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Safe Water (Developing Countries)

Volume 473: debated on Wednesday 19 March 2008

It is a pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood. I look forward to an interesting debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this topic. I thank in particular the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), who cannot be here this afternoon, and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) for co-signing my letter asking Mr. Speaker for the chance to debate access to safe water in developing countries.

For us, it is the simplest thing in the world: if we want a drink, we go to a tap or pick up a bottle. It takes only a fraction of a second, and we are all very used to it. Water is one of the handful of substances essential to life—not a convenience, a whim, a habit or a trend, but a necessity. Without water we die, so we need a regular, easily accessible supply of water. If water is not immediately accessible, we must go to find it. None of us in this room has to go far. This debate aims to draw attention to the fact that too many people worldwide do not have that ease and convenience of access, and that what we take for granted is far from being taken for granted all over the world.

World water day, 22 March, is being marked in this place by this debate and an early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), who is in his place on the Liberal Democrat Benches. This debate and the early-day motion underline some uncomfortable facts. Half the developing world lacks basic sanitation. Nearly 2.5 billion people in the world, roughly two in five of all of us, do not have proper drains or toilets, and 1.1 billion, roughly one in six, do not have access to safe drinking water. Some 1.8 million people, 90 per cent. of whom are children under the age of five, mostly in developing countries, die every year from diseases related to diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. Water-related disease is the second biggest killer of children worldwide. The average person in the developing world uses 10 litres of water every day—the same amount that we use every time we flush the toilet.

The world’s recognition of those uncomfortable truths prompted one of the UN millennium development goals, which is to halve by 2015 the proportion of the world’s population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. However, the UN millennium development goal progress report of 2007 stated that

“if trends…continue, the world is likely to miss the target by almost 600 million people. Only Eastern, South-Eastern and Western Asia, Northern Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean are on track to halve the proportion of people without basic sanitation by 2015. All other developing regions have made insufficient progress towards this target. In sub-Saharan Africa, the absolute number of people without access to sanitation actually increased—from 335 million in 1990 to 440 million people by the end of 2004. This number may increase even further if trends do not improve.”

For those of us who have been fortunate enough to visit countries in the developing world and work with extraordinary people who cope daily with burdens that we can scarcely comprehend, one of the abiding memories of such a visit is the women and children who line the roads every day as they carry jerry cans and other containers significant distances to find the water that they need for their families for the day. In some circumstances, that parade of graceful, incredibly resourceful people can appear rather romantic—a traditional pattern of life being carried on in the modern world—but in reality it is the face of a disaster. Lack of water is one of the single greatest factors restraining developing nations from fulfilling their true potential, as women and children’s time and effort are diverted from other activities to the daily grind of securing water—an act that all of us take for granted. The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is four miles, and the average weight of the water that they carry on their heads is some 20 kg, roughly the same as our baggage allowance in a United Kingdom airport.

That is why, yesterday morning, a collection of hon. Members, religious leaders and some 30 wonderful children from All Souls Church of England primary school in Foley street, London, led by their head teacher, Miss Alex Ascough, assembled in Parliament square to undertake a symbolic four-mile journey to collect water from a fountain in Hyde park, fill some containers and return. We carried nothing like the amount of water that we would actually need for the day.

I asked the House of Commons Library to estimate how much water is used each day on the parliamentary estate, and the Library kindly put together some figures for me. In 2006-07, the estate used 178,084 cu m of water. In working out what that comes to for each of us, one can do various calculations: per Member and peer, per working day or per sitting day. Our best minimum estimate was that all of us—MPs, peers, parliamentary staff, political staff and visitors—use 23 gallons of water every day, 365 days a year. Imagine if we had to carry that every day—fetching it, carrying it, bringing it into our offices—before starting work and getting on with the day.

I commend those who walked with us yesterday, particularly the children. Their behaviour was impeccable, their interest in what we were doing was remarkable and their sense of solidarity with their brothers and sisters in so many places around the world who do the same for real every day was palpable. I thank them and the school for their efforts. The walk was, we hope, the first of hundreds in the “Turn on the Tap” campaign of challenge walks being organised nationwide by the Christian international development organisation, Samaritan’s Purse. Churches, community organisations, schools, clubs and individuals are being encouraged to organise similar four-mile walks on or around 10 May this year. The charity hopes that the simple symbolism captured by the walk will encourage more people to direct their aid efforts towards water provision, and it has prepared aids for schools, including lesson plans and charts, to encourage those who wish to organise a walk. I commend Samaritan’s Purse for what it is doing and for its efforts to bring it to the attention of the House.

Samaritan’s Purse is far from being the only charity involved with water provision. WaterAid, World Vision and a series of leading non-governmental organisations and charities working in development recognise the importance of the provision of water and provide opportunities for people to donate to support such projects. I am sure that the whole House would commend such work and urge individuals and communities to continue to do what they can to support it. Although government has its role in development—I shall come to that shortly—it should not be forgotten that each of us owes an individual responsibility to our neighbours in a rapidly shrinking world. We cannot expect all the burdens to be shouldered by others or by Government. By supporting individual projects and the work of charities and NGOs such as Samaritan’s Purse, and by taking part in the “Turn on the Tap” challenge, we are all playing our part.

I should like to say a word about one aspect of the importance of access to water in the developing world, apart from the obvious connection with disease or health, which I think others might cover. The developing world knows that its future does not rely on aid donations, nor has it done so for many years. It relies on countries and their peoples developing their full potential, but if the basics of life are inaccessible, the time spent acquiring them takes people away from the very processes needed to help a country develop in the best possible way.

For children in particular, the absence of water makes a substantial difference to their schooling. Last year, I had the honour of visiting Rwanda with colleagues, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), as part of a substantial project. As we travelled through the country, we saw children taking water to and from places and we visited children in village schools. We saw the quality of some of those schools and of the toilets and sanitation in them. As a result of that, we recognised how important the process of fetching water is.

