[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the International Development Committee, Session 2006-07, HC126-I, and the Government’s response, HC854.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]
I am glad to have the opportunity to debate this report, but the Minister and others may recognise that is quite some time ago that we took the evidence for it. I have some questions to ask the Minister. We have had the report and the Government response, and it would be an appropriate outcome of the debate to get information from him on how the Department for International Development is moving forward on the issues of sanitation and water.
I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman too early—[Laughter.] I have done so for a purpose. I feel strongly that a debate of such importance ought to be taken on the Floor of the House. The report is brilliant and the Government have put a lot of time and effort into the issue, but does he agree that a debate on the Floor of the House would have been more appropriate?
I always believe that the Committee’s debates should be taken on the Floor of the House, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s serious point. This is a vital topic, and I shall certainly stress that I give credit to him for his interest in the matter and for successfully initiating a debate on it here in Westminster Hall in the past few months.
In a similar spirit of helpfulness, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government, through my Department, are working on revising our policy on water and sanitation? We are seeking to take into account at least some of the Committee’s recommendations, so I hope that the Committee feels, as a result of the debate and the further paper, that its concerns have been given sufficient recognition.
I am grateful to the Minister—indeed, he has answered one of my questions. The Department had indicated that it would publish a paper, and perhaps he will give us a timetable for that. I am aware that a paper will be published and I look forward with eager anticipation to it, even if, from reading and re-reading the Committee’s recommendations and the Department’s reply, it was clear that there was some irritation in the Department about some of the suggestions. Nevertheless, there was recognition of the fact that there was an awful lot of common ground on what the Committee wanted to do and its approval of what the Department was doing, and I am speaking in that spirit. The Committee’s recommendations or criticisms were underpinned by the fact that we recognised that sanitation and water were high priorities for DFID, and that they were being substantially resourced.
In the spirit of other interventions, and in general recognition of the importance of the subject, I want to point out that the Government say in their response that they will produce a policy update by the end of 2007. Four months on, that policy update has not been produced, as far as I am aware. Too often in the House, Select Committees produce reports on issues that they never revisit. Will the Chairman of the Committee give an undertaking that he will at least consider revisiting the subject at the end of this year or next year to see what action the Government have taken as a result of the report?
In some form or another I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will do so, not least because we review the Department’s annual report. Clearly, we do that partly in relation to our recommendations. At the very least, we will be asking Ministers for an update. Perhaps the Minister can give us a slightly firmer response on that issue.
I reassure the right hon. Gentleman that there is never irritation with the Committee—that would be a recipe for suicide. Sometimes there is disagreement, but never irritation. On the remarks made by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), the right hon. Gentleman may not be aware that a water policy update has been published in the past month—I cannot give an accurate date, but one has been published. I can send copies to those hon. Members who have not received one. When I spoke earlier, I was referring to the fact that we are revising our forward-looking policy.
I have obviously seen that document, which I believe is titled, “Water: meeting our promises”, but it specifically says at the beginning that a policy report will be published. The honest truth, which the Department would acknowledge, is that the timetable has clearly slipped. However, I am not as concerned about the timetable as I am about the outcome. Getting the right policy a little late is preferable to publishing a report simply to meet a timetable. Perhaps the Minister will give us more insight on that.
Mr. Bayley, being a member of the Committee and having participated in our visits and inquiries, you will be directly interested to know that, right at the outset, from the first informal teach-in that we had, we realised that the initial short title of the report, “Water and Sanitation”, should be reversed, and that the title “Sanitation and Water” would make the point that sanitation is underrated and underplayed, even if it is incredibly important. I notice that the Secretary-General of the United Nations highlighted that recently—to be honest, all he really said was, “We need the political will and we should do something about it.”
Members of the Committee will recall that a piece of poo—I am glad to say that it was actually plastic—was passed around the Committee to make the point, “This is what we are talking about and the fundamental of what we are about. Too much of that stuff in the wrong place is causing children to die and many other people to suffer severe illnesses.” Nobody wants to talk about it because it is embarrassing, which is part of the problem.
It was interesting to see that the issue was as basic as that when we visited a village in the highlands of Ethiopia which had benefited from improved sanitation and water supply. The women and girls were collecting firewood from the forests and woods around the village, which is also where people had been to defecate. Of course, they were picking up sticks and twigs and finding that they were covered in excrement. The women were coming in and saying, “This is disgusting and horrible and we should not have to do this every day.” At the time there was a Government programme saying that something needed to be done. That reinforced the message and—I shall come back to this—contributed to a substantial improvement in sanitation in that village, with correspondingly positive benefits.
We highlight in the report a list of obstacles to why people will not talk about sanitation. Funnily enough, we also stress that although in reality the best outcome from good sanitation is much better public health, it is not the first reason why most people buy into the idea. In fact, it is to do with privacy, dignity and such things. That is fine, because I argue that it does not matter how we get people engaged, but that we do so. However, they must talk about the problem and want to do something about it, and receive the kind of support that makes that possible.
I want to stress that the Committee felt that it had a contribution to make by placing the emphasis on sanitation. Water is always talked about, but sanitation is often an add-on; it is the second part of “Water and Sanitation”. Water is delivered by Environment or Public Works Ministers, and it is a civil engineering project, but health, education and other Departments should lead on sanitation. There needs to be a cross-departmental, integrated approach to bring those things together.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when it comes to sanitation, the engagement of the private sector on how to market sanitary equipment is vital? It became clear in the evidence that the Committee received that the attractiveness of having a toilet had to be established, rather than simply delivering a plain public health message.
I agree entirely. I do not want to detain the House by reading from the report, but on page 11 the United Nations Development Programme comments on the six barriers to progress on sanitation and the issues that have made it a poor relation. I hope that our approach has at the very least helped to put sanitation much higher up the priority list.
In their reply, the Government acknowledged that they would bring together an interdisciplinary group. I understand that that resulted in a publication, but it would be helpful to know whether the group is still functioning and, if so, what its agenda is. It would help us to know how that is being taken forward.
To return to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin), I was in contact this morning with the Bathroom Manufacturers Association and, indirectly, with the World Plumbing Council. The World Plumbing Council is located in Scotland, but the Bathroom Manufacturers Association is located in Stoke-on-Trent, which is next to my constituency, and many of my constituents work there. The association said that it would be taking steps to take an active interest in questions of delivery. I believe, as I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree, that getting the right quality at the right price could be an enormous incentive for people to take the right equipment throughout the third world.
That is interesting, and I can give two anecdotal examples relating to it. When we visited Ivory City, a township north of Johannesburg, we went in among the shanties and asked the people living in the village what they wanted more than anything else. I do not know what I was expecting: better roads, schools or hospitals, perhaps. They said that their dream was to have a toilet—to live in a shanty but to have a toilet would be fine.
We had a similar experience in Vietnam, entirely as a by-product of the process that we were looking at, which involved using domestic pigs’ manure to drive methane production, primarily to generate cooking gas. Pig production was being integrated with the production of cooking gas. We visited two projects. Feeding the methane producer needed more than the pigs could produce; what the humans produced was useful as well, so a toilet was installed in the house to feed the methane producer. That was its primary purpose, but people then realised what a huge improvement it delivered to their quality of life, even though the reason for installing it was completely unrelated. It is interesting how much we in the developed world take for granted what people in developing communities approach from a variety of directions. The benefits are real and apparent.
Sanitation is part of millennium development goal 7, but many of the other MDGs depend on the delivery of good sanitation. It is a fact—this problem, of course, relates to water as well—that many girls will not go to school because of poor sanitation. Even if they go to school, it has been reported to us that teenage girls who are menstruating will not go, because it is all too difficult. They stay away for at least one week a month, and in some cases they stay away altogether. In addition, girls are often the key fetchers of water. Poor sanitation in schools and the requirement for girls to fetch water from some distance away are two factors that combine to keep them away from school, diminishing performance on another MDG. We must recognise how such things fit together.
In revisiting the policy, are the Government and Department reviewing the balance between urban and rural provision of sanitation and water, which represent different challenges and approaches? Perhaps it is appropriate at this point to share with the House the Committee’s experience when we visited Ethiopia. It gives a human dimension to the matter, and it concerns a programme that seems to be working. If the Minister has any up-to-date information on how the programme is developing, we would be interested to hear it.
We visited two communities south of Addis Ababa. The first was a highland village, and the second was down on the plain. The highland village did not have a water problem, in that it was in the hills where it rains and water runs off the hills and so on, but it had not had proper sanitation or a proper water point. When we arrived in the village, we drove for a considerable distance along the usual dirt roads that one finds in Africa. We then stopped and got out of our vehicles, and the whole village gathered around us.
The first interesting thing as we stood beside the new, shiny water point—it was made of concrete and had taps and so on—was that we were initially surrounded by men. The women were standing some distance back, and I encouraged them to come closer, but at first they would not. We had an interpreter with us and we were interested, and it was clear that they were interested in telling us things. I said through the interpreter to the men, “Of course I’m very happy to talk to you, but can we not make sure that the women are absolutely engaged in this?” I asked not least because they were probably the people who knew best and appreciated most what changes had been brought about.
To be fair, the men made space and the women came to the front. Interestingly—other Committee members will bear this out—when we started asking questions, the women had all the answers. The men just stood back and let them answer. The questions concerned, for instance, the time saved. They no longer had to fetch water from significant distances. Also, the general health of the whole village had improved noticeably. There were fewer outbreaks of diarrhoea and fewer sicknesses, and the children were much healthier. I am not sure whether the infant mortality rate had been serious before, but there certainly had been no infant mortality in the year since the water point had been put in.
