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Westminster Hall

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 21 April 2016

Westminster Hall

Thursday 21 April 2016

[Andrew Percy in the Chair]

Backbench Business

Clean Water and Sanitation (Africa)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered clean water and sanitation in Africa.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Let us be honest: Thursday is often referred to in the Backbench Business Committee as the graveyard slot. We are approaching the end of the Adjournment debate in the House, which gives us an idea of how business is moving forward. We in Westminster Hall will be the ones who stay the longest today, because the House will have risen before this debate finishes.

Why have I brought this matter to this Chamber for consideration? Very simply, the reason why we are all here to speak is that we want to improve water aid and sanitation throughout Africa. Right hon. and hon. Members, and the Minister and the shadow Minister, are here to speak, to respond and to take on some of the comments that we make. It is a massive issue in my constituency, probably off the back of the churches and charitable givers. A number of churches in my area are keen to support the digging of wells, for example; we have a charity in Northern Ireland that does nothing else. I will mention some of the groups that we work with, because it is important to at least try to acknowledge all those who participate and help.

Poverty in Africa begins with a lack of clean water. Some 650 million people live without safe water, the equivalent of one in eight people on the planet. That gives an idea of the magnitude of the issue. Some 2.3 billion people, or one in three of the world’s population, do not have access to adequate sanitation. Around 500,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. That is more than one child every moment, or 900 children every single day. Clean water sources are often miles from villages, so many able-bodied members of a community are forced to spend hours each day simply finding and transporting water. We know that the impacts go beyond location to the safety of the young girls and ladies who must go to gather water. The trips sometimes take five or six hours and involve long distances, which can leave them vulnerable to attacks, never mind the burden of carrying the water.

The scouts in my constituency in Strangford have been involved in water, sanitation and hygiene projects, which I know others will probably want to mention as well. They have raised money and awareness, participating from afar in the issue of water in Africa. I will also mention the work of one church in my constituency—Movilla Abbey Church of Ireland church—and its Uganda team, although there are many churches there doing such work. The abbey’s primary school, in partnership with the abbey, raised £5,542.38. The children collected pencils, sharpeners, rubbers and rulers, and made loom bands for the pupils whom they would visit at Namansa primary school in Uganda’s Nakasongola district.

The combined amount raised by the project, which also involved the church, climaxed at £22,222.09, a magnificent contribution from the schoolchildren, the church and the local community. We had a wonderful opportunity to hear some of the schoolchildren whom the partnership had helped come to the school and to sing some of their songs. I cannot say I am proficient in the language of Uganda, but we have practised the Ugandan handshake. The Fields of Life project also managed to deliver much-needed equipment for the construction of a kitchen, textbooks, exercise books, hand washing basins and other simple things to help, such as soap. In this debate, we will find out the importance of soap. We wash our hands with soap every day, and probably take it for granted. In Africa, soap could do away with a lot of diseases.

The Sunday school children at the church delivered 232 Bibles. The children came to the school and sang Ugandan songs. One of the phrases that they used was “Webale nnyo”. William McCartney led and supported the team, and Fields of Life made the whole project possible. It was done with the school, the church and the community.

The typical container used for water collection in Africa, the jerry can, weighs more than 40 pounds when completely full. The social and economic effects of the lack of clean water are often the highest priorities when African communities speak of their own development. The World Health Organisation has shown us the issue in economic terms. Every $1 invested in water and sanitation yields an economic return of $3 to $34. More people have a mobile phone than have a toilet. Globally, one third of all schools lack access to safe water and adequate sanitation. In low and middle-income countries, one third of all health care facilities lack a safe water resource. Every 90 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease.

In Africa and some parts of Asia, women and children can end up walking an average of 3.7 miles a day just to collect water, spending almost six hours finding water and bringing it back—and we waste water back home by letting the taps run. Of course, in Northern Ireland, water is never in short supply, as we have a regular abundance of rain, but in a majority of African countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 50% of the population has access to improved sanitation. I know that the Minister will respond to questions when he replies to the debate. Although some progress has been made, it has mostly been frustratingly slow. Those figures are in stark contrast to the running water that is virtually universal throughout the United Kingdom, and putting them together makes us appreciate how lucky we are.