WELL, the resource centre for water, sanitation and environment health at Loughborough university, says that in Madagascar, for example, 3.5 million school days are lost each year owing to ill health related to poor sanitation, and that children frequently miss school owing to domestic and water-carrying duties. It reports a 12 per cent. increase in Tanzanian school attendance when water is 15 minutes away rather than an hour. Of the 120 million school-age children not in school around the world, the majority are girls. Some 41 per cent. of primary-age girls worldwide not enrolled in school are in south Asia and 35 per cent. are in sub-Saharan Africa. When women and girls have access to water and sanitation, less school time is lost. Where there are working and well maintained separate sanitation facilities for girls, school enrolment increases. In rural Pakistan more than 50 per cent. of girls drop out of school in grades 2 and 3 because the schools do not have toilets.

Many questions surround the provision of water, which cannot and will not always be supplied in exactly the same way. The needs of urban and rural communities are different. There are complex questions about how water is supplied; about the role of non-governmental organisations, charities, Governments and the private sector; about ensuring that a country’s resources are best used to provide water; about how utilities are provided all over the world and how those services can be liberalised—that has been raised in world trade talks—and about the extent to which communities can, or should, be required to make a financial contribution towards the water that they need in order to help to provide investment for others. Those are all questions with which Governments and others must wrestle, but the basic underlying facts remain undeniable and must challenge us all.

The debate in this country, which centres on questions such as the provision of bottled or tap water, what we ask for in a restaurant, whether water comes with bubbles or without, and so on, is one of luxury and must seem a world away from the roads lined with women and children as they carry their cans to some hole in the rock from which water is flowing, or to a polluted well where water is not flowing at all. By accidents of birth, they are where they are, and we are here. We cannot put everything right that we would wish to through the stroke of a pen, or the signing of a cheque, but we can individually make a difference by remembering, each time we reach for a bottle or a tap, the difficulties experienced by those who can do neither.

I hope that the “Turn on the Tap” walks will be well supported around the country. I commend Barbara Farquhar, who is promoting the walk for Churches Together in Biggleswade in my constituency on 10 May. I urge my constituents to join her and me in this and similar walks.

Will the Minister provide the Government’s assessment of progress towards the millennium goals on water and explain the priority given to promoting water access in the aid and development schemes that we support? This debate has aroused interest already, both inside and outside the House, and I know from conversations with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) that he takes it very seriously. By and large, the subject unites the House. It is a question of how we, as politicians, as a nation and as individuals, can best deliver. The subject might be complex in the detail of how water is supplied, but in essence it is a simple matter of justice and equity and of ensuring that people all over the world have what we take for granted and have so easily available at the turn of a tap.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on securing the debate on what is undoubtedly one of the most important and pressing issues facing the world. I commend him on his speech, his evident commitment and the way in which he set out his arguments. I always listen carefully to arguments in the Chamber, from whomever they come, but it is rare that I agree with every word of an argument made by an Opposition Member—this is one of those occasions. I endorse what he said about the importance of pulling together across the House and other political divisions. I join him in praising all of those seeking to raise awareness and to prompt action on this vital matter.

I shall focus on two things: the work of Oxfam and the catastrophic situation in Gaza. Last week, I was very pleased to welcome the Secretary of State for International Development to Oxford. As part of that visit, we went to Oxfam and discussed with staff their excellent work focusing specifically on the challenge of water distribution. We saw the water distributor that Oxfam sends out to areas in need. It is simple to erect and operate, with buckets designed to be as easy for people to carry on their heads as possible and with tamper-proof lids. As the hon. Gentleman said, that was a humbling reminder of how arduous it is for the women and children who do much of the water collection in poor countries, and of how, in zones of disaster and war, very simple devices to allow people to get the basic essential of water can make an enormous difference to their lives, and indeed to whether they have a life.

The scale of the challenge confronting us is truly enormous, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. According to UNICEF, more than 1 billion people drink unsafe water and more than 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation facilities. Those factors alone are the world’s single biggest cause of disease. Disruption of water supplies in disaster and conflict zones, or because of climate change, is the most immediate and dangerous aftermath of catastrophe, and is a real killer, especially of children and older people.

It is greatly to Oxfam’s credit, and to that of all who support it, that its single most distinctive competence in disaster relief and emergency assistance—of course, it has experience in a wide range of areas—is its expertise in assessing and addressing risks to public health, where clean water supply, along with sanitation and hand washing, is absolutely crucial. Of course, to wash hands, enough water is needed to drink first. Oxfam rapid deployment kits—with water tanks, tap stands, buckets and latrine kits, all designed for rapid distribution and easy construction—are saving hundreds of thousands of lives by getting quick help on water and sanitation to the victims of disaster. I congratulate all those involved in that vital work and the public support that makes it possible.

The big challenge for the future is to make better and faster progress towards the millennium development goal—I know that Department for International Development programmes are working on that—and towards installing, improving and replacing permanent water supply systems in poor countries, so that the revolution in public health that Britain enjoyed thanks to Victorian engineers can at last reach everybody.

What assessment have the Minister and his Department made of the effectiveness of aid and loans on infrastructure investment in water supply in poor countries? I was minded to ask that question in light of recent news about the disastrous electricity supply in Nigeria and the way in which investment there seems to have disappeared—some of it through fraud and corruption, no doubt. Are there similar problems elsewhere? Situations will vary enormously from country to country, of course, and we are all aware of instances in which it has proved much more effective to give direct assistance at a Community level or through NGOs, rather than through incompetent or corrupt Governments or local administrations. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend responds to that because we must ensure that the aid and loans which are intended to provide that most basic essential of clean water do so.

One of the worst aspects of the vulnerability of poor people to an absence of water supply is when water and sanitation, which would otherwise be available, are denied as a consequence of conflict. It is one of the most awful manifestations of the impact of military or terrorist activity on civilians, because it could hardly be more calculated to have the worst effects on the most vulnerable—elderly people and children.

I shall focus part of my remarks on the catastrophic situation in Gaza. Before I go any further, however, let me underline that yes, those people responsible should stop firing rockets or deploying suicide bombers against Israel, but that is not the issue in this debate. Before Hamas took over control of Gaza in June last year, Israel had already stopped spare parts for water and sanitation networks entering Gaza. Import restrictions on fuel and water equipment are leaving water-well and sewerage systems in a desperate state. Oxfam staff have visited communities that are flooded knee deep in sewage, with people marooned in upstairs rooms without water or sanitation. Although the overall situation fluctuates, in recent months the Palestinian water authority has estimated that at times as many as 40 per cent. of Gaza’s population has been without a water supply.