It was also interesting when the men started to contribute. They talked about the design of the latrines. They said things like, “Wooden seats rot. You could fall in. Couldn’t we have plastic seats? Could we have covers in case of rain?” It transpired that a local government operation—I think that the World Bank was involved in supporting it—had set up a programme across the communities. People identified a person from each village—it was in all cases, I think, a young woman—to be a health extension officer. That person was taken from the village, given training in sanitation and other health-related issues and then brought back to the village as an officer to advise on the right way to deal with health issues.
As a result of that advice and with the support of the local government, every household in the village, which was in some ways quite prosperous—it was an agricultural community with grain and animals, and was generally well kept—had its own pit latrine some distance from the house. I teased one or two of my colleagues, including those who are Conservatives, saying, “I bet when you went for your constituency selection to be a candidate, you didn’t expect you’d be sticking your head down pit latrines in darkest Africa as part of your parliamentary function,” but that is what we were doing. We were asking people about the benefits to the community, which were real and positive. Indeed, people were proud to show us what a difference had been made.
I found our visit to that village extremely instructive, and I think that we all found it interesting and rewarding. We could say, “This is great. This is working. This is a partnership involving the local community, on their own terms, with national and international agencies, and it appears to be delivering real improvements in both water and sanitation provision.”
Unfortunately, when we went down on to the plain, the situation was rather more difficult, because that area was water-stressed. There was a shortage of water. Interestingly—again, the Minister may comment on any subsequent developments—the water point that we saw, which made tapped and fluoridated water available to the village, had been provided by a non-governmental organisation. It was entirely funded by an NGO, not Government or DFID. That presented us with another problem: the investment required in the stressed areas was clearly more significant than in the areas where the water was available—in those places, it was just a question of how it was managed and tapped. That is why different approaches and funding mechanisms are needed. It is a complicated issue.
As we saw recently in Ghana, people were perfectly willing to pay for their water, which was interesting. They were pleased to have it, and so were willing to pay small amounts of money, the benefit of which, other than ensuring that the water is appreciated and not wasted, is that it created an income to maintain the supply with. Neglecting supplies results in major repair demands. Again, some types of infrastructure are more expensive to maintain, so we must find funding mechanisms that people can meet. However, we found that to be an interesting, but different, problem.
We looked at Ethiopia for two reasons. First, its sanitation provision is among the worst in the region—there is 13 per cent. coverage—but it has a national plan to achieve more than 90 per cent. coverage within a short time. Secondly, it is not short of water, although it was not managing it very efficiently. It would be interesting to hear whether that programme is continuing to move towards its ambitious—probably too ambitious—targets. If progress is being made, it would be a classic example of something working to deliver an MDG and real benefits for a country. The difficulty for the Committee sometimes is that we visit and take evidence and then go somewhere else—we do not always have the opportunity to follow things up. I would be interested, therefore, if the Minister replied to that point.
Having shared that experience with the Chamber, I would like to draw the threads together. I expect that the Minister has already anticipated some of my questions about how the Department is taking things forward. Since the report, the Government have announced significant extra contributions to multinational associations such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank. It would be helpful if he indicated the likelihood of those contributions impacting directly on water and sanitation provision, particularly those going to the ADB. It is setting itself up as a bank with a unique lead on infrastructure, of which sanitation and water would form an important part.
In the context of managing water resources, it is a classic fact that the continent of Africa—I will oversimplify this slightly—has enough water to meet the needs of all the people of Africa. Of course, that varies quite a bit across the continent—perhaps we should leave the Sahara out of the equation. One problem is that many countries often experience both flooding and droughts in the same year, which is a clear indication that the water supply is not being managed, although I am not suggesting that that problem could be solved easily. What are the various agencies doing to improve the quality of water management, to iron out the extremes in supply, to meet people’s needs and—incidentally—to reduce the potential for conflict? I added the latter because if water is managed properly, pressure will be released elsewhere.
I mentioned that we would benefit from an analysis of the rural-urban split, but we should also consider the need for water for drinking and irrigation, which the Committee discussed quite a bit. Clearly, there are different types of water, and different needs in terms of quantity, but there is also competition. People need clean water for drinking and less-clean water for irrigation, but they still need it and it still needs to be provided in ways that can maintain the balance. Those are big projects, subjects and challenges—nobody denies that. When considering the potential of the MDGs, one learns that not one of them exists in isolation. They all feed off each other. It is clear that providing good sanitation and access to clean and irrigation water is crucial to the basic general health and well-being of the population, which in turn affects maternal and child mortality, poverty reduction and general economic activity.
Sanitation is a challenge and people must talk about it; it literally must come out of the closet. Water management entails big infrastructure and investment challenges that must be met if ordinary people, whether living in urban or rural environments, are to have access to basic sanitation and meet their water needs, which is essential to their good health.
When the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee visited Ethiopia, did he examine how well the Research-inspired Policy and Practice Learning in Ethiopia and the Nile Region—RiPPLE—agreement is working? It is the upper-Nile, inter-country agreement on how the Nile is to be used. When I visited Ethiopia, there was huge sensitivity in Egypt about any large-scale irrigation from the Nile by Ethiopia. Egypt was worried that if too much water was taken up from the headwaters of the Nile, downstream it would start to silt up. Did his Committee consider that?
Not in detail. Of course, we are aware of it, and we discussed and asked about it, but given that we were in Ethiopia, we got only the Ethiopian perspective. However, the hon. Gentleman’s question reinforces the point about the regional dimensions, such as conflict and shared resources, in many areas. The aim of RiPPLE was to ensure that all parties, including those bordering the Nile, managed it equally and fairly. Of course, problems occur not only in Ethiopia, but, for different reasons, in Uganda and elsewhere. We are aware of the need for a proper agreement and an enforceable partnership that gives all countries with use of the river the right to use it on terms that do not disadvantage others. That is an obvious requirement. It is easy to talk about that, but a genuine agreement is needed. We were aware of and discussed that issue, but it was not the prime focus of our investigation. I would not hazard a guess that we got a fair and totally objective view—it was just the Ethiopian perspective.
For reasons that are no one’s fault, some considerable time has passed since we produced our report. However, this issue is not just topical for just three, six or 12 months, but central and crucial all the time. The Department is a major player in this and has invested more resources. However—I hope that the Minister will take this in the right spirit—when a Department has a rising budget and says, “Yes, this is a major operation and priority and we are investing extra resources,” the Committee will say, “Input is fine, but what is the outcome? What are you going to do with that money that will actually make a difference?” It would be really helpful to the Committee if he gave us an update on how DFID has taken forward its own policies, which of course are independent of what the Committee says, and how they fit in with some of our recommendations.
I, too, welcome this debate on our report. As the Committee Chair, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), said, a year has passed since we produced it, but the issue remains highly topical, particularly in regard to the MDGs—not only MDG7, but those relating to child and maternal mortality, hunger and school enrolment. Currently, almost one in two people in the developing world lacks access to sanitation. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, in considering the report the Committee wanted to put particular emphasis on sanitation, which is often the junior partner in this area of development policy. It might sound frivolous, but it is a subject of embarrassment to some, which represents a serious obstacle to its consideration not only by the general public but by politicians, political leaders, civil servants and so on.
I would not wish to disagree with one of the foremost thinkers of the 20th century. Nevertheless, personal hygiene issues have for various reasons—cultural, religious and others—remained ones that people have found difficult to discuss.
When we studied sanitation, we noticed that a different approach was needed in regard to its promotion. For example, everyone wants water and it is clear why we need it. Sanitation, however, is not necessarily a first choice priority. I have some anecdotal evidence from Vietnam to back that up. When people were given the choice of a toilet or a karaoke machine, some went for the latter rather than the former. However and as the Chair rightly says, when we visited Vietnam last year, we saw some very good examples of local, low-cost sanitation projects.
More seriously, sanitation is not the only issue of concern; there is also cleanliness in general. When the World Health Organisation considered the promotion of washing hands with soap, which is the lowest-cost health intervention that has the maximum effect, it discovered that it was not the public health messages of the danger of death and disease that worked best, but utilising the advertising expertise of some of the largest soap-producing companies in the world to devise an advertising campaign. In Ghana, for example, a simple tune was used in radio adverts, and more than 80 per cent. of the children knew the tune. That resulted in a significant increase in soap sales. Given that soap is an expensive product in many developing countries—people have to make a real choice about buying soap, rather than other products—that showed that a different approach can be more effective. Everyone in the development community must keep an open mind about what may work best and what may be the most effective intervention.
As the Chair also pointed out, we need to look at the issue of gender when we consider tackling the problems of water and sanitation. Issues of menstruation, pregnancy and, in some places, culture, mean that in many cases when girls reach puberty they often withdraw from school or miss school for weeks because of the lack of adequate sanitation facilities. It is no overstatement to say that when Committee members visit developing countries, their thoughts inevitably turn to, “When exactly are we going to find a suitable toilet spot? Where is it going to be, and what kind of state will it be in?” We have visited schools and found that they had no facilities. Sometimes the facilities are incredibly basic and not particularly clean. If we had to consider making such decisions not just for a few short days but for every week of the year, and how that would affect our lives, we would see the practical problems that everyone faces, particularly women. It is no overstatement to say that gynaecological diseases and various other complaints can be exacerbated by the lack of proper toilet facilities.
The Chair rightly touched on increasing urbanisation in many developing countries. When we went to Ethiopia, which has abundant water resources but one of the lowest sanitation coverage rates in the world—just 13 per cent.—I was struck by the growing number of shanty towns. Those towns were being built to accommodate the rapid increase in population. I think that Ethiopia’s population is increasing at the rate of some 2 million per annum. As people can no longer survive on their family land, they begin to seek work in urban areas and often live in the most dreadful conditions.