In the background information provided by officials from the Department for International Development, we can clearly chart some improved water access. The map of Africa on the first page shows a lot of improvement, which is wonderful. In most parts of Africa, access to water has improved, which we welcome. The second page, unfortunately, shows that access to improved sanitation has not matched access to water. We must look towards that as well. Water is an important and scarce commodity in Africa, but it must be matched by sanitation. In his response, will the Minister give us his thoughts on how best to address that important issue?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this incredibly important debate. Does he agree that there is nothing more important than access to clean water? It is a disgrace that, in 2016, the lack of it is the biggest killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa. They are 14 times more likely to die of things such as diarrhoea and pneumonia than children in developed parts of the world. It is time that something is done about it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that to our attention. I will touch on those issues now, as they are vital. When we consider water and sanitation, we must consider disease as well. I want to underline some of the issues addressed by the all-party parliamentary group on child health and vaccine preventable diseases, which was formerly chaired by Jim Dobbin, who passed away. Those of us in this House who knew him, even for a short time, were aware of his magnificent contribution. He outlined the issues from his personal experience of visits to Africa with vaccine programmes, where he witnessed at first hand deplorable hygiene and water facilities in hospitals. People can vaccinate and do all sorts of other things, but if they do not have water and sanitation, it is not going anywhere.

The scale of the problem is massive. In 2014, the lack of access to adequate water is estimated to have killed some 3,500 children under five years of age every day. The latest figures show that every year some 600,000 children lose their lives to diarrhoeal diseases, to which the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) referred. Most of those deaths are of children less than two years of age in the poorest countries of the world.

Rotavirus is the most important cause of diarrhoeal mortality in children; it is associated with 28% of the deaths from diarrhoea. Despite the advances in treating water poverty, which have saved millions of children’s lives by protecting them against diarrhoeal disease, rotavirus remains the second leading killer of children worldwide.

We have to implement a combination of health, safe water, sanitation and hygiene solutions, and then we can do what the hon. Gentleman said—save more lives. That is part of the purpose of this debate. We can save the lives of children who are still at risk with simple interventions: improved safe water; sanitation; hygiene; exclusive breastfeeding; and vaccines that prevent rotavirus.

I will pose a couple of questions at this stage to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), and to his officials who are here. The United Kingdom has a very proud history of providing expertise, resources and global leadership to improve children’s health worldwide. It continues to provide leadership and support to build upon the positive trends. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how we can build upon the success that we have had so far in order to try, with others, to close the clear gap that exists? Can the UK continue to invest in a package of life-saving tools and services, which includes the vaccines, the medicines, the water, the sanitation, the hygiene and the nutrition, too?

What priority and weighting are given to the water, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH, strategies in the upcoming bilateral aid review, which we all know about and which the Minister will hopefully speak about in his response to the debate? Where do the Government sit regarding ongoing support and commitment to the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea, which was introduced by the WHO and UNICEF? How do the Government intend to ensure that

“sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”,

as outlined in sustainable development goal 6, is achieved? What fall-back do they have if that goal is not achieved? Let us consider what happens if we do not get there. What action does the Department for International Development intend to take—I am conscious that this may cross departmental boundaries—in the Nutrition for Growth summit in Rio in August? Has DFID discussed that with stakeholder organisations? If it has, what has been the outcome? Is the Minister yet in a position to state the level of funding that will be provided through the Ross Fund for health interventions, and whether WASH will benefit from the fund? Those are the questions that I wish to pose at this early stage.

Although this issue goes back as far as we can remember, the United Kingdom’s commitment to dealing with it could be significantly better. Investment in water, sanitation and hygiene is extremely cost-effective. According to WaterAid, for every £1 spent we can get £4 in return. In fact, the World Bank has declared that hand-washing with soap is the single most cost-effective intervention. As I mentioned earlier, the Movilla church in Newtownards has sent bars of soap over to Africa, because that is one of the small ways in which we can make a difference.

The lack of sanitation services is estimated to cost the world more than US$250 million per annum. The United Kingdom currently spends some 2% of its bilateral aid budget on water and sanitation, compared with around 13% on education and 19% on health. However, we need to be careful that we are not jumping the gun on this one, as access to clean water and sanitation can often be a prerequisite for success in other development areas such as education and health, and we must acknowledge the overlap between these issues.