That effective collective punishment is in breach of the Geneva convention and Israel’s obligations under the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend, whom I was also pleased to accompany to Oxfam recently, could tell us what action the Government are taking to relieve that humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, and specifically whether he and his colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are intervening to secure entry for £10,000 worth of electrical and mechanical equipment that Oxfam has been trying to get into Gaza for several weeks as a first instalment on hundreds of thousands of pounds’ worth of water and sanitation equipment, which Oxfam, the World Bank, UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies are desperate to supply. Despite the equipment having been presented for transfer by the Israeli authorities, and apparently having met the transfer requirements, I am told that it keeps getting turned back by the Israeli forces at the border. I ask him and our Government to do all they can to help get that equipment through, and more generally—whether in Gaza, Darfur or anywhere else—to make it clear that water and sanitation must not be deployed as weapons of war.

We face an enormous challenge, but as the hon. Gentleman said, the supply of water is not a matter for political division. As a nation, we—the Government, the people, charities, faith groups and everyone who is concerned about the problem—must pull together to ensure that what really is a basic necessity of life reaches all citizens throughout the world, whatever their circumstances or situation.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood, and I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on securing a very important debate. I want to say some things that are, I suppose, political, vaguely negative and possibly even critical of the situation, but in no way do I wish to break the all-party consensus. The challenges are serious and we face them together.

Every good student of British social history knows about the Rev. Thomas Malthus, who famously predicted in the late 18th century that we would all starve and run out of clean water by the mid-19th century, because, from his standpoint, we were growing geometrically population-wise, but, I think, growing arithmetically in terms of our ability to provide additional food, clean water and sanitation. The poor guy has been held up as a laughing stock for the past 230 years by A-level tutors throughout the country, and with no offence to the memory of Mr. Malthus, I should not like to see him rehabilitated in the coming years on the subject of access to clean water throughout the world. I want him to continue to be proved wrong, but I have my fears, because over the next 40 years, the world’s population will increase by 50 per cent. and demand for water will increase by more than that. The sad fact is that Malthus may be proven right if we cannot find ways to ensure that all the world’s people have access to that basic human right—clean and safe water.

Currently, more than 1 billion people do not have access to enough clean water to meet those basic needs—not the extravagances that we assume we need, but their basic needs. The consequences are dire, because as the hon. Gentleman said, there are 5 billion cases of diarrhoea each year among children in developing countries. That sickness is the second-biggest killer of children in those countries, and in total 2 million people, predominantly young children under five years old, die each year because they do not have access to clean water.

In this country, however, according to a recent BBC “Panorama” study, we spend £2 billion a year on bottled water, despite having access to perfectly clean and safe water—tap water. Dare I say it that in western society we have become so prissy and gullible that now we will buy water only in bottles? Although I am pleased to say that the bottled water before me is not imported, some is, and often it is even imported from developing countries. According to the BBC survey for “Panorama”, those countries include Fiji, where one third of the population do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. There is something obscene about that, as I am sure we all agree.

The situation should make us ashamed. It made the world’s leaders so ashamed that the millennium development goals were agreed to, including goal 7.3, which aims to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Sadly, as the hon. Gentleman said, current trends show that we are off target in large parts of the world. Indeed, as things stand, we will miss it by a staggering 600 million people, and the tragedy is that in some parts of the developing world, we may even be going backwards. The United Nations millennium development goals report 2007 states that in the largest part of Africa, the absolute number of people without access to sanitation increased from 335 million at the beginning of the 1990s to 440 million just three years ago. That is outrageous, but it is not the only threat that we face, because climate change threatens access to clean water, too.

The UN estimates that as things stand, by 2080 an additional 1.8 billion could live in a water-scarce environment. The challenge is huge and it is not getting any easier. Of the 1.1 billion people who do not have access to clean water, most cannot reach it because the provision simply does not exist. However, there is evidence, sadly, that a large minority of those 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water because of financial constraints, and they are entirely avoidable.

To support the development of water infrastructure, many private companies have taken advantage of aid from western countries as water supplies have been extensively privatised. Hon. Members will, I hope, be reassured that I am not trying to make a gratuitously ideological point, merely a practical one. I contend that the privatisation of supply has on the whole been a failure. It has been a waste of aid money and a means of making profit from impoverished societies while denying the very poorest people access to clean and safe water.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when he was the Secretary of State for International Development, made important steps forward last year when he ensured that additional support was given to enable public utilities to develop water and sanitation infrastructure on a not-for-profit basis in developing countries. However, the European Union continues to promote unfair market solutions, which can hardly be described as either fair trade or free trade. I say so as a strong supporter of that body. The Minister knows about the economic partnership agreements that would allow EU countries to have bilateral arrangements with countries that are essentially their former colonies, and which would formalise a trade-for-aid package that obligated the developing country in the partnership to open its markets to its rich European partner in return for aid. In many cases, the part of the developing country’s economy that is of most interest to powerful European companies is its utilities. Therefore, water gets controlled by those aiming to make a profit from it and it is not supplied freely and safely to everybody in need.

To raise the spectre of Malthus again, the great fear is that increased world population will place even greater pressure on this precious resource, especially if it is controlled by self-interested bodies whose motivation is primarily profit. The tensions over water rights will increase. However, the tensions over the ownership of this most natural of resources have been building for many years; it is not a new thing. I suggest that these tensions are going to become worse unless we can ensure fair trade in water supply.

A story was related to me recently of the old farmer from Colorado who, just after world war two, spoke about the local private water company that had effectively removed his water rights and the rights of others in his rural community. I will not attempt the accent, but the farmer said, “Them folks in Denver, they’ve reversed the laws of nature: they’ve made water run uphill towards money.”

Although we have heard that the current situation, in which a sixth of the world’s population is in water need, is dire, my fear is that, without radical change and political will, which includes understanding that water is a public resource—if we do not understand that, things will only get worse—the situation will deteriorate. That is why, in redoubling efforts to meet millennium development goal 7.3, we must face up to some uncomfortable truths and powerful vested interests that lie behind our failure as a world community to meet those targets for access to safe, clean water.

