the target in sub-Saharan Africa. That applies to other aspects of what we hope to do, but it does not mean for one second that we withdraw from what we want to achieve. Nigeria has the largest slum populations in Africa and less than half the rural population there has access to an improved water source. Together with UNICEF, DFID is helping 500,000 people get access to water in eight states and piloting innovative low-cost sanitation initiatives.
I was pleased that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the important debate that is to take place in the House this afternoon on Darfur. It is important that we acknowledge that DFID has provided £17 million specifically for the water sector, through its humanitarian assistance programme in Darfur and southern Sudan. However, the great frustration that we all share is that because of the conflict and the carnage there, even that funding will not be as effective as we would all wish it to be. Nevertheless, DFID should be congratulated on its contribution.
DFID has done well to encourage the international focus on the issue, particularly with its recent document, entitled "Why we need a global action plan on water and sanitation". I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will wish to develop the commitments in that document in his response. It highlighted the role to be played by Governments and civil society in the co-ordination and management of projects, as well as the need for better financing and capability building at local and regional levels. Again, our Government have a record of which I am proud. DFID recently launched a five-year, £3 million research programme on water supply and sanitation in three regions of Ethiopia, helping to show how better financing can strengthen human security and provide opportunities for growth, for the benefit of poor people in Ethiopia and the wider Nile region.
Of course, as the hon. Member for Stone said, not only Africa suffers from the problems that he identified. In Pakistan, half the girls who drop out of school do so because of a lack of access to latrines. That underlines the point that the problem of water and sanitation links in to the other problems that we want to deal with, such as health care, infant mortality, maternal mortality and education. I think that DFID would highlight the importance of its funded programme in the North-West Frontier province in Pakistan, which in 2006-07 provided clean drinking water for 170,000 people and proper sanitation for 225,000 people.
Recently, that excellent organisation Results UK, which is doing wonderful work in this field and particularly on tuberculosis, encouraged a number of us, including my hon. Friend Dr. Kumar, to visit India. Although we were focusing on tuberculosis, it was obvious to us that the issue raised by the hon. Member for Stone—water and sanitation—was pivotal in trying to find a solution to that problem and to many others. The fact is that 1,000 people die of tuberculosis in India every day. Even if we improve water and sanitation as we want to, we will not solve the problem exclusively through that. Nevertheless, that contribution is significant.
At any one time, half the people in the developing world suffer from one or more of the diseases associated with inadequate water supply provision. Half the world's hospital beds are occupied by people suffering from water-related diseases. That was unsurprising in India, because as we heard, just 15 per cent. of the rural population have access to a toilet. The UK Government promote water sustainability in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and that is welcome. It was certainly welcome to the people to whom we spoke, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland will recall.
Given the impact that climate change is likely to have on low-lying areas of the sub-continent, it is important that we have a strategy to deal with such matters. I am glad to join the hon. Member for Stone, if I may, in paying tribute to Tearfund, to Laura Webster and to WaterAid. In India, we heard of WaterAid's contribution. It has both rural and urban projects across India and helps to promote sanitation by targeting some of the country's most vulnerable communities. We heard a lot about its good work in Bangalore, and it is making an important contribution to achieving the millennium development goals in those areas.
I believe that the issues raised in this important debate go beyond even Governments, and so I want to end with a reference to development education. The vast majority of the British people are supportive of what the hon. Member for Stone has said and of the things that we want to do to provide clean water and proper sanitation. For that reason, I was proud that one of the main secondary schools in my constituency, Rosehall high school, working with a nearby primary school, St. Mary's, has involved itself in a twinning link with a little village in Malawi. When I visited the school recently, we saw slides that showed places where water had not been provided and where people had to walk five miles to obtain it, and because of the help that the two schools have been able to give through fundraising and keeping in touch with that village, water is now provided in those areas. I am proud of the schools for that.
The challenge to us all goes further than that. Development education means that we want more schools, individuals, churches and voluntary organisations to take the view that together we can indeed give this matter a push. It is vital, for all the reasons that have been given, that we achieve the millennium development goals and more. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stone on the focus that he has encouraged us to deliver on those matters in this important debate.
The hon. Member for Stone and I have had a number of discussions about water over the past few months, and when he was putting together his early-day motion, I was glad to have the honour of being one of the signatories. It is a great credit to the House that more than 200 of our Members have signed it; I only wish that 646 had. We are working on that, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will put his usual effort into it, as he does with most subjects. It was a pleasure not to hear the word "Europe" in his speech today, but it is early days and there is still time left. I was interested in the story about his great-great-grandfather, who drank only water and sadly died. It gives people like me, who drink alcohol, some hope that we may continue for a bit longer yet. But enough of the frivolities, as they say.