As well as visiting various toilets throughout Ethiopia, we also went into a shower block in a particular town. One of our Committee members did not realise that it was shared by both sexes, but he soon found out. Nevertheless, the provision of basic facilities in urban areas, which may have to be communal because of cost restraints, is essential not only because everyone has a basic right to water and sanitation but because of the increasing risk of disease, particularly when people live together at very close quarters. Therefore, the provision of such facilities has to be built into our thinking as more and more people are moving from rural communities into urbanised environments or shanty towns, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
As the Chair mentioned, the experiment of using health workers—almost all of whom are female—to provide advice on basic sanitation, prenatal and antenatal care and general health facilities is making a significant improvement in local communities in Ethiopia. It is also improving the status of young women because they are being approached to give information and advice, and their views are being respected. That change in society, as well as in practical living standards, is interesting and a relatively low-cost solution. For many developing countries, low-cost solutions are about not just having such a facility but finding a means to run that facility in a way that can be sustainable and financially covered over a long period.
I would like to ask the Minister some questions on a couple of macro issues, one of which concerns the UN watercourses convention. He may be aware that last year an early-day motion in the House called on the Government to ratify the convention. Some 103 Members supported it. The Stern review stressed the development and economic changes that result from climate change, one of which concerns access to fresh water with the continuing expansion in the world population. We need a co-ordinated approach based on an international legal framework. At the moment, 263 rivers cross international borders. That affects 40 per cent. of the world’s population, and 60 per cent. of the world’s river flows affect 145 countries, so this issue impacts on great many people throughout the world.
The convention would have the advantage of clarifying the rules for rivers that cross the borders, which are non-navigational trans-boundary watercourses. It would minimise degradation and conflict through international management, and meet the needs of developing countries at the same time. There are a number of areas in which there are already potential conflicts. One is in Palestine. Earlier this afternoon, I took part in a debate on the middle east, which is experiencing huge political difficulties. There is also potential conflict over the Jordan river between Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
There are also difficulties in connection with dam works in India. Various dams and hydro-electric plants are having a knock-on, damaging effect in Bangladesh regarding rivers running from India into Bangladesh. Pakistan has also recently accused India of violating the 1960 Indus water treaty by planning a dam on the Jhelum river.
The RiPPLE initiative was mentioned earlier. The Nile basin clearly affects a large number of countries. In cases where there are competing demands for water resources, there is a potential for conflict, and that area in particular has many problems and has had periods of fragile government and war in recent years. Clearly, there is cause for concern.
I would be interested to know what experience has been gained as a result of the RiPPLE initiative and whether the initiative could be expanded to cover the entire Nile basin. Also, have the Government considered ratifying the convention, given that 16 other nations have done so, including Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands? Is the Department’s keenness on global policy instruments such as the human right to water compatible with its reluctance to sign up to the convention?
The second issue on which I would like the Minister’s comments is the progress that has been made on the “Five Ones” initiative. The aim is to have one high-level meeting on water and sanitation every year—the issues that we are discussing could be taken forward at the meeting that will be held with the OECD in Accra later this summer—one annual report, one country plan, one lead UN body and one group in-country to co-ordinate. I would be grateful if the Minister told us what progress has been made internationally and how DFID is contributing to the process.
Finally, when we visited Ethiopia, we were very impressed by the expertise, engagement and specialist advice of DFID staff, which are very much appreciated by the Ethiopian Government. However, the Ethiopian Government and aid agencies expressed concerns about DFID’s staff resources and about whether the Department needed to consider employing more experts. Its staff provide detailed technical advice at the highest level and make a real difference to the lives of millions of people in Ethiopia. The Department should be proud of that record, but it should consider expanding its work and making its staff available to other countries. It should consider making the appropriate resources available, so that it can employ more staff and ensure that its expertise is shared as widely as possible. I look forward to the Minister’s comments in that regard.
May I say what a pleasure it is to see you here, Mr. Bayley? That is not only because you are chairing our proceedings, but because you were present when the International Development Committee took evidence from Tearfund on this very issue and asked a lot of very interesting questions, although I will be the one asking the questions of the Minister this afternoon. I also pay tribute to your work in Africa.
I want to say much the same of the work of the Committee’s Chairman, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce). This is an important report, but the most important point is that the inquiry has taken place. The issue of water and sanitation—or sanitation and water, as we prefer to put it—is central to the survival of people on a massive scale, and I shall give some indication of that. Before I do, however, I want to pay tribute to Tearfund and to Laura Webster, who wrote an excellent paper entitled “The Sanitation Scandal”. I also pay tribute to WaterAid and Jennean Alkadiri, who has played an important part in co-ordinating the work of non-governmental organisations on this subject. I also want to thank the 220 of my colleagues who supported me when I set up the all-party group on water and sanitation in the third world, of which I have the honour to be chairman.
The lack of sanitation is one of the world’s most urgent crises, and Governments have promised to halve the number of people without access to sanitation by 2015. Although the target is not off-track, it is not expected to be met in sub-Saharan Africa until at least 2076, believe it or not. If we consider the life expectancy of people in that part of the world, and remember that one child dies every 15 seconds, the fact that this target will not be met until 2076 raises enormous questions. Children are dying on a massive scale, but the life expectancy rates for those who have not yet been born will be completely out of kilter with any statistical base that one could imagine if this target is not met until then. In addition, 1.8 million children in developing countries die of diarrhoea every year, but the problem could easily be resolved if we got the provision of sanitation and water right. That is why those of us who are passionate about this subject will continue to nag away and campaign vigorously to ensure that what is clearly wrong is put right.
It has been proposed that there should be a new global action plan on sanitation and water. The “End Water Poverty” campaign, which some hon. Members might recall, was enormously successful in getting the issue on to the agenda of the G8. Indeed, one of the last letters that our previous Prime Minister wrote—it is dated 25 June 2007, and he went on the 26th—was on this very subject. He told me that he agreed with the point that I had made in my letter to him, which I do not need to repeat, and in a Westminster Hall debate shortly before to the effect that
“access to safe, affordable water and sanitation is a human right.”
He said that progress on the relevant millennium development goal “is therefore crucial”, adding that the Government were hopeful that progress would be made
“under the Japanese G8 Presidency next year as part of the G8’s continuing focus on Africa and development.”
I hope that the Minister can give us an update on that in what is the international year of sanitation so that we have a clear picture of where all this is leading. Time goes by very quickly, and we are off-track on a lot of these issues.
There is also the question of involving mainstream sanitation in other sectors, such as health and education, as well as in urban, rural and other relevant strategies. We must also ensure that all national plans for sanitation are fully funded.
I referred earlier to the statement by Mahatma Ghandi that sanitation is more important than independence, which is a pretty amazing statement for someone to have made, even in those days. We now have the opportunity to get things right in the developing world and Africa, subject to the matters that we are discussing. We have the technical facility to get there, just as people resolved the cholera epidemics in 1849 and 1865 by using technical engineering expertise and, as I said in exchanges with other hon. Members, providing basic latrines. Speaking as a bit of a Conservative, I think that many solutions are a matter not just of ideas or the wonderful work being done by the NGOs and DFID, although I pay tribute to the Department for the work that it has done, but of what happens on the ground in terms of providing the equipment, pipes and systems.
Adam Hart-Davis spoke about these issues at the inauguration of the all-party group. He has written a very interesting and amusing book about lavatories and he gave a very interesting and amusing talk about them—he is great value for anybody who wants to hear about the subject. The fact is, as the Committee Chairman pointed out from his practical experience, and as emerged from an interesting edition a few weeks ago of the Channel 4 programme “Unreported World”, which vividly laid out the problems of lack of sanitation in Bangladesh, that if we are to be able to solve the problem, we need the right sort of equipment. That is why I got in touch with the Bathroom Manufacturers Association. It will convene meetings, which I hope we shall carry forward with a view to helping the Department embed the knowledge of those involved in making the equipment; they may then be able to produce something cheaper than the products they make now, of a suitable design to deal with the practical problems of the kind of shanty town and village life that the right hon. Gentleman described.
It is no good our pouring out statistics or running campaigns if nothing reaches the people on the ground. That will not happen unless we generate an interest among those who make the equipment, and unless the price is affordable. I do not mean that it should be affordable by individuals, who will not, I think, be able to afford to buy it. The Chairman of the Committee graphically described the priority that people expressed: they said that the first thing they wanted was a toilet—but they will not get a toilet unless it is the right price. That means that a toilet must be provided, although it may not be bought by the people concerned; it may be installed in the village or shanty district by the Government, but the Government will not be able to afford to do that unless the price and design are right. I want to highlight that practical side of the problem.
I am sure that it is not unknown to those who are present for the debate that more than 40 per cent. of the world’s population have no access even to a simple latrine. As I said, 1.8 million children die of diarrhoea every year; by contrast, and as a reference point, that is five times as many as die from AIDS. That is something to bear in mind. A baby born in sub-Saharan Africa, which I mentioned is not going to get the relevant facilities until 2076, is 55 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal disease than one born in the developed world. Children in households with no toilet are twice as likely to get diarrhoea as those with a toilet, and children who get intestinal worms are much more likely to have asthma and stunted growth, and to underperform in every field. As to women, they are forced, as we all know from what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman and others, to wait until dark to go out and do what is necessary, because they feel it would bring shame on their family. That induces serious problems with regard to their intestinal behaviour. Of course, it is women who must look after sick children, and if they have a disease it will be passed on to the children.