May I be the latest in the line to congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on his impressive leadership on this issue and the fact that he has secured this debate today? In doing so, he has allowed us the opportunity to reflect on one of the biggest challenges that the world faces and one of the most important issues that we, as a rich developed country, must tackle, and we must help others to tackle it, too.

The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire set out at great length the underlying problems that many people face; I hope that I do not repeat too many of the statistics that he quoted, but some of them bear repeating. He was right to remind us of the gulf between the privileged position that we enjoy in the Palace of Westminster, where water is literally on tap to us for every need and every whim, and the harsh realities of the everyday lives of millions of people around the world.

I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), who rightly highlighted the work that Oxfam has done. Many other organisations, including NGOs, are also active in this field, but we understand why Oxfam plays such an important part in his view. Like the Ministers to whom he referred, about a year or so ago, I visited Oxfam’s headquarters, which is a truly spectacular set-up. It is a symbol, I suppose, of Oxfam’s breadth and reach and, as the right hon. Member pointed out, of the important contribution that Oxfam makes in so many different areas.

Without getting sidetracked, may I also endorse the observations of the right hon. Member for Oxford, East about Gaza? Although most of the comments today will be focused on the crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, the situation in Gaza is truly appalling, as we have said in so many debates in the House recently. It seems likely that the Minister will have a generous amount of time to reply to this debate, and I hope that he will take some time to address the points that have been made about Gaza. I have been pressing the Secretary of State for International Development and other Ministers in correspondence about the extent to which they regard Israel’s response to the issues in Gaza as proportionate. I invite the Minister today to address that subject, including the comments of the right hon. Member for Oxford, East.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) has put things in very dramatic terms, and he is right to do so. For all the intellectual humour that there may have been at Mr. Malthus’s expense over the centuries, my hon. Friend is right to remind us of the basic prediction that Malthus was making and the problems that we may yet have to laugh on the other side of our face about.

Although I do not accept every aspect of what my hon. Friend said about the role of the private sector, he is right to highlight some of the dangers of private sector involvement. It is important that we strike the right balance. We must get the private sector expertise, initiative and input into tackling problems like the lack of access to safe water and sanitation, but we must not tie developing countries in such a way that they are beholden to the profit motive rather than what is absolutely their first priority: ensuring that they get the access to the water and other resources that they need.

Like the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire, I pay tribute to the staff of Samaritan’s Purse, particularly Simon Barrington, Matt Bird and the many others who have been instrumental in bringing Parliament’s attention to this issue. As you will know, Mr. Hood, MPs are inundated by invitations to meet groups and organisations, both small and large, from constituents and many others. It takes a special kind of organisation and a special kind of issue to create a stand-out moment that one remembers. Meeting the guys from Samaritan’s Purse a few weeks ago, I was immediately impressed both by what they are trying to do as an organisation and, even more crucially, by the fact that they were not puffing their own organisation but focusing on this issue. Through speaking to them and subsequent research, I, for one, have learned a great deal more about the issue, and I am absolutely sure that they are right to expend so much energy on it.

Again like the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire, I pay tribute to those who joined us yesterday on what was thankfully a fairly modest walk. It took place in reasonably clement conditions; they were a bit chillier than we might have expected and a world away from the temperature that the people of sub-Saharan Africa must cope with day in, day out. The walk, from Parliament square to Hyde park, was a good opportunity for us to reflect on what is a daily responsibility for people in many parts of the world.

MPs and Church leaders went on the walk, but I, too, was very impressed by the teachers and particularly the children of All Souls primary school. It is clearly a school that has a very outward-looking focus. I asked the children about what was exciting them at the moment, and they were still full of happy memories of a recent visit to a farm in Wales, which had obviously opened their eyes to very early starts in the morning and to some different realities of life here in Britain. More broadly, however, they were very seized of the issue that we were highlighting yesterday by that walk. We were all grateful when we reached Hyde park that, although there were quite a lot of water containers, there was not one each, so we were able to understand a little of the issue without having to endure all the discomfort and physical pain that would go with making such a walk regularly. Perish the thought that we might have to carry what we as individuals use on this estate every day.

“Turn on the Tap”, Samaritan’s Purse and many other organisations and campaigns are focusing on this issue and drawing particular attention to the walks that will take place around the country on 10 May. I hope that there will be a lot of support then for the different Church organisations and other organisations across the United Kingdom that are participating in this year’s efforts. It is fundamentally important that we, in all our communities across the United Kingdom, are conscious of this issue and do our bit, both to raise awareness and to make a material difference to the lives of people across the world.

We have already heard many of the statistics. None the less, the fact that 1.1 billion people live without access to safe water is something that we should not tolerate. Parliamentary convention requires us to be moderate in our tone in how we conduct these debates, and quite right too, Mr. Hood; I do not intend to challenge that convention. However, the “Turn on the Tap” website quite rightly says that the fact that 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe water is an outrage. We need to get an element of that outrage into the way that we think about the problem that we are trying to tackle.

Hon. Members have already mentioned the millennium development goal, and I am sure that the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster), who is the Conservative shadow Minister for International Development, and the Minister himself will reflect on that goal, too, in due course. Although, as others have said, we are in danger of failing to meet that target, we must remember that it is not to eradicate the problem or to ensure that everyone has access to clean water, but to halve the number of people without access to it. Even if we meet that target, therefore, we will still be only part of the way towards eradicating this terrible problem, and we must not lose sight of that. Not meeting that relatively modest target would therefore be a real failure.

We are talking not just about one development goal; it is interlinked with many others. Indeed, I am sure that a case can be made for each of the millennium development goals to be linked to this issue, because if we are serious about reducing child mortality, promoting better maternal health and achieving universal primary education, we must ensure that people have access to safe water—the issue must be right up there and it needs to be ticked off as having been achieved. As the kids yesterday showed us, taking a few hours out of the day to go and collect water means that people are in no position to study or to lift themselves out of poverty. We must therefore see the issue in the round.

At the same time that we are trying to tackle these issues, we are also fighting the huge problem of climate change. As we try to mitigate the worst effects of bad sanitation and poor access to water, global warming is making the problem more acute—not just in the obvious sense that it is warmer, but because the weather is being disrupted, thus threatening what predictable sources exist. Sadly, water and access to it are increasingly a source of conflict, as we see in Gaza and parts of Africa. We can quickly get into a vicious spiral, moving further away from our goals, rather than closer to them.