As chairman of the all-party group on Nigeria, I want to mention a couple of examples, because I believe that every Member of this House should try to go to such countries and see what it is like for people who have less than nothing. Perhaps when they came back, we would not have the problem of having only 200 signatures on an early-day motion. We would have those 646 signatures if the Members could see what some of us have seen.
I have two stories to relate from my last visit to Nigeria, which took place only last November. The first concerns an area just outside Kano, called Wudil. It is a semi-rural region, with a population of some 200,000 people. The project is probably one of those DFID projects mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. It is an example of good housekeeping and of how the work should be done.
DFID stepped in to help that community and worked alongside partners from other countries—from Canada in particular—to ensure that the water pumps and water station were up and running and that the water was delivered to the local villages. That has increased the amount of water delivered from 500,000 litres a day to 10 million litres a day. That is 20 times what the people there received before, and it was better than anything else I had seen in Nigeria in my visits over the previous few years. To get 20 times as much water—we will even reach the stage where some in the villages receive water straight into their houses—is fantastic compared with what we have seen in the shanty towns, with their sheet metal and dirty water running in the street being siphoned off, and where young children walk two miles to fetch water, and carry their buckets, containers, pots and pans all the way back to the house to provide dirty water to cook and clean with. That is not what we want to see, and DFID should be congratulated on the work that it has done in that case.
Let us compare that community with another, Iddo Sarki, which is just outside Abuja. It has six standpipes, of which two work. The two that work have been installed for a number of years, and were put in properly. The piping was dug deep into the ground and there was not a problem. There was an improvement project, but by the time that it had been passed down from central Government to the state government, and then via local government to the local water installers—with everybody taking their skim off the top—the further piping was left lying on top of the ground. It was the type of very thin plastic piping that we would use for gutters. Needless to say, given the heat and the number of people in the village, some of whom stood on the piping, it cracked. The result was that there was no water pressure and no water. Four brand new standpipes were waiting to deliver water, but did so for what I believe was a total of only 120 minutes.
That is not good enough. Somewhere along the line, money had been given by a Government—I never did work out which one, although I do not think it was the British Government. However, by the time that that money had come down through the various channels, with various people skimming amounts off the top and the contracting company using the cheapest possible materials, it was clear that the installation would never last. As a result, a village of more than 5,000 people had only two standpipes for everybody in the village.
That is an example from just outside the Nigerian nation's capital, which is a brand new city that is lovely to visit. It has a wonderful sports stadium and complex, yet only five miles down the road there is a problem of the type that I have described. I hope that it will have been rectified by the time that I return to Nigeria at the end of the year. I have written to new President about it, as I did to the old one; I have been in touch with various members of the Nigerian Government, and I have spoken to the high commissioner here. If the problem is not rectified, we will have to ask ourselves how we should spend our money in such countries and how we can ensure that work such as that in Kano is repeated elsewhere.
The hon. Gentleman may recall that I produced the International Development (Anti-corruption Audit) Bill. I also exchanged a few words with the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill when his Bill was going through, and likewise with the Secretary of State. The governance issue is a central one; corruption of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has described causes death, because it prevents sanitation and water from getting to where they are needed.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. Corruption is undoubtedly one of the major problems that Africa and other parts of the world must overcome, and achieving that is a matter of good governance. In this country, we might argue and complain that the Government are not doing this or that the Opposition are not doing that, but we are held accountable to the people whom we represent. In countries of the type we are discussing, nobody is held accountable. They do not have taxes as such, and the result is that elected representatives are not accountable to anyone. That is one of the problems in the world: that elected representatives are not accountable to the people whom they supposedly represent.
The visit to the village just outside Abuja took place in the run-up to the Nigerian elections that were held a month or so ago, and there were posters all over the place. I asked the village elder who the local councillor was—I knew what the answer was because there was a poster right beside him—and he replied that it was the man in the poster. I asked when he had last seen the man, and he said, "Oh no, we have never seen him." On asking what he meant, I was told that the councillor sends money and food every so often when there is an election on, so that people can have a party and so that everyone will vote for him. The elder seemed to think that I was the councillor's election agent, because he added, "By the way, we will be voting for him." I said, "Do not vote for that man. He has done nothing for you. Look at the state of your village and of your pipes. You have no decent water. Why are you voting for him? He is supposed to deliver for you."