On the subject of education, the World Health Organisation estimates that 443 million school days are lost annually, worldwide, because of diarrhoeal disease. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) said, hygiene education and the promotion of hand washing have been shown to reduce cases of diarrhoea by 45 per cent., which is pretty impressive. However, as she pointed out, if people cannot afford soap, they cannot do that, and education is needed to make sure that hand washing happens. Diseases such as cholera killed tens of thousands of British people in the 19th century, as I said, and now that AIDS and sexual health are finally high on the global agenda, sanitation can be regarded in many respects as the last taboo. We have an obligation to resolve the questions.
I want to make a few comments on the Government’s response to the report. Not being a member of the Committee, I am not as well versed in the report as the Chairman and the hon. Lady, but I understand from the exchanges that have taken place that a policy paper on water has been produced. I am not quite sure why we have not seen it—I have not, at least. Maybe it has been buried in the Vote Office.
An update to our previous water policy has been published and I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman is sent a copy. A further updated water policy strategy paper is due to be published shortly. I shall make sure that hon. Members who have attended the debate receive a copy of it in due course. The debate and, indeed, the Select Committee’s report are helping to influence what we say in the strategy paper.
Excellent. We are now making good progress.
The millennium development goals target on sanitation is the most off-track of all the MDGs, and it is vital that sanitation is mainstreamed into DFID’s health and education interventions. In its response to the report, DFID said that it would establish a multidisciplinary sanitation working group in DFID to
“examine how DFID can work more effectively towards sanitation goals through our health and education programmes”
and take forward the International Development Committee’s recommendations on sanitation. Am I right in thinking that that group has now been established? How often has it met, and what are its main activities and achievements?
The Select Committee recommended that the water, sanitation, energy and transport team in DFID’s policy and research division should be expanded to include a health and social development advisory capacity. Has that happened, or are there plans for it? The Select Committee also recognised the need for high-level global political commitment to the issues of water and sanitation, if faster progress is to be made. The Department has called for one high-level annual meeting on those issues at global level, and one annual monitoring report to review progress, and has said that the Secretary of State and DFID officials would work with UN-Water to ensure that that happens. When will this year’s high-level meeting take place, and at what level will the UK Government be represented? Also, what is the latest information on the production of this year’s monitoring report?
I shall not try to answer all the hon. Gentleman’s questions so far, although I shall come to the “five ones” in my concluding remarks. On his specific questions about staff in DFID and interdisciplinary working groups, I confirm that the sanitation and health working group, which has been mentioned, met only yesterday for a whole day of learning and sharing ideas and practice across the Department. Of course, at country level, staff who work in particular on water liaise with staff who work on health and education, with respect to the needs of the specific country. The greater degree of sharing and working together that the International Development Committee called for is happening.
Very good. I thank the Minister very much. That is further progress.
I mentioned the G8. I understand that, following what the former Prime Minister said on 25 June last year, the Japanese Government have said that they will put sanitation and water on the agenda this year. That is progress, too, but current signs suggest that a weak, rather fragile review of the 2003 Evian action plan is likely to be agreed to instead of what is needed—a strong commitment to a new and robust global action plan on sanitation and water, along the lines of what, in fairness, DFID has been calling for. Will the Minister be good enough to let us know what efforts the Government have been making to ensure that the G8 makes a stronger commitment to rapid and effective action on sanitation and water this year?
Such is the seriousness with which International Development Committee reports are taken that I went to Tokyo to take part in the G8 Development Ministers meeting. We discussed the need to revisit the Evian action plan and make further progress on water and sanitation, which the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) have referred to. The full G8 meeting has not yet taken place, so I cannot say at this stage what the outcome of the final document will be. However, we have made representations for stronger language and stronger commitments by the G8, to influence the discussions that will take place on 25 September when the Secretary-General of the UN hosts a big meeting to review progress on all the millennium development goals.
I have always had a lot of time for the Minister, and other hon. Members and I can tell that he is completely on top of the questions that are being put to him. It is extremely helpful to us to have immediate responses as we go along, because it shows that something is happening.
However, I have examined the Government’s response to the Select Committee report and have outlined the scale of the problem, which is one of the worst facing the world. That is not an exaggeration. Against that background, the Government saying that they are
“doubling our support for sanitation and water in Africa to £95 million per year by 2007/08 and…more than doubling it again to £200 million by 2010/11”
may sound good, but it is peanuts in relation to the problem. I know that that sounds rather curmudgeonly, but I have the advantage of being a Back Bencher, and I am therefore not constrained in what I say about public expenditure. I am afraid that it just will not do. It will not solve the problem.
I am not saying that the burden should fall entirely on the UK. I see all the references in the Government’s response to the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or whatever it calls itself—such things always have good names. However, the question is what is being delivered and how much money is needed to meet the minimum requirements. We are either going to solve the problem or we are not, and just putting a few farthings in a bucket as we go past, which is basically what we are doing compared with what is required, is simply not good enough. Maybe I am asking for more than we are likely to get, but I do not think that the world is addressing the problem. I strongly urge the Minister to bear that in mind. He or the Secretary of State will be going to the G8, or maybe both of them.
The Minister does not think that he will be going, but I am sure that the Secretary of State will be going. If he does, I hope that he will go along and say that we are not prepared to put up with the fact that a child dies every 15 seconds, and that the G8 had better get its act together. If the money has to be provided for that, it is a matter of imperative requirement. It is not a matter of human rights. I hear people talking about that, but I am interested not in the theory of human rights but in the practicality of delivery for the rights of human beings. The death rates that I have described cry out for a proper response.
I have mentioned AIDS, which has been discussed in relation to the stigma attached to it, but I am more concerned about proportionality. As I have said, so many more children die from failures of sanitation and water than from AIDS that the point is self-explanatory. I notice that the Select Committee stated:
“Sanitation is currently neglected within DFID.”
I pay tribute to the Government’s response to that, because they did not say, “We disagree”. They stated:
“We agree that sanitation has been given insufficient attention by donors and developing country governments as a whole, but we do not agree that DFID neglects sanitation.”
Let us be up front about this: sanitation has to be put right at the top of the agenda—not necessarily at the expense of water, but the two things have to run together. In their response to the Committee’s concerns about the different skill sets required for the sanitation and water sectors, the Government stated:
“Without proper attention to disposal of waste products there is a risk of polluting water sources and of outbreaks of disease.”
It is not a risk; it is an absolute certainty.
We must consider how DFID works. In its response, it states that it will
“work through multilateral and bilateral channels to support governments to respond to the urban challenge. 37 per cent. of DFID’s water and sanitation spend in 2005–06 was through multilateral organisations including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.”
The Minister will not be surprised to hear me say that I believe strongly that multilateral operations are not as effective as many people crack them up to be, certainly in relation to the European Union. I do not want to go down that route, but it is inevitable that I make that point, as it is supported by the reports of the European Court of Auditors. When I make such points about Europe, it is not because I want to make them but because they are there to be made.
Given the expertise that we have in this country, our connections with the countries affected and our tradition of dealing with many of them for generations—many of them are Commonwealth countries—we should not disavow our past on the grounds that we somehow look patronising or colonial in our attitudes. That is a complete misconception. People in those countries would be delighted to know that we were prepared to take as much interest in them as individual nation states as we did before. We may examine our record in relation to many of the countries affected. The contrast between the sanitation and water problems in Zimbabwe now and the problems in 1980 to 1982 is enough to make one feel weak. Multilateral arrangements may be the fashion, but we need direct, hands-on connection between ourselves and other countries. Let us have a bit more confidence that we can help these people, because they need our help and we can deliver it.
On the debate about unilateral and multilateral provision, does my hon. Friend agree that one reason why DFID has such a high worldwide reputation is that it not only gets value for money but follows up projects to ensure that they are maintained properly? Too often, a water or sanitation system is installed with great fanfare and expense, but five years later it is not working because it has not been maintained.
I absolutely agree. Internal engagement once the delivery has been made, and the follow-up and maintenance required, are a measure of our being fully engaged in the process all the way down the line. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that.
There are references in the report to leadership—being champions and that sort of that thing. It also says:
“DFID deserves credit for the leadership it has demonstrated through its proposed Global Action Plan”.
I would like to hear a bit more about how far that plan has gone.
On the human right to water, it was interesting that the Select Committee said:
“DFID should encourage developing countries to go beyond recognition”—
that is, recognition of the need to provide people with water—
“to quantify and legislate for the right to water.”
If we look back over our own history at the question of water supply and the related legislation, which extends from the early 18th century to the present day, the amount of water legislation that we have on the statute book has all been linked to that very question. The terrible experiences that people had in the mid-19th century made them realise that water supply was vital. It may no longer be at the top of everybody’s mind, because we now take it for granted. However, the one thing that can be said for sure with regard to other countries is that they cannot take anything for granted about water supply and legislation, because for the most part there is nothing there.
I agree with the Select Committee on that. It said that DFID’s policy should include
“a complementary strategy of increasing demand for water services by helping to raise public knowledge of existing entitlements”,
as well as of gaps in legislation and policies.
I am sure, Mr. Bayley, that you anticipated that I would raise the issue of corruption, and you have played a prominent role in highlighting it. I introduced a Bill on corruption, and the Select Committee is completely right when it says in paragraph 96 of its report:
“Tackling corruption is of core importance to improving governance of the water sector. Corruption is less likely if utility employees do not need to supplement their pay through bribes. We recommend that DFID encourage partner governments and the private sector to prioritise paying water sector staff a decent wage.”
That is hugely important.
I am glad to say that the Government response states:
“We agree that addressing corruption is an important part”
of this process. It goes on to say, rightly:
“However, it requires a broad range of measures, including stronger public financial management and increased transparency and accountability.”