The developed world has of course pledged to meet the millennium development goals, which are a wonderful focus for us all, as we seek to reach a point where we are no longer ashamed by the fact that so many people go hungry and do without water and so much else. The European Union has had its water initiative in previous years, and the World Bank has been financing a huge range of projects across the globe through the International Development Association. In recognising the need to speed up our achievement of the development goals that we are talking about, the Government have been central to the call for action, and I hope that the Minister will continue to use that call as a focal point for all countries in the European Union and elsewhere to encourage them to recognise the centrality of those goals.

DFID has increased its funding in this area, and I, like others, pay tribute to the Government for that. How have they used the increased funding during the current year and how will they achieve their target of doubling expenditure by the end of 2011? Increasingly, particularly on health—we debated the international health partnerships in this Chamber a couple of weeks ago—we are looking at how we can focus different channels of aid and assistance through one programme or another to minimise the bureaucracy and ineffectiveness of some of the existing methods of delivery. Does the Minister see some scope for greater co-ordination and focus on the issue?

The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire talked about how much we learned from yesterday’s walk, and I repeat his point that it was a humbling experience not only to learn so much from the children who took part, but to reflect on why we were taking the trouble to walk four miles on just one day, as opposed to every day of our lives, and not in the conditions that so many others experience. Like the hon. Gentleman, I urge people in my constituency and in others up and down the land to support the “Turn on the Tap” initiative, not only on 10 May, but in the following weeks, months and years. We should never lose sight of the fact there is an outrage at the root of this issue, and we must do something about it.

It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to this important debate. If I achieve nothing else in my few remarks, I hope that I will underline the fact that sanitation and clean water must go hand in hand. All too often sanitation has been very much an afterthought, and it is vital that the two issues are considered in partnership.

I start, however, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on securing this important debate. He did a marvellous job of outlining the issues and opening the debate. I also compliment the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) on his excellent speech, which highlighted not only the good work of Oxfam in his constituency, but the contribution that other non-governmental organisations make. In addition, I congratulate the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) on his informed speech, which highlighted the impact that not dealing with this problem can have on health. He also made some interesting remarks about the role of the private sector, to which I intend to return. Finally, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) once again made a very good speech, and I take this opportunity to commend him on tabling early-day motion 897, which in recent weeks and in the run-up to today’s debate has done much to highlight the concern about the issue.

This is a timely debate, not least because 2008 is the United Nations international year of sanitation. As we heard, yesterday saw the “Turn on the Tap” four-mile walk, with my hon. Friend leading the way. That event highlighted the average distance that people have to walk every day to fetch clean water so that they and their families can drink that day. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members highlighted the fact that the distance travelled by such people—the majority of them women—is just one of the many negative impacts that the lack of access to clean water has on people in developing countries. Indeed, the impact on health of the lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation is staggering. Various statistics have been quoted, but the fact that every 20 seconds a child dies because of the lack of clean water and sanitation is frightening. That amounts to 1.6 million children under the age of five dying each year because of unsafe water and inadequate hygiene.

It could be argued that when the international community signed up to the millennium development goals, clean water and sanitation were not seen as sufficiently important to appear as one of the eight main headline goals. The issues before us are covered in MDG 7 on ensuring environmental stability—in MDG 7.3 to be precise. Following the 2002 world summit on sustainable development, however, the world woke up to the crucial role that access to clean water and sanitation can play in helping us to reach the MDGs. In the same year, at the UN special summit on children and the second and third world water forums, three new goals were set for the international community. The first was to halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. The second was to halve the proportion of people who do not have direct access to basic sanitation by 2015. The final goal was to equip all schools with sanitation and hand-washing facilities, also by 2015.

Unfortunately, it has been widely recognised, and DFID has been candid in admitting—I therefore hope that the Minister will take this criticism on the chin; I assure him that it is the only criticism that I shall make of his Department today—that just as the world was waking up to the importance of water and sanitation, DFID was, unfortunately, restructured and has been criticised for rather taking its eye off the ball. Dr. Darren Saywell of the International Water Association said:

“A major watershed, in my opinion, in 2002 occurred just after the World Summit on Sustainable Development when DFiD restructured itself and a lot of the impetus and momentum that went into water and sanitation was lost at that time.”

To be fair and balanced, however, it is clear from the 2006 White Paper that, having identified sanitation as one of the four essential public services for the MDGs, and having recently increased its financial commitment to water and sanitation, the Department has attempted, and continues to attempt, to re-establish its lead on this issue. I am convinced that, with continued effort, it will do that.

Despite DFID’s renewed interest, which I commend, progress towards the goals remains painfully slow. A recently published World Health Organisation report estimated that the sanitation component of the MDG sanitation targets faces

“a projected shortfall of 550 million people in 2015 from target achievement.”

As of today—the figures are worth repeating—an estimated 1.1 billion people still do not have access to improved water supplies, and 2.4 billion do not have access to any type of improved sanitation. I am sure that the Minister agrees that that simply is not good enough.

It would cost an estimated $42 billion to achieve the goal of providing clean water to half of those who currently go without it, and $322 billion to maintain the current clean water system. Likewise, it would cost $142 billion to halve the number of people who do not have access to basic sanitation, and $216 billion to maintain the current sanitation systems in developing nations. That adds up to spending a staggering $72 billion a year up to 2015 to achieve those goals. Although I commend DFID’s uplift in spending, with figures like those, it will take a combined effort from all the nations that have signed up to achieve those important goals. I hope that whichever party is in power, the UK will continue to take the lead.

Last year’s report by the Select Committee on International Development, however, highlighted the fact that money alone will neither provide toilets and taps for the billions of people who currently lack access, nor drive the demand and change of behaviour that are required to provide sustainable uptake. The rush to spend money can have unintended consequences, of which I have personal experience. In 2006, I spent some time as a military engineer in Helmand, where I worked alongside DFID to deliver quick impact projects. In our desire to deliver those projects, to show people on the ground how the Government were beginning to make a difference to their lives, we made mistakes. I have raised this issue before in the House. We dug so many new wells in Helmand province without conducting proper water surveys that we ended up lowering the water table, and as a result the ancient karazes that brought water off the mountains no longer flowed. That is a clear example of how we can rush in and spend money to help a community, but instead have a long-lasting negative impact on that community. I hope that we have learned from such lessons.