The people who have to receive these facilities should realise that they have a say. That is what I told the village elder: "Keep electing somebody different until you get somebody who does something for you. Do not vote for this man." Nevertheless, I know that the village will have voted for the same councillor, that he will have been elected and that he still will not have been to the village, which is all very sad. We have a job of education to do, and I hope that some of that education will filter down to people as a result of good governance.
There is not only bad news from Nigeria. The country has realised that elections are important. They may be corrupt and not the same as in this country, but the system is a lot better than a dictatorship and the system 10 years ago. Things are moving, albeit slowly, and as I pointed out to people there, democracy in this country started many centuries ago and some people still do not believe that we have got it right. We are still working at it too.
Governance is very important. That is why I believe, after two or three years when I believed something completely different, that when we invest in projects such as those on water, we should oversee them from start to finish. We cannot look at every water project for years to come, but when we walk away, we should know that we have provided the best quality materials, that the best effort has been made and that people have been shown how to maintain what has been done. That is the other problem: we do not show people how to maintain the equipment that we give them. We put in expensive pumps and we do not train people in how to use them.
The good news in Wudil was that that was not the case. We are training people to look after things for themselves, so that they will be able to maintain what has been achieved. I expect that when I return at the end of the year, the system will be fully up and running, and that one of the local engineers will be in charge of running it. If that is not the case, the same thing will happen as has happened in the past; the installation will rust, break and fall into disrepair and we shall be back to standpipes in the street. I hope that that does not happen.
I have waffled on a bit, Mr. Amess, but this is an important subject, and it is important that we draw on what we have seen in order to explain what actually happens and to tell people the realities of life—or in many cases death. I have not even mentioned the hospitals that we visited. Nobody in this country would go near them, but thousands of people sit outside them, waiting for ante-natal clinics that they never had in the past and that are the result of international investment. Those investments must be overseen too.
Water and food are life's necessities. Along with education, they are the resources that we should be giving to countries such as Nigeria, together with the rest of Africa and other third-world countries. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is renowned for the work that he has done in such countries, and he knows—from personal experience and better than anyone present—how much needs to be done. I have been an MP for only six and a half years, but if I can learn about such matters in that short time, so can everyone else. One day we will have an EDM that bears every single MP's name, and we will have a debate in the main Chamber. I hope that the Prime Minister will implore the G8 to put in more money. A target of 0.7 per cent. of GDP is a start, but that is all. It is a target that we need to reach, and afterwards we need to go further.
We must learn the lessons of 7/7. If we deny people access to life and the same rights as others, they will take matters into their own hands. Europe would not be able to cope with that kind of problem if it emerged in Africa, so it is important not just for Africans but for the rest of the world that we invest in poorer countries and raise their living standards to a reasonable level at which they can look after themselves and progress.
I again congratulate the hon. Member for Stone on securing this debate. I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on the work that he has done. He has done a great job, and I am sure that he will continue to do great work in this field, no matter what position he has come
I congratulate Mr. Cash on securing this vital debate.
I pass on the apologies of my right hon. Friend Malcolm Bruce, who is chairing the International Development Committee and so could not be here today. He asked me to make two comments in connection with the Select Committee's recent report. First, he wants to emphasise that sanitation should be a priority, as it has a huge effect on development. That is set out in the report and has been raised in this debate. Secondly, he wanted me to mention his belief that the core problem is partly the fact that DFID has a staff shortage and that expertise in the field may be diminishing. It is vital that expertise is kept, in some form, preferably by funding expertise and people on the ground in the places where the problems actually exist.
I shall not discuss the Select Committee's report now but wait until a debate is arranged specifically to discuss it. Instead, I will focus on the United Nations convention on the law of the non-navigational uses of international watercourses and on British funding of the public-private infrastructure advisory facility, which I shall refer to as PPIAF, as the name is such a mouthful.
We have heard that water is life. In Britain, thankfully, we do not have to think of it like that. We moan if there is a hosepipe ban, but elsewhere in the world water shortages literally mean life or death. Water is a fundamental human need, and access to it is a basic human right.
It is a sad reality that political tension and conflict over water often go hand in hand. Therefore, it is vital to address water supply issues not only to help people in the developing world avoid health problems, as we have heard this morning, but to avoid wars. The Government must take a lead on the issue.