I would also add, if I may say, that the process requires the ingredients of my Bill, which regrettably did not get incorporated in the Bill proposed by Mr. Tom Clarke, the right hon. Member whose constituency I forget.
The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), yes. We had a little bit of an altercation over that, although we of course remain good friends. However, I believe that dealing with corruption in this context is hugely important and setting up, as outlined in the Government response, a
“£100 million Governance and Transparency Fund”
is only a part of the solution to that problem.
I have made my point with respect to the necessity of involving the Bathroom Manufacturers Association and the World Plumbing Council. It is hugely important to get industry and trade associations involved, because of the importance of making delivery on the ground at the right price.
The overall impact of this report, which I believe should have been debated on the Floor of the House because of its importance, remains at the heart of our work in the developing world.
Finally, I would just like to pay tribute again to the Committee and also to DFID for the work that it is beginning to do on water and sanitation. However, I am quite certain that my own party will be taking every bit as much interest in this subject and I am very much looking forward to hearing the contributions from both the Minister and our shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), for whom I have great regard.
Thank you, Mr. Bayley, for calling me and I apologise to the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) that he has to listen to me in the meantime. [Laughter.]
I thank the hon. Gentleman and others for their contributions this afternoon. It is a pleasure, as the hon. Gentleman said to serve here under your chairmanship, Mr. Bayley, knowing your extensive interest in international matters through our short period of overlap on the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, your chairing of different all-party groups and your own involvement in the International Development Committee. We all understand that there must be an element of frustration for you, given that you understand this subject very well but you have to sit there, by and large, mute—we must hope that that is the case—while the rest of us get the opportunity to debate these matters. However, your expertise and understanding are thoroughly acknowledged.
This is a very important report and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) and his colleagues in the Select Committee, who spent a great deal of time on it, travelling to different parts of the world. As his opening speech illustrated, this issue of sanitation and water will crop up in country after country; it is a direct issue in this particular report, but often it appears in other inquiries by the Select Committee too. I congratulate him and his colleagues on the fact that they are continuing to emphasise this issue in all the work that they do.
We often use the cliché that this is a fast-changing world and unfortunately we use it because the rate of change is one of the harsh realities that we have to deal with, alongside the reality of a fast-growing population. On the issue of water and sanitation, population growth is a hugely significant matter. Trying to tackle the terrible problems of poor sanitation and poor access to safe water is exacerbated by the huge growth in population, particularly in the developing world.
We have heard a number of statistics this afternoon, but some of the most striking statistics that I have heard and read about are those from UNICEF. UNICEF statistics highlight the fact that 1.5 million children under the age of five die every year, due to their lack of access to sanitation and safe drinking supplies. Poor water and sanitation is the second biggest cause of child mortality.
Of the 120 million children born in the developing world each year, 50 per cent. do not have access to adequate sanitation and 20 per cent. do not have access to safe water. More generally, UNICEF has observed that, to fix this problem of poor water and sanitation, there needs to be a commitment in the order of $10 billion a year. To a country the size of the United Kingdom, that is a large figure, but for the world as a whole surely it is not. It is very important that the Committee has drawn attention to the need for resources to be put into this sector, although I also respect what my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon said about the outcomes being important as well as the inputs.
The millennium development goals offer us a framework within which we can debate all these subjects regardless of which particular theme we take on a particular day. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that they are pretty modest in their ambitions for this particular area of water and sanitation. We have set the target of halving the proportion of those people without improved access to drinking water and halving the proportion of people without access to safe sanitation by 2015. I repeat that the target is only halving the proportion of people affected by these problems. That is not eradicating these problems—far from it.
Some 1.6 billion people across the world need to get improved sanitation if we are to meet that target. As we heard from the hon. Member for Stone, on current trends we will not reach that target until 2076. By 2015, we will still be 600 million people short of that target, which is a vast, appalling figure that we must not forget.
As others have already mentioned, this particular millennium development goal that we are focused on is surely pretty central to achieving so much else that we hope to achieve within the overall millennium development goals framework. As I said, it is linked to the millennium development goal on child mortality. It is also important for maternal health, and essential if we are serious about achieving universal primary education.
This subject raises great emotion. It is complex and, as someone said earlier, it is sometimes difficult for us to address it, but I believe that each of us as a constituency Member of Parliament is well aware of how strongly our constituents feel about it from the number of e-mails and letters that we receive and the contacts that are made with us to raise it and linked issues.
A few weeks ago, several right hon. and hon. Members of this House and Members of the House of Lords joined Samaritan’s Purse and others who are campaigning under the banner of Turn on the Tap. We were trying to highlight the fact that in much of the developing world women and young children have to walk as much as 4 miles a day to collect safe drinking water. We learned as we participated in that walk what a major distraction that is for many young people. We walked to Hyde park and back with children from All Souls primary school in London. I remarked in the debate at the time that the children were well informed and alert to what that particular example meant to them but, more importantly, what it meant to the thousands of children across Africa and elsewhere who daily have to do that walk in circumstances that are very different from those that we enjoyed on our pleasant walk a few weeks ago.
Turn on the Tap is building up to walks across the country on 10 May which I hope will get support from our constituents throughout the United Kingdom. It is right that they keep reminding us as parliamentarians of the importance of the issue and do not let us forget about it, and they are not the only ones. The hon. Member for Stone rightly highlighted the importance of WaterAid, and we know that many other non-governmental organisations have a close interest in this debate. We owe it to all of them to take the issue seriously.
Although I am not a member of the Select Committee and have not seen the same events and projects that its members have, I recall being in Kalicha township, a slum beside Nairobi, a few years ago. I saw at first hand the absolutely desperate circumstances in which people were living and learned about the flying toilets project, which sought to minimise the health risks of the sanitation regime that existed for that vast, sprawling and, at times, hopeless gathering of humanity. Nobody who saw that or the things that colleagues have referred to today can come away with anything other than the feeling that we have so much to do, and that a wealthy country such as ours must take a leading role.
In that respect, like others, I wish to pay tribute to the work that the Department for International Development has already done and to its good intentions. I hope that the Minister will give us more information today about how its plans are developing.
The Select Committee rightly praised the global action plan. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) spoke about the “five ones” strategy, and the Minister indicated that he intends to focus on it in his remarks. Like others, I look forward to hearing more about it.
The hon. Member for Stone expressed some doubts, but I believe that multilateral action is fundamental. We cannot expect a country of Britain’s size to contribute everything. Why we would be expected to supply all the funding was a bit beyond me, but, inevitably, as we work with other countries, it is important that we do not duplicate services. We must focus our efforts, and those on the receiving end of our resources, advice and assistance must experience the minimum of duplication and inefficiency.
The problem is simply that when we are dealing with questions of corruption and things of that kind, we must have the right legislation to ensure that the aid that we give is accompanied by a requirement to ensure that corruption does not take place in, for example, the water sector. Otherwise, we will not get the results that we want. This Parliament should make certain that it imposes the right requirements, and delivery of the aid programmes as well. That is not to say that there should not be co-operation around the world. I am not saying anything like that. I am simply saying that we need to focus on how to deliver through our national capacity specifically but also in co-operation with others.
I do not want to exaggerate the differences between the hon. Gentleman and me or to create differences where none exist. I acknowledge his commitment to this issue. I recall that he intervened on me to ask about corruption when we debated the international development themes during the passage of the European treaty recently, and I hope that I was able to satisfy him that I take an equally robust view, as I am sure all hon. Members do, on the need for such requirements.
I recognise that there is an important role for this Parliament and the Government to ensure that what we participate in—the work that we fund or assist—is of the highest standard and that there is accountability. We also need to be careful that we do not burden countries with too many different routes for donations and assistance, and that we work multilaterally as effectively as possible. That is why I am keen to hear more about how the global action plan is developing and how we can expect it to link with activities at the European and G8 levels.
The hon. Member for Stone made robust comments on the financial contribution. It would be helpful if the Minister confirmed whether the Government have met their target to contribute £95 million in this financial year for sanitation and water. It was mentioned earlier that in three years’ time that will have risen to £200 million. A couple of issues arise from that.
Clearly, although the amounts are significant and a big improvement, as the hon. Gentleman said, they are still a small part of the larger requirement of $10 billion. I accept that the Government cannot be responsible for the $10 billion on their own, so can the Minister share any insight he has about where the balance will come from, and what our European and G8 partners are offering? How much of an international shortfall still exists? What scope is there, as we move to a fairly sharp increase in spending to reach the 0.7 per cent. development assistance target in the next few years, for sanitation and water to play a part in reaching the goal?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon was right to say that the debate is not just about funds. It is also about people, technical assistance and advice. The Minister made a helpful response to a question put to him about the degree to which staff and the team of highly skilled individuals in DFID have been learning more about the importance of sanitation and water across the different disciplines. It would be helpful to know more about how mainstream the sanitation and water themes are within the different elements of the Department’s work.
The UK Water Network, which is part of BOND—British Overseas NGOs for Development—places particular emphasis on cross-Department working, and I think that it as well as the rest of us would be interested in knowing a little more about it. It is something that we always talk about on these occasions. I hope that the Minister can assure us that it is at the heart of what he is trying to do.
Turning to the European Union—I am not doing so simply because the hon. Member for Stone has left the Chamber, but I shall get my comment in quickly—the global action plan was clearly based on the need to co-ordinate international efforts, and the EU has a key role in that. Both the Department and the Committee have called for the EU water facility to be reformed and better linked to a strengthened EU water initiative. In its response to the Committee’s report, the Government agreed to push for reforms in that area during the 10th round of the European development fund, and perhaps the Minister will give us some information about how that has developed.