Last week, I was in Guatemala—as an aside, I must tell the Minister that many non-governmental organisations there fear that DFID is turning its back on that country—where I was fascinated by a water project there. A local community managed to raise enough money to bring a 35 km pipeline into its village. Unfortunately, however, it was forced to bring the water through surrounding communities, many of whom were jealous that the pipeline was going through their communities but not serving them. The project took three years to be established because communities along the pipeline were simply smashing the pipe out of jealousy because they were angry that they had no access to the water it carried, while other communities did.

What have we done and what should we be doing? DFID’s website states that the targets

“are central to DFID’s approach to poverty reduction and sustainable development.”

It also recognises that, on current trends, the

“sanitation target will be missed in both Africa and Asia by almost one billion people.”

To be fair, the rhetoric is good, but actions and global leadership are needed if we are to achieve what we set out to do. DFID is taking steps in the right direction: it has committed to increase its spending on essential public services such as water, sanitation, health, education and social protection in at least half of the UK’s direct support programmes in developing countries. In addition, as I have said, it will double its support for the provision of water and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa to £95 million a year by 2007-08, and more than double funding again to £200 million by 2010-11. Perhaps the Minister will confirm those figures and give an update on our progress toward the 2010-11 figure.

We must also consider carefully how the private sector can help in delivering essential services such as water. I return to the point that the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale made. It might well be damaging for water supply to remain a monopoly of the state in countries where the state is manifestly failing to deliver adequate services to its citizens. Well managed privatisation could help to expand access to clean water and to save lives if—I emphasise “if”—there is proper supervision, regulatory bodies and contract enforcement. What is the Minister’s assessment of the merits of greater private sector participation in service delivery in developing countries?

Aid predictability is one concern that is repeatedly raised with me when I visit NGOs in the field, as in Guatemala last week. Of course, political situations change in countries, and that may affect funding streams. In Nepal, which I hope to visit next month to monitor the elections, the Department has cut its water and sanitation budget from £4 million in 2003 to just £1.9 million in 2007-08. Its failure to provide long-term, predictable and co-ordinated finance in those sectors is clearly detrimental to achieving success in such projects. What steps is the Minister taking to meet the criticisms of his Department in that regard?

The Select Committee has made it clear that we must do more than improve the predictability of funding streams. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale highlighted some of the problems of tackling killer diseases. Spending money effectively can achieve disproportionate results in the provision of access to clean water and sanitation in developing nations, but, as I have highlighted, money is not the solution to everything. Unfortunately there remain significant barriers to progress on sanitation. For example, access to clean water and basic sanitation seldom features prominently on national political agendas, and people still attach a higher priority to water than to sanitation, even though the two go hand in hand. Unfortunately, factors such as prestige and convenience rank above health as a motivation for people seeking improved sanitation.

The interconnecting nature of the MDGs has been highlighted, not least by the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, but by helping to provide clean water and basic sanitation, we can provide a catalyst unlike any other to build a platform from which to achieve other MDGs. For example, we can do a huge amount towards MDGs 2 and 3—achieving universal primary education and promoting gender equality and empowering women. If young girls and women do not have to walk four miles every day, they are more likely to have the opportunity to partake in some sort of educational programme. In turn, as the Select Committee points out, girls who have been educated have improved maternal health, which relates to MDG 5, and are twice as likely to stay safe from AIDS, which relates to MDG 6. Of course, improved access to clean water would also help to reduce diarrhoea and water-borne diseases, thus reducing child mortality by an estimated 30 per cent., which relates to MDG 4.

Finally, I want to touch on the links between water and agriculture, which is the biggest consumer of water in developing countries, accounting for 70 to 90 per cent. of water consumption. As water availability becomes increasingly constrained, perhaps as a result of climate change or population growth, countries will have to make increasingly difficult decisions on how much water they can afford to use for agriculture. However, as several NGOs have pointed out, this appears to be the one area that DFID’s water strategy still does not address adequately. When he winds up the debate, will the Minister touch on that important matter and, in particular, say how his Department’s water strategy links with helping to achieving MDG 1, which seeks to halve the number of people who suffer from hunger?

In conclusion, it is clear from today’s debate that there is consensus across the House that although we are definitely moving in the right direction, there is slight frustration at the pace of progress. More can—indeed, must—be done if our aim of meeting all the MDGs by 2015 is to be a realistic one. I end with a quote from the former South African Development Minister, Ronnie Kasrils, who said:

“Water is the source of life. We cannot think about developing our people if we fail to provide them with a basic supply of water”.

I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on securing the debate in tandem with the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). It is helpful that in the run-up to world water day on 22 March we have the opportunity to debate water and sanitation.

I join the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire in congratulating those who organised the walk and those who took part in it—the religious leaders, parliamentarians and the children and teachers of All Souls school. I regret that I was not able to take part, but I join him in commending the work of Samaritan’s Purse in organising the “Turn on the Tap” walks. I join others in encouraging the many different walks that will be organised on 10 May and hope that they have as much support as possible from our constituents.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), who has the Oxfam headquarters in his constituency, rightly highlighted the excellent work that Oxfam does on water and sanitation. He raised a series of other points that I will return to.

The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale rightly noted the huge significance of making progress in this area for improving health and achieving millennium development goals. He also rightly raised the issue of population growth. I had a sense of the dramatic relationship between population growth and a lack of access to water when I visited Yemen and talked to Ministers in the capital, Sana’a, about the huge challenges that they face. The population of Sana’a continues to grow ever greater and engineers are having to dig ever deeper to find water resources for the people of the capital. Such is the pressure on water resources that some in Yemen are starting to wonder whether the capital will have to be moved to the coast.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) raised a series of questions that I will come to, some of which echoed those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East.

The hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) raised two issues that I want to address at the beginning of my remarks. He spoke of the importance of making progress on water and sanitation if we are to ensure that much of the discrimination that girls and women face in developing countries is addressed so that girls, for examples, get access to school. From one of my visits to northern Malawi, I remember the experience of a grandmother who looked after a series of AIDS orphans in her village. She had to walk or organise the children to walk over a mile each way to get water from the nearest river. He also rightly raised the importance of the international year of sanitation in giving focus to the need for change to the current shocking lack of access to good sanitation for people in developing countries.