The more that I learn about water, the more I think that we are, on the whole, a little weak in the area—the Secretary of State will forgive me for saying that. The main issue is not sanitation but water, which has particular relevance to developing countries. There are already examples of political tension over water that crosses boundaries. There is conflict over water access and an increasing threat of mass migration away from areas of water stress. There will be migration and influxes of people. It is essential to secure access to water and, in particular, to secure the integrity and sustainable management of rivers.
The UN convention covers non-navigational uses of watercourses shared by two or more countries. It is vital in reducing conflict over water, but I understand that the UK has not yet ratified it. WWF drew my attention to that, and to the fact that, worldwide, there are 263 rivers that cross international boundaries.
It is also my understanding that the UK sponsored the convention at the UN General Assembly in 1997. There is an urgent need for the UK to take an international lead on such matters, and I would be grateful if the Secretary of State would review ratification. Time is passing: the convention was first put into the arena 10 years ago.
The second matter that I want to discuss is the importance of getting aid in connection with water right. The Secretary of State will know that I have already been banging on about that to some extent. For those of us who have been present during past debates and oral questions on water, it will not come as a surprise that I return to the topic of PPIAFs.
Realistically, constructive partnerships between communities, non-governmental organisations, Governments and the private sector are the only way for developing nations to get sustainable water supplies. The private sector often brings vital investment and expertise, but there is a problem around the PPIAFs. For the elucidation of Members, on
"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?"
In response, he stated:
"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."—[Hansard, 28 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1481.]
I was discomfited to have a question on water answered with an example about telecoms. That demonstrates where the problem lies. I do not believe that the Government know much about the workings of the PPIAF or its effectiveness. At present, there is little or no scrutiny of it, and that is why it is allowed to continue working in the way that it does without much questioning. That is why it is allowed to continue to fail.
I am not saying that every project will be a success, but I urge the Government to assess the contribution of the PPIAF to ensure that the money that we are spending on aid and on such structures is delivering on the ground. The Secretary of State slightly evaded my question about the PPIAF.
I am sure that the Government are aware of a report called "Down the Drain", that assessed PPIAF's work on water since it was created in 1999. The report gives examples of failing projects and criticises the PPIAF for a lack of transparency in its activities. If the facility is to continue, we ought to be fighting for it to be more transparent, so that we can understand what our money is achieving.
As I said, the Government of Norway announced that they will no longer support the PPIAF. I urge our Government to question our support of the PPIAF's work on water. On 23 and
It is questionable whether donor funding of the PPIAF's water projects could be considered effective or appropriate expenditure. I believe that the current programme is failing. I would like the UK to review whether our aid money for water—and, for that matter, for sanitation—is being spent effectively through the PPIAF, and to cease the funding if the evidence is that that is not the case. Otherwise, we are just throwing money away.
To add grist to the mill, I was recently informed by the World Development Movement that Italy has formally withdrawn from the controversial PPIAF funding, as well as Norway. As two countries have now judged the PPIAF inadequate, it is over to the Secretary of State to consider whether he too will make that judgment. He must review the work and ensure that our money is being spent effectively.
I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend Mr. Cash on securing this important debate. I put it on the record that he has a passionate and keen interest in the developing world, particularly Africa. He is extremely knowledgeable and he articulated that knowledge in an informed way, as he described the serious water and sanitation problems in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.
My hon. Friend rightly put the issue in the context of our own history in the United Kingdom and the significant efforts that were made in the 19th century to improve some of the appalling conditions that existed, particularly in our cities. The significant difference between the conditions that existed then in the UK and those that now exist in the developing world is the presence of powerful metropolitan boroughs and the infrastructure necessary to implement many of the recommendations that have been highlighted in the reports mentioned. That infrastructure does not exist in significant parts of the developing world.
My hon. Friend was also right to detail the significant impact of the millennium development goals on improving the lives of people in relation to health, education and other areas. I will return to that later, if I have time. He was also correct to say that the Conservative party is seriously considering in detail how to improve the delivery of water and sanitation, how the issue interacts with climate change and aid effectiveness monitoring and how we can achieve a faster more effective delivery of water and sanitation to help those who really need it.
Mr. Clarke is a renowned expert on this matter and adeptly piloted his private Member's Bill through Parliament. Hon. Members from all parties made a small a contribution to the passage of his Bill and, like the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that the issues raised by the Bill will be debated on the Floor of the House as soon as possible, because it has made a significant improvement to the DFID annual report, in which it has rightly been subsumed.