One of the most important things to come out of the Committee’s report has been the absolute priority of ensuring that sanitation is no longer the poor relation of water in terms of its focus for the development community and international supporters. We have heard many graphic examples of why that must be the case, and I hope that on the basis of what the Minister has heard here today he will realise that there is cross-party support for that refocusing of the approach.
Will the Minister reflect on what is happening in Gaza? On the “Today” programme this morning we heard about the horrific situation and what is happening there because of the Israeli blockade of fuel and essential supplies. Sanitation supplies and water processing have been heavily affected in Gaza. The report said that 40 million litres of untreated sewage is being pumped into the sea only 1 mile from the population centre of Gaza city. Will the Minister soon, if not today, give us some feedback on how accurate he believes that report to be and, assuming that it is accurate, what representations he and his Department or the Foreign Office are making to the Israelis to plead, if necessary, for a new look at what is happening in Gaza so that the desperate situation there is not worsened by the risk of disease and other consequences of poor sanitation?
May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the fact that John Ging of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency gave evidence by video link from Gaza to our Committee yesterday morning to confirm that figure. In some cases, people are going without food, as well as suffering from lack of sewerage facilities and water shortages. His comment was that the basic necessities of life for some people are simply not there every day.
My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to his Committee’s work. I do not intend to become distracted into a broader debate about what is happening in Gaza, but this point is very relevant to our debate. I hope that the Government will make it clear that they continue to deprecate what is happening in Gaza, and will use this example to put further pressure on the Israelis to rethink their strategy there.
The awful statistics and terrible reality of the sanitation and water experience for many people throughout the world should and do appal all of us. We have targets, frameworks and strategies galore, but we cannot yet have confidence in our collective ability to achieve what are reasonably modest goals, and something must be sorted out to get that right. I acknowledge that the United Kingdom has invested significantly in that area, but the report has surely highlighted the fact that there are still significant areas for improvement, and at the very least none of us has any grounds for complacency.
It is a great pleasure, Mr. Bayley, to serve under your chairmanship in this debate. I congratulate the Select Committee and its Chairman on this excellent sixth report, on sanitation and water. I shall not comment too much on the Chairman’s speech because, in a sense, the whole debate is about the report, in which he played a major part.
This has been a high-quality debate. We have heard some excellent speeches from the hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin), my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore), and the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) who so aptly summed up his Committee’s report.
There is a great deal to go into on this report, so in the few minutes for which I want to speak I cannot go into everything. Suffice it to say that when one starts to research for such a debate, one discovers things about one’s colleagues that one did not know. I had no idea that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone chaired the all-party group on water.
Water and sanitation. During my 16 years as a Member of Parliament I have been searching to find something wet about my hon. Friend, because he is one of the very few hon. Members who is drier than Lady Thatcher. He initiated an important Adjournment debate on this subject in June last year, and indeed my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) had an important debate on 19 March this year.
This is an important debate and the salience of the issue will become more and more important. This is the international year of sanitation, so it is an appropriate time for the debate. As many hon. Members have said, the cohort of water is sanitation, and so often one concentrates on water but not on sanitation. It is a fact that, as has been said, more than 1 billion people or one fifth of the world’s population are deprived of access to clean water, but two fifths or some 2.25 billion lack adequate sanitation, which is an absolute scandal in the 21st century.
As has been said, every 20 seconds a child dies due to lack of clean water and sanitation, and 1.6 million children under the age of five die every year due to unsafe water and inadequate hygiene. The hygiene part of the equation is important, as is education about hygiene. Approximately 2 million people die every year due to diarrhoeal diseases, and most are children under the age of five. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stone has said repeatedly, 1.8 million people suffer unnecessary diarrhoeal diseases.
Yes, 1.8 billion suffer unnecessary diarrhoeal diseases. Hundreds of thousands of young girls miss the opportunity of an education as they are forced to walk an average of 4 miles every day to fetch fresh water.
We in the west tend to take for granted the fact that when we turn on the tap water comes out. We can wash our clothes in a washing machine, and we have dishwashing machines and sophisticated irrigation. During the floods last year, a large part of Gloucestershire was cut off from mains water and we had the spectre of quite a large area having standpipes. That was seen as going back to the dark ages, but a large part of the developing world must live like that. Even if people have standpipes that is an improvement, because many of them must go large distances to carry the meagre amount of water that they need each day to survive. Since the 1930s, UK water usage has increased, but the Committee’s report says that water availability in Africa decreased substantially between 1975 and 1995, a trend that is likely to continue.
In an excellent speech, the hon. Member for Glasgow, North asked the Minister what the Government are doing about the UN watercourses convention and the lack of access to fresh water, which is something that more and more NGOs are beginning to raise with us. I hope that the Minister will be able to address that matter.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the problem of cross-border rivers, and throughout the world we are seeing a greater and greater number of bigger and bigger problems with cross-border rivers. One has onlyto look to at the problems of the Nile, which is mentioned in the Research-inspired Policy and Practice Learning in Ethiopia and the Nile Region programme. There are plenty of other cross-border rivers and there are problems in relation to rivers that are not cross-border—for example, the Yangtze and the Yellow river in China are beginning to dry up. What catastrophic effect will that have on the most populous nation of the world? We should also consider the effect of the River Jordan drying up, particularly in the middle east. If we consider the effect of other rivers drying up, one can begin to see what is happening throughout the world.
I would like to refer again to the excellent programme on Channel 4, “Unreported World”, which demonstrated that, as my hon. Friend says, the rivers are drying up. In countries such as Bangladesh, the flooding and the washing away are so intense that new river systems are emerging. That creates worse and worse problems for sanitation because the shanty villages are being washed away and the sanitation is getting worse.
My hon. Friend is exactly right; when everyone sees a natural disaster—I will mention global warming later—one of the first things that tends to suffer is the sanitation systems. Disease then follows, and the knock-on effect is death and suffering. That is why this is such an important subject. We need to deal not only with shortages of water, but with national natural disasters. Indeed, many people are still suffering from the floods that hit a large part of central Africa last year. This week, some representatives from Uganda told me that the Government there have done little to help the communities in north-east Uganda simply because they are of a different political persuasion. We need to make it clear how we should deal with natural disasters.
We all have examples of the difficulties faced by water projects around the world. I have been to see the township outside Nairobi to which the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk referred. It is one of the worst slums in the world. Liquid sewage flows along the streets and in and out of the very meagre 1 or 2 sq yd mud huts that are back-to-back against each other. It is just appalling in this modern day and age that people have to live like that. One would have thought that the very least that could be done with a bit of international help is to provide some form of satisfactory sanitation system—even if that is all that could be done.
To illustrate the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, when I went to Nigeria with the all-party group, we visited the community in Ido Sarki just outside the town of Kano in northern Nigeria. The international community—I am not quite sure which part of it—had gone to a great deal of trouble to install new wells and water pipes. However, corruption meant that the local contractor who did the job used sub-standard pipes—electricity conduit pipes. They are, of course, a totally different thing from proper water pipes. The contractor put them only 2 or 3 in below the surface so that they were smashed by the first vehicle to drive over them. In a matter of months, we found that that community was not using the brand new wells that had been installed and that it had gone back to using the old standpipe system. DFID’s reputation of revisiting projects where it has funded them and of making sure that they are maintained and still work is vital to the international community.
In dealing with my hon. Friend’s point about multilateral as opposed to unilateral delivery, the Committee has noted that in 2005-06, 37 per cent. of DFID’s budget on water was spent through unilateral agencies. That figure is to be increased—I take that to mean that the multilateral part is to expand. Perhaps the Minister will give us some insight into that, as it is particularly relevant to the Committee’s comments on the reduction of the strategic work force. The Government say:
“We are reducing staff numbers in line with cross government headcount restrictions. This is challenging us to act smarter”.
Forget the English. The Government go on to say:
“DFID is currently carrying out a Strategic Workforce Planning process to determine what resources are available, where the demands are likely to be over the next five years and how best to match resources to need.”
The Minister knows that I have raised that with him in other DFID debates—for example, in relation to AIDS I have asked whether there are enough central health advisers in DFID. I am concerned that with a rising budget, the number of advisers in London will not be sufficient adequately to supervise these large projects around the world. Inevitably, that will mean that a greater proportion of that larger budget has to be spent on multilateral rather than unilateral agencies.
Of course, the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The Committee has also discussed that matter with DFID. Does he also acknowledge that if there is direct budget support, there is an opportunity to provide the expertise to the Government who are on the receiving end? I do not mean that DFID staff should be avoided, but such an approach would not put pressure on them and would provide the expertise where it is needed: in advising the Governments with whom DFID works in partnership in a way that does not add to the headcount for the Department.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman: it is expertise that is often required. If DFID is able to provide that, it would be fantastic.
On good governance, DFID provides money to the Global Opportunities Fund to the tune of £100 million. Better governance is at the heart of delivering proper infrastructure to many of these countries. There is still a huge problem with how we deliver our aid and whether it is effective. Kurt Hoffman of the Shell Foundation told us last year that the international community has delivered $650 billion of aid to Africa in the last 20 years and yet, despite that, the average standard of living of the average African is worse today than it was 20 years ago. I am sure that the root of that is bad governance. It would be interesting to know how the Minister thinks the £100 million of the governance and transparency fund, referred to in the Government’s response, will help to deliver more water and sanitation infrastructure.
It is important to encourage better governance at a local and national level because some countries operate on a centralised basis and others are more devolved. It is particularly important to have transparent systems so that there can be parliamentary scrutiny in more countries. Ghana is a shining light in relation to that and has excellent Committees, like our International Development Committee, through which the Government can be held to account. That is a very important factor.