My right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for International Development, now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, sought in November 2006 to galvanise the international community to give greater attention to water and sanitation when he published the case for a global action plan on it. He set out five key targets for progress on water and sanitation across the developing world. I will come on to say where we have got to on those five elements.

In seeking to reassure the House that the Department for International Development continues to take this issue seriously, I draw attention to the water resources forum that we held yesterday, with not only our own staff, but academic experts, civil society representatives who are working on these issues, UN organisations and a variety of other stakeholders. We share the view of all hon. Members who have spoken of the essential truth that access to safe, affordable water is a human right. We share the outrage of the House that in this day and age, more than 1 billion people still do not have safe water to drink. Indeed, half of the populations in developing countries do not have access to even a basic toilet. I share the resolve of hon. Members that we simply cannot allow that to continue.

We believe that we will meet our existing promises on spending and the future promises that have been made going forward to 2010-11. To recap, in March 2005, we announced that we would double spending on water and sanitation in Africa from £47.5 million to £95 million by 2007-08. Based on current estimates, we will meet that target. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the fact that we also said that we would double that spending by 2010-11 to achieve a figure of £200 million. It is early days for spending in Africa, but I am confident that we will meet that target.

I am grateful to the Minister for the way in which he is dealing with the issues that have been raised. However, no one is querying the amount of money that is being spent; that is not the issue. The issue is whether there is evidence—bearing in mind the progress report on the millennium development goals—that the money is being spent effectively and whether we are moving towards our targets. The good will and the intentions of the world community cannot be doubted, but we must ensure that progress is made, and in view of the progress report, there is a query about that. For all the money being spent, is the Minister confident that enough change has been made in how it is being spent and in the processes of providing water, so that there will be better progress towards meeting the target and we do not fall short of it?

I cannot currently give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We are barely on track to meet the millennium development goal on water and we are certainly off track in achieving the target on sanitation. As the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes alluded to, sub-Saharan Africa is seriously off track against the water and sanitation targets. It is that lack of progress that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State sought to challenge in setting out the case for more global action on water and sanitation.

To give the House hope that the situation will continue to change, I give the example that in the 15 years from 1990 to 2005, more than 1.2 billion people gained access to water supply and sanitation services. We know that progress has happened and that it is achievable when the Governments of developing countries, international donors and a variety of other players in developing countries work together to accelerate progress. I hope to say a little about how some of the resources that we are spending in developing countries have made progress and will make further progress.

I will briefly dwell on some of the broader points that have been raised by hon. Members in noting that simply providing safe drinking water and better sanitation would drastically cut the needless loss of life in poor countries. As I said, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale was right to highlight that poor people are the least able to deal with the ill health that is caused by unsafe water and how a vicious circle is often created. The water used by poor people is too often contaminated or polluted. That can result in sickness and the medical costs increase the level of debt that they experience, making them less likely to be able to work or send their children to school. Improved access to water and sanitation breaks that cycle. Indeed, hon. Members alluded to the huge economic benefits of access to safe water. Millions of working days are saved and can be achieved, and millions of children, particularly girls, can attend school, with all the resulting economic benefits for the country, as well as the individual. As I said, it is women and girls who have the biggest responsibilities for providing water for drinking and cooking, and for ensuring family hygiene. We need to continue to tackle that implicit discrimination.

It is worth noting a point which I do not believe has surfaced in the debate thus far. By 2025, more than two thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed countries, so the way in which water is shared and used will be critical. The importance of that will be further heightened by an increasing population, by the urbanisation that is taking place, by the increased economic growth that is needed and by the growing challenge of climate change. All those factors will combine to make stress around access to water all the more important. Therefore, we must work with countries to help them strike the right balance between water for growth, for people to live healthy and productive lives, and, crucially, for keeping ecosystems in good shape. If people cannot do that, their long-term development will be threatened.

In order to do that, change is needed, not just within the international community but within developing countries as well. Some developing country Governments, but by no means all, do not pay enough attention to what poor people in their country say, or respond to their needs. As a result, they do not provide enough finance for water or ensure that it is not just the wealthy, the influential and the privileged who are well served in respect of access to water and good sanitation. All too often, we see in some developing countries that the funds to maintain water and sanitation systems and to keep them operating are simply not in place. Forty per cent. of the boreholes in Africa are not working simply because they need to be repaired. They could provide access to water, but they do not because they have not been repaired. That speaks to a broader point about the lack of good governance in water sectors in developing countries. That is a key point on which we are working.

I alluded to the call that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State made in November 2006. In essence, he called for five key elements—five “ones”—to change. At the international level, he called for one international monitoring report and for one international meeting to chart progress on access to water and sanitation, and to explore what else needed doing. In developing countries, he called for one national water and sanitation plan—not a plan for how each donor would spend their money, but one clear national water and sanitation plan that everybody would get behind.

My right hon. Friend also made clear the need for all the different donors in country to come behind the leadership of one clearly designated UN agency, be it UNICEF, the World Health Organisation or something else, and support the water plan. One UN agency would take the lead.

In country, there should be one water and sanitation monitoring group of donors—not groups of donors deciding what they thought needed to happen, but all donors coming together. That may seem like common sense to hon. Members, but the sad reality is that it has not happened in many countries to date. There has often been a series of international meetings and a series of reports, and, in some years, no report. We are funding the first international monitoring report, which should be published shortly. We expect to have an opportunity to debate its implications at an international meeting that will take place in September.

In respect of the three ones principle, we are working in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh in supporting one national water and sanitation plan, seeking one UN agency to take the lead and ensuring that there is only one meeting of donors in country. In addition, we have identified three critical areas for progress over the next 12 months. Sanitation has been a taboo issue for too long. That point was made by the UN Secretary-General and was repeated yesterday at the water resources forum. International donors need to do more about sanitation both internationally and in developing countries directly. We are directly supporting the international year of sanitation to make that happen.