The right hon. Gentleman was correct not to focus only on Africa, but to highlight water and sanitation issues in other parts of the world. DFID also needs to focus its attention in that respect. However, he was also right to recognise DFID's contribution to the issue, although all hon. Members agree that more needs to be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone and the right hon. Gentleman were both correct to highlight the significant impact that organisations such as Tearfund, WaterAid and some of the other excellent non-governmental organisations have had on this issue.
I had the privilege of travelling with John Robertson to Nigeria, where we looked at many of the issues that he mentioned. He is an expert on Nigeria with a high reputation and a high regard for those in Nigeria because of his expertise. When we were there, we both met the formidable DFID team who were doing an excellent job, sometimes in difficult circumstances. However, he would be the first to acknowledge the significant problem of how Nigeria can provide the necessary resources for water and sanitation if it does not have an accurate view of its own population. He was also right to highlight the financial impropriety in some parts of Nigeria, because that makes it difficult to deliver the necessary improvements.
Lynne Featherstone was right to press the Secretary of State to ratify the UN convention and right to raise the significance of water management in the developing world. She may be aware that WWF is doing significant work on analysing those issues. I advise the Secretary of State and his officials to look at that report when it is available.
I will not repeat the statistics that have been mentioned, but make two or three points to re-emphasise the significance of the issue. There are 5,000 child deaths a day—I am not sure whether that equates to a child dying every 15 seconds, but it is a significant number—because of unclean water and poor sanitation. However, there has been some progress. Some 10 million people gained access to improved drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa annually between 1990 and 2004. The problem is that the population is growing far faster than improved services can be delivered. It is estimated that, during that same period, 60 million more people did not have access to water. On sanitation, it has been estimated that the numbers of people who have access to facilities has risen by 5 per cent. since 1990. However, that has been outstripped by population growth, so an additional 111 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to sanitation.
Water and sanitation is a key millennium development goal and, in some parts of the world, particularly in Asia, providing access to water is on track. Sadly, as with much else in sub-Saharan Africa, progress towards the millennium development goal for water and sanitation—I think it is No. 7—is significantly off track. If we continue at the current rate, it will not be reached until 2076.
I do not wish to paint a completely bleak picture, because there has been progress. Mauritius and South Africa are close to universal access to water. In Uganda, there has been a significant increase in the number of people with access to sanitation and water, with the figure tripling from 21 to 61 per cent. between 1990 and 2006. We acknowledge the perhaps belated progress that DFID has made on the issue by doubling the funding for water and sanitation to £95 million and doubling it again by 2011-12—whether that is enough is a debate for another day. We welcome the Government's acknowledgement in November 2006 that access to safe and affordable water is a right for all. However, the International Development Committee report that I, along with the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, hope will be debated in full on a separate occasion, was critical of DFID. It said that sanitation was neglected by DFID and in evidence to the Select Committee, the Secretary of State himself acknowledged that its eye had perhaps been taken off the ball regarding that.
The issue is a particularly complicated part of the international development sphere because there are numerous complex and interrelated challenges. I shall raise two or three key matters. Water and sanitation is a more challenging sector than health and education because there are often a number of Government departments, agencies and private contractors involved in the provision of the service. There is rarely one Department responsible and the issue is often the responsibility of local government, which in many developing nations does not have the absorptive capacity or infrastructure, and is regularly over-burdened, under-resourced and lacking the required expertise.
John Robertson made a point about corruption and governance and I backed him up on that. I take the point that my hon. Friend makes about local government, but the history of the issue and the context in which we are considering it shows that it was the reform movement and the local government changes that took place in the mid-19th century that provided the mechanism to enable delivery. Would my hon. Friend like to pursue that point?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention as he is absolutely right. I was going to say that DFID can play a significant role in strengthening local government accountability and structure, and civil society in local areas. That would enable better and more effective streamlining of delivery mechanisms and instruments. My hon. Friend makes an additional point, which picks up on the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West, about central Government accountability. He was right to highlight the dislocation that exists in Nigeria and elsewhere in the developing world because the electorate can bring to bear no accountability upon the individual who has been elected. There is often no taxation structure or system and that situation needs to be improved. That issue relates to the building of pluralistic civil societies, which I know DFID is involved with in many developing nations. We must make a greater and more significant impact on reforming institutions, reducing corruption and strengthening legal frameworks. Without central Government commitment and accountability in developing nations, it will be difficult to improve access to water and sanitation.
