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Access to Basic Sanitation

Volume 518: debated on Wednesday 17 November 2010

5. What steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of people in developing countries without access to basic sanitation. (24340)

Reducing the number of people in developing countries without access to basic sanitation is a key priority of the coalition Government. The review of our aid programme will determine how we scale up our efforts and results in this area.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. As Friday is world toilet day, what is his Department doing to raise the international agenda’s priority to improve sanitation, particularly as 1.5 million children under five die every year from poor water hygiene and sanitation, which is more than die from malaria, AIDS and measles combined?

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue in those terms. Diarrhoea is the biggest killer of children in Africa. This is a core subject for the coalition Government, and we are looking at it in our bilateral aid review. Although I do not wish to pre-empt that review, I can tell the House that I am confident that we will be able to ensure that, over the next four years, tens of millions of people will be able to gain access to clean water and sanitation who are currently unable to do so.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his remarks at the millennium development goals summit earlier this year, in which he emphasised the importance of sanitation, but will he explain to the House why, when the United Nations passed an historic resolution on 30 September affirming that access to water and sanitation were human rights and that Governments had a legal responsibility to deliver that access, the United Kingdom voted against it?

The hon. Gentleman needs to look carefully at the words that I used at the summit, about which he has just made his nice remarks. The fact is that 2.5 million deaths are caused by a lack of sanitation and 39% of people in our world do not have any access to a basic hygienic latrine. That is why we are focusing not on rhetoric but on results in trying to achieve specific outcomes in this very important area.

In the last Parliament, the Department for International Development acknowledged that it had refocused its priority on sanitation in the wake of the report by the International Development Committee. Given that, according to figures from the “Water, Sanitation and Health 2008” report, 79% of rural homes in India have no access to sanitation, what will the Secretary of State do within the programme for India to ensure that sanitation is a key priority?

The Chairman of the Select Committee is absolutely right to say that my predecessor admitted that the Government had taken their eye off the ball on this important matter. We are looking carefully at the Indian programme as part of the bilateral aid review and, as part of our examination of the programme, we will be looking specifically at our support for sanitation.

The sanitation situation in Haiti remains critical after the earthquake in January this year. Following that earthquake, many of our constituents sent donations to support relief efforts there, and they are now very concerned about the outbreak of cholera, which is having a devastating impact. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the delivery of aid in Haiti, and on how the help is getting through to those who need it most?

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important subject. Britain has helped to bring clean water—the specific point that he raised, I think—to 380,000 people in Haiti. I sent a senior humanitarian expert last week to look at the situation on the ground, and to help specifically with co-ordination there. We are working with other United Nations agencies to ensure that this is prioritised and we are of course considering the recent appeal that the UN put out in that respect.