We need to do more to manage water resources better, and we will prioritise resources and time to achieve that purpose. We must consider how we can ensure that water services are better delivered to the poor. That will be done partly through the three ones principle that I alluded to, but also by ensuring that money goes directly to where it is needed.

I shall give some examples of the progress that we are making and the benefits that are being achieved with British development assistance, provided by my Department. We have approved new funding of some £75 million over five years for water and sanitation in Ethiopia. We are confident that some 3.2 million Ethiopians will benefit from that spend, but between now and 2015, 300,000 more people need to get clean water and 450,000 more people need to get basic sanitation every day if we are to meet the millennium development goals. That is a huge challenge for the international community, and it is why, when the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire intervened on me, I could not give him complete confidence that we would meet the targets. However, we seek to do everything that we can to raise the importance of these issues.

A new global sanitation fund has been launched, in part as a result of the leadership of the WHO, to try to help communities build toilets and improve hygiene, and we have committed £1.5 million over the next three years to that fund. Other donors have pledged funding as well, and we will work on maximising the impact of the fund.

I mentioned that we need to do more about water resources. Yesterday, at the water resources forum, I was able to confirm our continuing support for the Nile basin initiative, which is an example of co-operation to manage shared waters, and to encourage the peace and stability that underpin economic growth in the region. The countries that are part of the Nile basin have a combined population of some 300 million, and they are among the poorest and most water-starved people in the world.

Hon. Members who know a little about the Nile basin will recognise that there is a history of tension between the countries in the area and that water has been the source of some of that tension. Good water-basin management in the region is essential, given the importance of climate change, to ensure that those countries continue to work together. We have committed £6 million to date to the Nile basin initiative, and yesterday, I was able to pledge a further £8 million to ensure that the initiative continues.

Similarly, many hon. Members will have seen the weekend coverage of the pace of change in the melting of Himalayan glaciers. They provide water for 1.6 billion people, and it is estimated that climate change could cause them to disappear in as little as 25 years, which is within the lifetime of most of us in the Chamber. Countries must work together to determine how they can manage and better share the water resources in those areas. It is a volatile region, and we want to ensure that water is not a source of conflict or volatility. A south Asia water initiative has been launched to catalyse greater co-operation between countries, and we have pledged £500,000 to that initiative.

May I pick up a matter that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Milton Keynes and the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale raised? Do the Government have an ideological position on the privatisation and liberalisation of water resources, or do they take a pragmatic view? I am aware that there are ideological extremes on both sides. Some NGOs and others categorically refuse to accept any privatisation, and some on the free market side propound that at every step. I have been convinced by neither political extreme, and I hope that the Minister takes a practical view. Do the Government have an ideological position on the increasingly important question of how, with all the money and projects, those resources are managed between the public and private sectors to deliver supplies?

No, the Government do not have an ideological position on whether the private, public or third sector delivers water access. We work with all three sectors in different forums, from NGOs and public utilities to private water providers, as well as international and, much more at the moment, local private bodies. I perhaps take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s question, because I believe that there is not enough financing for water supply and sanitation at the moment. We must galvanise much more interest from private and third sector organisations, such as NGOs and international organisations, as well as aid donors generally, if we are to maintain progress to achieve the target.

Where public utilities are in place and Governments decide to bring in the private sector, the quality of regulation by Governments directly in country will determine the effectiveness of those responses. That relates to my point about the importance of our continuing to focus on the governance of the water sector, how regulation is achieved and ensuring that it is delivered effectively in the interests of the poorest people.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East asked about the water supply in Gaza. I confirm that we have committed some £1.5 million to the rehabilitation of Palestinian water and sanitation services through the temporary international mechanism. We estimate that that will benefit up to 1.5 million people by funding essential operations, maintenance and repair work.

My right hon. Friend highlighted a specific difficulty that Oxfam is having with the delivery of water-related equipment to the Palestinian territories. I hope that he understands that I must look into the matter. I will take it up with my Foreign Office colleagues, and write to him to explain the steps that we are taking to address Oxfam’s problems.

I hope that I have addressed the points made by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale about population growth. I recognise that it is a huge issue.

On the role of the private sector, as I indicated to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire, the Government do not have an ideological view. There are examples of the international private sector being a considerable force for good, but there are also examples of it going wrong. The lesson that I draw from that is that we must look at what works, understand the lessons when things have gone wrong and ensure that they do not happen again. This is about the quality of regulation in country, which is why delivering better governance of the water sector through our aid is important.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the role of economic partnership agreements. They will be a force for good in helping to achieve economic growth. I spent a considerable amount of time talking to trade Ministers from the four African regions and the Caribbean region about how EPAs are being implemented in practice and how the negotiations are going. All the trade Ministers to whom I spoke wanted to sign an economic partnership agreement. Some had specific concerns about particular issues, and we and the Commission are seeking to address those concerns in the run-up to the 31 December deadline. I believe that EPAs for those countries that do not have least developed country status will deliver significant benefits by allowing duty and quota-free access for goods from those countries into European markets, and the simplified rules of origin will make a substantial difference.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk asked whether I thought that Israel’s response was proportionate. He will have noted the response of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to his questions last week, and the joint work of the Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary in highlighting to Israel when we have thought that their actions were not proportionate.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the EU water facility, which, after some initial problems, is now working effectively and bringing greater attention to water and sanitation. It has considerable potential further down the line.

The Prime Minister has described the situation this year—half way to the millennium development goals—as an MDG emergency. We face huge challenges on water and sanitation, but we are making progress in achieving all the millennium development goals. We are seeking to work with a range of countries internationally to reignite interest and momentum in the efforts to achieve those goals. That effort will climax at a meeting at the UN General Assembly in September, and we are working with a substantial number of European colleagues.

The hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes raised the important issue of the predictability of funding streams. That is one reason why, in the right circumstances, budget support is essential. NGOs, such as WaterAid, Oxfam and Samaritan’s Purse, are a huge force for good in the areas in which they work; but if we want every area in country to have good access to water and sanitation, good schools and good health care facilities, we must build up the ability and capacity of Governments in developing countries to deliver that. That is why budget support is important, albeit in the right circumstances.

This has been an important debate, given the proximity of world water day. I hope that, with our water policy update, which we published yesterday, right hon. and hon. Members will be confident that we are continuing to deliver on our promises.