On a larger scale, the UK has established an £800 million international environmental transformation fund and there is a Global Environment Facility of £140 million over four years. That is an important Government initiative because it relates to climate change and environmental improvement. Surely, water and sanitation must be a big part of that. I would be grateful if the Minister told us how those big initiatives contribute to improved water and sanitation.
The Committee makes it clear, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone mentioned, that around £90 million this year will rise to £200 million in 2008-09. However, he was right to say that that is a drop in a bucket—I think he said it is like putting farthings in a bucket. That figure is simply not adequate. The report states on pages 26-27, paragraph 71:
“The Commission for Africa recommended that, in order to address the full scale of services needed in Africa, a doubling of infrastructure spending is required—expenditure of US$10 billion a year up to 2010 and, subject to review, a further increase to US$20 billion a year in the following five years. DFID needs to engage with other donors to ensure that the Commission for Africa's recommended donor spending on infrastructure of US$10 billion a year up to 2010…is secured.”
A big part of that infrastructure should be water and sanitation provision. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how far we are getting to that.
I should like to say something about a subject that has not yet been covered in the debate: food, MDG 1 and the need by the target year of 2015 to reduce by half the number of people starving. Of course, successful agriculture can play a major part in that. Part of that is effective use of irrigation in agriculture. The report makes the point that more attention should be paid to that issue and higher funding given to it. We in the west know very well—I declare my interest as a farmer—how to irrigate crops and we should use the considerable expertise in this country to help developing countries to develop their irrigation systems properly. Seventy per cent. of all water could be used for agricultural irrigation, and we are a long way short of producing the food that we need to produce.
I had a very interesting discussion with a representative of Nestlé in my office. This is a different subject, but it is closely related to water. To produce 1 litre of biofuel requires 5,000 litres of water, so the world will have to review its policy on biofuels not only because they are pushing food prices up, but because a great deal of water is required to produce the crops for biofuels, which is adding to the problem.
Where do we go from here? The MDGs are extremely important, but some are in grave danger of being missed and some are in danger of being missed by an extremely long way. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone referred to the fact that the MDG on which we have been focusing will not be reached until 2070. Given that the life expectancy of men in Zimbabwe is only 37, it will take two generations to meet that development goal. That is too long. The world community must get together and see how it can contribute both in funding and in expertise, so that we can achieve in a much shorter time the MDGs and the targets that we have set ourselves.
The more I learn about the international development scene—I was involved in it only peripherally until I took on my current role—the more I see that certain countries, such as the UK, Japan, the Nordic countries and the United States, give very generously of their budgets, but that other countries have greatly expanding GDPs and could give a great deal more. We in the international development community need to engage those countries, some of which are in Asia and some in the middle east.
However, as the Chairman of the Committee said, it is not wish lists or the amount of money that we are devoting to these problems that we want to promote it is real action and real solutions. That is why I hope that the Chairman will encourage his Committee, perhaps as soon as next year, to return to this subject, in a follow-up report perhaps, to see what has been delivered by DFID and the international community in general, so that we can see how we are tackling some of the dreadful problems that are faced by sub-Saharan Africa in particular, but also by other parts of the world.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the IDC’s report and to do so under your chairmanship, Mr. Bayley, given that, as the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) said, you have a long-standing interest in Africa and development issues more generally.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) in concluding the debate. I share his view that governance is the central problem that has constrained development in the past. It is why the Government continue to give as much attention as we do to governance in developing countries; why we made it the central feature of the 2006 White Paper, “Eliminating World Poverty: making governance work for the poor”; and why we established a £130 million fund on governance and transparency. I mention that partly because of his comments, but also because the beneficiaries of that fund have just been announced. I am sure that all hon. Members will be pleased to know that WaterAid, which does excellent work in this area alongside a series of other NGOs, has received from the fund a further £5 million for work on governance in water sectors around the world.
I also very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments on climate change. He is right to draw hon. Members’ attention to the crucial impact of climate change on access to water and to refer to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, in setting up an environmental transformation fund worth £800 million. We are seeking to ensure that that fund is aligned closely with funding from a range of other donors, so that there is not a proliferation of different funds to deal with climate change, causing various administrative difficulties for developing countries. We see a combined fund that focuses on clean technology, deforestation and helping countries to adapt to meet the challenges of climate change that they are having to face already. Work on water and sanitation will clearly be part of that.
I welcome the debate not least because it provides an opportunity for us to highlight the extent to which water and sanitation is a defining feature of poverty. I am thinking of the women and children toiling to collect water for their families and the unsanitary conditions in which so many people live, simply because they lack something as simple and basic as a toilet. The situation is truly shocking. At any given time, half the developing world is sick because of a water-related illness and half the hospital beds are taken up with patients who have water-related diseases. Inevitably, that adds up to lives of drudgery, indignity and missed opportunity, directly because of a lack of progress on water and sanitation.
As several hon. Members said, we are at a critical stage, not only for the water and sanitation MDGs, but for the MDGs more generally. That is why the Prime Minister talks of there being an MDG emergency and has sought, through the UN, to make 2008 a year of action on the MDGs. If we are to reach the MDGs on water and sanitation, we need to get water to an extra 300,000 people each day and better sanitation to an extra 450,000 people each day. Those are considerable challenges.
Does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea to encourage the World Service, and the BBC more generally, in that regard? We have a tendency in this country and certainly in this Parliament to talk to one another in a village, whether we are talking in this Chamber, on the Floor of the House or wherever. Silence outside gets us nowhere. We need to be able to get these messages out into the media, and I am sure that the Government would have a way of getting themselves on to World Service programmes and perhaps even the “Today” programme, if it would be prepared to listen. The real question is how we get our message outside, and we do not get it outside just by talking to one another in this place.
We should not downplay the importance of Parliament as a vehicle for discussion. However, I suspect that I am expressing a view held by all hon. Members when I say that we would like the media to give even more serious attention to the debates that we have—not only the debates on the Floor of the House, but those in Westminster Hall.
No doubt BBC Parliament will have the opportunity to look at our proceedings in due course, which is helpful. The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that there will be a focus on the MDGs at a UN summit on 25 September this year, so there will be an opportunity for the world’s media, not just the BBC, to focus on progress that is being made towards meeting all the MDGs. The G8 meeting in July will provide a further opportunity for attention to be focused on the issues.
The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk made the appropriate point that we cannot make progress on a range of other millennium development goals if we do not make progress on water and sanitation. It is worth noting that, if we do not make that progress, not only are we not going to make progress on infant and child mortality, primary education and the empowerment of women, but we will not see the levels of economic growth that all of us recognise are essential if countries are to lift themselves out of poverty. For example, research suggests that Ethiopia’s growth is one third less than it could be because of its inability to manage its water resources appropriately. Climate change is likely to make that situation even worse.
My interest in the subject was first stimulated by my visiting Nepal in 2004, when I saw a village irrigation project in western Terai funded by the Department. That small-scale programme had irrigated some 33 hectares, but it helped to improve the livelihoods of the 550 people living in that village, many of whom had migrated to elsewhere in Nepal or into India to earn a living to sustain their families. That irrigation project was helping to raise agricultural production in the village—a key issue, given the current debate about food prices, which the hon. Member for Cotswold mentioned—and to enable those people who had migrated to spend more time in their community, much to their satisfaction.
In the context of the questions about corruption, which hon. Members are rightly interested in, at the entrance to that village was a board setting out where the funding for that irrigation project had come from and charting how much money had been put in by donors, such as ourselves. It said what that money had bought and showed the contribution of individual villagers to the work. Each investment by donors, individuals in the village and the Nepalese Government could be accounted for, helping to prevent corruption.
The IDC’s focus on water and sanitation was important and I have no doubt that it will return to the subject. We have published an update on our progress to date in implementing our policy on water. We have been reviewing that policy and are due to publish shortly a revised policy to help to influence us as we proceed.
Key to the IDC’s report and to ongoing policy will be the commitments that we made as part of the call to action on water and sanitation issued by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the former Secretary of State for International Development, which urged Governments and donors, including developing country Governments and developing country donors, to spend more money on this sector, make sure that those funds are wisely spent and, crucially, ensure that the right international systems are in place to help us make progress.
I acknowledge the criticisms made by the IDC, particularly in respect of sanitation. As the Government indicated in their response, it was right to say that the international community needed to give that matter more attention. As the hon. Member for Cotswold said, this is the year of sanitation and it provides an opportunity for all the donors to review what they have been doing.
The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk asked whether we were on track to meet the commitment to double our spending on water in Africa, made in 2005 by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State. I cannot give him the definitive answer on the sums that we have spent, but we are on track to meet that commitment.
Hon. Members throughout the House continue to call, quite rightly, for us to demonstrate what results our money has produced. I shall give two examples that are contained in the water action plan update. In Bangladesh, our funding for water and sanitation has helped 1 million people gain access to improved sanitation and helped nearly 400,000 gain access to safe water. In Nigeria, we provided latrines in schools for some 40,000 pupils and improved the water supply to some 650,000 people. We are committed to doubling our expenditure again by 2010-11 to some £200 million.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is one of my favourite members of the official Opposition. I am the last person to call him curmudgeonly, but his comment about £200 million being just a few farthings in a bucket did not do him justice. That sum is a significant contribution. We are contributing substantial sums, as other hon. Members have mentioned, to the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The World Bank spends approximately 9 per cent. of its expenditure in developing countries on helping to address issues to do with water and sanitation and the African Development Bank spends around 6 per cent. of its expenditure on that. We provide support to help to build the capacity of the ADB to do even more effective work in that area.