Another key point is that few water utilities are financially sustained with tariffs. It is rare to cover all operational and maintenance costs, not to mention the original funds for capital investment, so most utilities rely on subsidies, which presents significant challenges in weak and fragile states. I saw that for myself in Yemen, where Oxfam had put a water and sanitation system into a tremendously poor village just outside Aden. Not only was the system not sustainable because Oxfam would only be there for a certain number of years and the local government structures did not have the funds to improve it, but people in the village did not have the money to access the water supply and sanitation. That related to my hon. Friend's comment that often it is the poorest who are asked to pay more, which is completely unacceptable.
Better water and sanitation could make a significant contribution to achieving all the millennium development goals. It could reduce the number of people suffering food scarcity and living on less than a dollar a day—millennium development goal 1. It could boost school enrolment—millennium development goal 2. It could promote gender equality—millennium development goal 3. It could reduce child mortality—millennium development goal 4. It could improve maternal health—millennium development goal 5. It could protect people from HIV and other diseases—millennium development goal 6. In addition, however, there is a moral imperative to improve access to water and sanitation. It has been established that improvements are cost-beneficial—the potential economic gains significantly outweigh the costs.
As the Opposition spokesman, I have three particular suggestions on which I think that DFID needs to focus. The first is greater efforts to promote sanitation and waste water treatment. Often the problem is not lack of water, but poor management, pollution and wastage, and lack of facilities. That might change as climate change has an impact; there might be more significant water shortages as rainfall and river levels drop, exacerbating water scarcity and water stress, which will lead to conflict and significant migratory flows, particularly into urban areas. It is important that we provide water and sanitation facilities, which will enable and enhance economic growth, thereby enabling developing nations to stand on their own two feet.
My second suggestion is that it is important that DFID encourage more flexible local, small-scale providers to strengthen capacity. In northern Bangladesh, I saw for myself a project run by an NGO involving microfinance and microcredit, enabling small villages to produce sanitation equipment, which they then sold to surrounding villages, which not only helped sanitation and watercourse cleanliness, but generated income for themselves, so that they could provide for their families and buy into other products and services.
Although subsidies will remain necessary to provide sanitation in rural areas, output-based aid and performance-based subsidies to support and incentivise service delivery are important. Tying subsidies to performance output to improve service quality and lower costs, thereby allowing increased coverage, could be a significant way forward. Indeed, recently, in Mozambique, 36,300 new connections have been made—a 22 per cent. increase in Maputo alone—via output-based aid.
My third suggestion is for subsidies for initial connection costs to increase access more rapidly, given that tariffs rarely cover operating and maintenance costs. That means ensuring sustainable long-term funding from donors and the internal national domestic budget allocations, which will enable utilities to extend their services and target areas to where the majority of poor people live.
I have two or three quick questions for the Secretary of State. The EU initiative on water and sanitation has not been a great success, even though it has improved. We are into the 10th round of the EU development fund, the replenishment of which will be finalised this year. Is DFID pressing for a reform of the EU water facility and, if so, what progress has been made? Will the Secretary of State say what progress is being made to harmonise the work of the 23 UN agencies currently involved in water and sanitation? It might be preferable to have one country plan, co-ordinating body and monitoring and evaluation strategy in each country working with the respective Governments to deliver the improvements in water and sanitation that we all want.
There was criticism in the Select Committee report about the lack of technical expertise in DFID. I hope that the Secretary of State will say today that that is being addressed, or has been already. The 2007 annual report states, in the context of the action plan that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill mentioned earlier, that DFID is updating its policy work on water and sanitation. When will that work be publicly available, so that the House can consume and discuss it? We welcome the increased resources that DFID has pledged for water and sanitation and the fact that it has recognised concerns that there might not be significant absorptive capacity on the ground. Will he say what steps DFID is taking to strengthen the absorptive capacity of local government and providers to ensure that that funding has the maximum impact in the shortest possible time?
Effective investment in water and sanitation facilities is essential if we are to see improvements in living conditions, economic performance and the quality of life in the developing world. I plead with the Secretary of State to ensure that every penny of additional funding is delivered effectively for the benefit of those in the greatest need. He will find that the Opposition are supportive of the British agenda for water and sanitation.
I congratulate Mr. Cash on securing the debate on his early-day motion and on the passion and eloquence with which he spoke this morning on a subject close to the hearts of all right hon. and hon. Members present. I welcome the contributions of my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke, my hon. Friend John Robertson and the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) and for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds). I congratulate also the End Water Poverty campaign, initiated by WaterAid, on encouraging all of us to do more. I welcome the International Development Committee report; the fact that it chose to carry out this inquiry and focus on this very important issue has been of great assistance.
The hon. Member for Stone summed it up when he talked about water being the stuff of life, but we have a world water crisis. The statistics are stark: 1.1 billion people lack clean water, 2.6 billion have no access to sanitation and 5,000 children die every day—he said that one dies every 15 seconds—because they have no water. In developing countries, the task of fetching and carrying water falls mainly to girls and women. On a recent visit to Malawi, I walked with some women and I ended that afternoon with an even greater appreciation of the sheer physical labour involved in that task. Those women walked six times that day the 15 minutes to the water points to collect the water, put incredibly heavy buckets on their heads and walked back. When girls are doing that, they cannot go to school. As he rightly said, the knock-on effects on their lives are enormous. They are less likely to have healthy children and be protected from HIV, and it is very clear that girls who have gone to school have greater knowledge and capacity to influence what happens to their lives and bodies than girls who have not. In Africa, an estimated 5 per cent. of gross domestic product is lost to illnesses and deaths caused by dirty water and the absence of sanitation.
Everyone recognises that that must change. That is why we have the millennium development goal for water and sanitation, which is to reduce by half the proportion of people without access to safe water supplies and basic sanitation by 2015. As we have heard, some countries are on target to meet that goal, but sub-Saharan Africa is really lagging behind on water and most of the developing world will miss out on sanitation. As the debate today has shown, the real challenge is to get governance right—to get the right institutions and systems. That challenge will become much greater owing to rapid population growth and rising urbanisation. As the hon. Member for Stone reminded us, we went through exactly the same process in this country in the 19th century. It is now being replicated in the developing world, first in Asia and then in Africa. In the next 50 years, the majority of people will live in towns and cities, but where is the clean water supply and sanitation going to come from? How did it change here? Contributions from social reformers, such as Chadwick and John Snow, drew attention to it. They insisted that the hand be taken off the pump in Broad street, which proved finally that cholera is caused by contaminated water. Remember the Great Stink in the 19th century when this Parliament finally got the message when it had to stop sitting because of the stink in the River Thames.
Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West, made the point that the real lesson is about political will. The question is why it took our nation so long to get the message that lack of clean water and sanitation had a terrible impact on people's lives. The question is exactly the same in the developing world. In the end, the national Governments in those countries have to get the message. With the best will in the world, we cannot do it for people. Those Governments have to hear the message direct from their own electorate.
Let me explain one of the challenges. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness was right forcefully to make the point he did about the problem of diffuse responsibility. In almost every country, there is a national education Ministry and a national health Ministry, but no national Ministry with responsibility for water and sanitation. The issue is dealt with regionally and by local authorities—it is dealt with at a very local level. The part that we play is that of helping those who do have the responsibility to get the message and to get on with the practical work of providing the water and sanitation required. That is why in every country there needs to be one national water and sanitation plan and one national group that co-ordinates action, bringing together Government, civil society, local authorities and donors to see what progress has been made and what the obstacles are and to agree on who will do what.
What contribution can the United Kingdom make to all that? We have done a fair bit already, but we need to do a lot more. The hon. Member for Stone kindly referred to the commitment to double and then double again our investment in water and sanitation in Africa by 2011. Included in that are plans to support a £100 million water and sanitation programme in Ethiopia and an £82 million joint health, hygiene, water and sanitation programme in Sierra Leone, because all those things are connected. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West referred to work in Nigeria.
I have to tell the hon. Member for Stone that global aid for water and sanitation is increasing again, having declined because the world took its eye off the ball, just as—we have to tell the truth—the Governments of some developing countries took their eye off the ball and did not give the issue the priority that it deserved. With the global call for action that I published last November anticipating the call that the hon. Gentleman made for the issue to be discussed by the G8, we are already on the case. The world needs to get its act together in ensuring that the contribution that we make as donors is more effective in helping change to happen on the ground.
That is why we want two things internationally. One is an annual report to monitor progress towards the MDG water and sanitation targets. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, the architect of the Bill that resulted in the very thick but, I have to say, very good DFID annual report. He and others have championed the argument that shining a better light of transparency on the work that all of us are doing helps to move the politics on, because when people can see what is or is not happening, they can say, when things are not working, "Oi, what are you going to do about that?"
Well, whether or not all the other member states want to make the issue a priority for this G8 meeting, I have hopes that next year, under the Japanese presidency of the G8, we will see further progress. I am trying to report to the hon. Gentleman on the progress that we have already made in raising the issue at the highest level.