I was not being curmudgeonly; I was just taking a perspective view. We understand that it would cost some £10 billion to make a significant dent in the problem, although I am sure that even that figure will not be accurate. The international community—not specifically our country and our Government—is not stepping up to the plate.
I do not expect the Minister to answer every question that I ask, because I have asked quite a few, but perhaps he will be kind enough to ensure that his officials look at them and let me have a note in writing on the answers that I requested.
I did not call the hon. Gentleman curmudgeonly—I would not dream of doing so. I just thought that he was in danger of allowing others to interpret his remarks as such. I genuinely encourage him, as chair of the all-party group on water and sanitation in the third world, which I commend, to visit developing countries to see some of the issues that he has raised. If he lets me know in advance, I will ensure that he has the chance to see programmes funded by multilateral organisations and, in particular, to see programmes funded by the European Commission, perhaps through the EU water facility, in the vain hope that his attitude to things European and, indeed, things multilateral may begin to change just a smidgeon.
The Minister’s Department rightly takes credit when it says:
“DFID has already increased its engagement with the EU Water Initiative’s…Africa Working Group… DFID has played a leading role in the EUWI from the start, and recently, along with Germany, funded a comprehensive review to make it more transparent and effective. We will finalise the recommendations with other stakeholders in August 2007.”
Will the Minister say something about that initiative and whether it has been possible to encourage other donors in Europe to take a bigger part in the whole water and sanitation issue?
There were concerns at the outset about how effective the EU water initiative and water facility would be. As a result of some concerns raised by NGOs, we funded a review of its work, alongside the Germans. Recommendations have been made and are being implemented to improve the next tranche of the water initiative’s impact. One of the changes is to ensure that we incentivise developing countries to do more themselves on tackling sanitation. Those recommendations have been discussed at official-level meetings in Brussels with other European partners to encourage the Commission to continue to make progress in getting how that initiative and facility works right, and to stimulate further interest in water and sanitation among other member states.
The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) asked what progress we are making in Ethiopia. I cannot remember whether his visit was prior to the Government’s recent launch of a £75 million programme to increase access to water and sanitation, but that money will help the Department to work with local communities, for example, to train health workers to teach people about hygiene and to build the capacity to train health workers to do more. We are also building the capacity for Ethiopians to train their own hydrologists to manage water resources more generally. We are supporting at a strategic level the Ethiopian Government in developing their own universal access plan for getting water and sanitation to all their citizens. Joint memorandums of understanding have been established across the Ethiopian Government—for example, between Finance and Environment Ministries and, crucially, stakeholders outside Government in civil society and the private sector. Given that we have only just made the announcement, it is a little early to say how that is progressing, but the commitments in the response of the Ethiopian Government give us confidence that we will continue to make progress.
I am grateful for that helpful and up-to-date information. Are the Ethiopian Government maintaining their commitment to their original targets? We saw the capacity for extra resources to help to hit the targets, but they were to a tough schedule. Do the Ethiopian Government still have those tough targets?
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall have to write to him to answer that question. I should take this opportunity to confirm that the Government are committed, through the £75 million over five years, to supporting the Ethiopian Government in delivering water and sanitation to some 3 million people in 7,000 rural communities and 37 small towns. That gives some sense of the results that we are hoping to achieve with our resource. However, that is not the whole answer to his question, and I will try to get further information to him.
Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Cotswold, focused on the need for donors to do more on sanitation. The Government recently announced a £1.5 million contribution to the global sanitation fund. The fund, which was only recently established, is housed in the World Health Organisation. It is designed to look at what works best in promoting the use of toilets and hand washing. We want to use it to showcase best practice in-country, and then to build the lessons that it helps us to learn into the work that more generous and wide-ranging funding supports in water and sanitation programmes.
That may seem a small amount, but I should indicate that a number of other donors have contributed significantly more funding, and we expect the initial aspirations of those running the fund to be met. At the moment, we do not think that we need to put additional resources in. The fund is new and we need to watch it operate in practice, but we intend to engage those who manage the fund.
The Minister anticipated my point. The amount of finance did not seem like very much, but it might expand—let us hope that it does so rapidly. Will he be kind enough to consider my request—I hope that the Bathroom Manufacturers Association wants to take it up—to enter into discussions on how lavatories and other equipment could be provided at a cost that could be easily met in the countries concerned? There are practical questions; it is not simply a matter of putting money in to work out management schemes. The Government cannot provide lavatories if they do not have lavatories of the right kind and design at the right price.
Let me finish my response to the first intervention. I would be happy for the hon. Gentleman to bring in the organisation to which he referred to discuss the matter further.
On the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the fund, I can give him some further information. The Netherlands has given some $40 million, Sweden $7 million and Switzerland $1 million, so there is substantially more funding beyond our contribution. As I said, we are going to watch to see how effective the fund is. It is designed to generate lessons that can be incorporated into much bigger funded programmes by donors such as ourselves in Ethiopia, as I described, or by multilaterals.
I should like to say something on the progress on the “five ones”. On international reports, we are funding UN-Water to produce the first ever global monitoring report. It is working closely with the WHO and we expect the report to be published later in the summer. Secondly, we said that we wanted to see one high-level meeting each year, and the first will take place either at Accra in early September or at the margins of the UN Secretary-General’s meeting towards the end of September. We expect that to be resolved shortly. The three other “Ones” are country-specific and refer to the need for one plan, one sector co-ordinating group and one UN agency to be the lead. We are working closely with other donors to, and developing country Governments in, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh to establish one lead UN agency, and to ensure that donors work collectively behind one plan that the Governments are putting together. As I indicated, such a plan is in place in Ethiopia, and we are trying to galvanise donors to get behind it.
A number of Members referred to water resources management, as did the Committee’s report. The Government accept absolutely that we need to do more on the issue. We have stepped up our engagement on trans-boundary water management because, as a number of Members mentioned, there is considerable potential for water to be a force for co-operation at international level, but if we are not careful, it could exacerbate conflicts in a number of regions. We are supporting a number of regional initiatives to help those water resources to be managed effectively. Working, for example, with the World Bank, we have provided some £14 million to improve the management of the River Nile, working with the 10 countries in the area. That has helped to step up co-operation among the countries concerned to promote economic growth in such a way as to manage water resources. Crucially, a new legal agreement on the management of the River Nile is in the latter stages of finalisation.
The Minister is being extremely generous in giving way. He may well be coming to the answer to this question. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) and I mentioned the UN convention on watercourses. I suspect that there are difficulties, which is why the Government have not ratified it. If he cannot answer today—I do not anticipate that he will necessarily be able to—will he send us a note about what the problems are with the treaty and why the UK has not ratified it?
I intend to answer that question, but if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall first add one or two comments about other regional initiatives that we are supporting, in response to Members’ concerns.
We just agreed funding to support an initiative in south Asia, similar to the one in the Nile basin, to promote better dialogue and collaboration among the seven countries concerned on the use of the waters of the greater Himalayas. I was struck by a figure given to me by our staff in China when I visited Beijing recently. They said that some 47 per cent. of the world’s population depends in some way on the waters of the Himalayas. Given recent information from the world’s scientific community about the increased pace of glacier melt in the Himalayas, I think that the importance of the south Asia water initiative will become even clearer to Members.
Reference was made to the middle east, and the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk asked about Gaza. I shall have to come back to him on his specific questions, but let me say more generally that in the middle east, as part of the multilateral track in the peace process, a programme called EXACT works on regional water resource management among Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel, for the reasons that have been discussed. We continue to contribute to the strategic concerns of water resource management that have been referred to. I shall get back to the hon. Gentleman on the specifics.
We considered the issue of the UN convention carefully following representations from WWF and other NGOs. Our judgment is that there is little evidence that accession on its own would deliver significant benefits for development. The convention is also unlikely to enter into force as an agreement any time soon. The principles in it are widely used; they are fundamental to the regional initiatives that we fund. However, as a result of our discussions on the convention with a number of NGOs, we plan to work on how the international architecture for the management of water resources can be improved. It is by no means certain that it is as effective as it might be, so we will do some work on the matter.
The Minister is being unduly modest. By ratifying the convention, the United Kingdom, as one of the major bilateral donors of aid and one of the P5—the permanent members of the UN Security Council—would send an important signal to the international community about the need for a binding international legal framework within which to work. I appreciate his reservations—that it is not likely to have any immediate or even medium-term impact—but the issue is nevertheless ongoing and likely to increase in significance and effect. It is important that the international community, particularly through the United Nations, seriously address the issue, rather than simply relying on piecemeal initiatives. In areas of high conflict, it may be difficult to persuade people to agree unless we can point to an international convention that significant numbers of countries have ratified.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the principles in the convention are fundamental to ensuring that further conflict over water resources does not develop, but we must focus on the different regional initiatives in place to manage water resources in areas of tension. I do not think that making a particular effort to sign the UN convention now will have any impact on implementing solutions to particular regional issues. We support the convention and the principles in it, but given that it takes resources and staff time to consider implementing conventions, it is right that we concentrate our resources, effort and funding at this stage on ensuring that the regional initiatives to tackle water resource management move in the right direction. The success of the Nile Basin initiative points to the success of our approach to date. We will nevertheless keep under review the question of accession to the UN convention. I hope that Members understand why we have focused particularly on regional water resource management initiatives, rather than going for accession to the convention at this stage.
This has been a good debate. I believe that I have answered most of Members’ questions, and I have given commitments to write regarding two or three specific issues. I recognise that I need to ensure that at least two Members receive the water action update that we published, and I will also endeavour to ensure that when we publish the new policy on water and sanitation that we are working on, all Members who have taken part in this debate receive copies.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Five o’clock.