We want an annual report and an annual global meeting. With the World Bank and the UN Development Programme, I organised a side meeting at this year's World Bank spring meetings. We secured agreement on the creation of an annual global monitoring report, which will be put together by UN Water. It is likely to focus on sanitation next year, because next year is the global year of sanitation. We secured agreement that there should be an annual meeting, not an additional meeting in the calendar, because we have enough meetings. We need fewer meetings and more action. However, we can piggyback an annual discussion on how we are doing on to one of the many meetings that already take place. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness mentioned the UN. I was pleased that, at that meeting, Kemal Dervis said that, within each country, the UN would identify one of its organisations that would take lead responsibility for co-ordinating its efforts on water and sanitation. That is a big step forward.
On the EU water initiative, the truth is that the situation has been pretty mixed. We support it because we want it to work better. In some countries it has had an impact; in others it has not. I am particularly keen on the EU water facility, because there is a great thirst—pardon the pun, Mr. Amess—out there for funding for investment in water and sanitation, and that facility has been oversubscribed several times over. I would like the EU to put more funding into the facility in the long term, particularly if it will provide support to those who have the direct responsibility for providing clean water and putting in the pipes and sewerage systems that will be needed in the growing towns and cities of the developing world.
We need to do other things, such as help to build capacity at local level. We need to promote south-south lesson learning to help water suppliers to find out what works. I agree with the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness that output-based aid has a contribution to make. He is right, as are other hon. Members, to draw attention to the problem of cost recovery and maintenance. People have to be able to build a system, but they also have to be able to maintain it. Part of the problem in the developing world is that systems were put in but were not maintained and they have fallen apart. That is one reason why some standpipes do not work any more.
People have to think through how they will make the system work. That is why water operator partnerships, proposed by the UN Secretary-General's advisory board, are a good idea. We have funded workshops to promote that concept. We are helping utility managers to get together and share their experiences of what works. We will also fund lesson learning about reform of public provision, so that that experience can be shared. I pay tribute to the World Development Movement for having made a push on that front. I listened, as I said I would, and the activity that I have described should help utilities and partnerships to replicate successes elsewhere. That is how we will bring more clean water to people and undercut the private water sellers, who, as the hon. Member for Stone rightly said, charge five to six times as much for the water that they provide in buckets and plastic bags.
The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green talked about the PPIAF. That facility responds to requests from developing countries for assistance, which is a pretty good place to start. Let me give her one example of how it has worked successfully in the water sector. It has supported the Ghana community water and sanitation agency with regulatory and legal reform—because this is about getting the structures right—to help the people there to improve small-town water services. That has allowed local water operators to provide clean water to communities for the first time. The communities themselves were involved in selecting the providers. The scheme has been successfully implemented in three towns, and Ghana wants to extend it to 300 small towns across the country. I will happily write to the hon. Lady with more information. The PPIAF makes a contribution, but it is not the only thing that we are doing. We should try all approaches to see whether they work.
On the broader question of public versus private, we have largely moved beyond that pretty sterile debate. As the report of the Select Committee on International Development says,
"Simplistic public versus private debates miss the point".
The question to ask is: what will work successfully?
On sanitation, I thought that the Committee was a little unfair. After all, which country did most to get the sanitation target agreed at the 2002 world summit? The answer is the United Kingdom. Also, as hon. Members will be aware, we are funding in India a very big programme with UNICEF, implementing state programmes on sanitation that aim to reach 213 million people. We have school sanitation programmes in Malawi, Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan and Bangladesh, including some small projects. We are supporting the community-led total sanitation programme in Bangladesh and helping it to spread throughout Asia. That is a cracking programme, because there is no embarrassment there. The people involved use very direct methods, walking round villages with whistles, shouting at people and saying, "We're not going to have open defecation in our village," which in the end is how people begin to change attitudes. Then cheap pit latrines are provided. Communities taking responsibility will make a big difference.
On water resource management, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green raised a very important question: what will the world do when people start fighting not about national identity and political ideology, but over water? Working to support countries to manage their water resources, as we are doing with the Nile basin initiative is therefore very important, not least because of the competing demands for water, especially from agriculture, which accounts for 80 per cent. of the world's water consumption.
This has been an excellent debate. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Stone for giving us the chance to discuss this issue this morning. Our history teaches us that what is important is political will. It is political will that will change the situation, and that is just as true in the developing world.