Yesterday I had the chance to speak to representatives of some organisations who were keen to add their comments, to help with this debate. When we consider health, water and sanitation, we also have to consider the environment. I will just mark up one thing. Management of habitats is important; it can lead to better water access or worse water access, and to better or worse sanitation. I heard a comment yesterday about Madagascar, where people’s access to water is threatened by habitat destruction over huge areas. The destruction of the African wetlands deprives people of access to drinking water, and threatens livelihoods that depend on water, such as fishing, and the core survival of some people, including some tribes. In Madagascar, deforestation and erosion threaten almost every wetland, and as a result many thousands of people are in trouble and many species could be lost for ever.

I will just mark something else up; it is completely off the line of this debate, but is none the less important. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is trying to help to save the Madagascar Pochard, or the “Mad Pochard” as it is called, which is the world’s rarest duck; I am not sure whether calling it “mad” is a compliment or not. In any case, there are only a few dozen left. The point that I am trying to make is that if something is not done about the water and wetland where that duck lives, it will not be able to provide drinking water for the local people or be used for sanitation, and it will not have any fish living in it either. Again, 6,000 people benefit from that clean water; many livelihoods go with it. That is just a reminder that conservation of nature goes hand in hand with looking after people who depend directly on the natural world.

As I have said, the United Kingdom currently spends some 2% of its bilateral aid budget on water and sanitation, compared with around 13% on education and a large percentage on health. For example, the delivery of quality healthcare in Africa has been seriously hampered by the lack of access to safely managed water. That is why I gave the example from Madagascar.

Sanitation and hygiene also affect practices in healthcare facilities. The WHO and UNICEF estimate that 42% of healthcare facilities in Africa do not have access to a safe water source within 500 metres. According to the WHO, 50% of malnutrition is associated with infections caused by a lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene.

Globally, malnutrition accounts for some 45% of child deaths, of which a large proportion are within Africa. Children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than four times as likely to die before the age of five than children in developed regions. And after the first month of life, pneumonia and diarrhoea are the leading causes of the death of children under the age of five. Both pneumonia and diarrhoea are inextricably linked to a lack of water, sanitation and hygiene.

We have not had a debate on water aid or sanitation in this Session of Parliament. That is why we have asked for this debate today. First, we aim to raise awareness; secondly, the debate gives hon. Members a chance to participate and add their contributions; and, thirdly, we aim to highlight the issues that we feel are so very important.

Approximately 800,000 children aged between one month and five years died from pneumonia in 2013. Around 1,400 children die every day from preventable diarrhoea, and 58% of diarrhoeal deaths are caused by unsafe water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene. That is incontrovertible evidence that access to clean water and sanitation is essential if we are to see any meaningful development in other areas.

In conclusion, I will just give two examples of what I have talked about; nothing better illustrates the case I am trying to prove than case studies. The first involves child health. The name of the mother is Peggy Mpundu. She is 36 and part of the Mwasha village in Lubwe in Zambia. Peggy recently gave birth to twins, Kapya and Mpundu, in hospital. Two days later, they were discharged as healthy babies. However, one day after returning home, both babies started having problems breathing. Their parents, Peggy and her husband Sylvester, rushed them back into hospital, but tragically they both died that day. Peggy said:

“I was then told that water from shallow wells was harmful for babies.”

That was the same water that she had used for years. She continued:

“Having bathed my children using water from a shallow well just left me with a feeling of guilt and regret. I wish I knew that water could be so harmful”.

That is the true story of Peggy Mpundu.

The second case study is about opportunities for girls. The name of the girl involved is Erika Makalli, from Tanzania; I know that the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who is here today, has particular knowledge of that country. Erika, who is 12, lives in Mbalawala village, in Tanzania. Like so many young girls, she was responsible for collecting water for her family, leaving her little time, if any, to go to school. The Tanzanian Government estimate that 58% of the country’s rural population do not have access to a safe water supply.

Discussing her old routine, Erika said that previously:

“I had to get up at 4 am and walk a long distance to find water. It took two hours and I could only collect a small amount of water to take home. That meant that Mum had to spend most of the day finding water so that we’d have enough to drink and cook with. I used to try and rush to get to school and wouldn’t be able to wash or have any breakfast beforehand. Most of the time I missed school altogether because I was sick or just exhausted. There were so many diseases in this village.”

I am very pleased that two officials from WaterAid are here in Westminster Hall today; they have helped me in preparing for this debate. WaterAid started working in the Mbalawala village two years ago and now there is a tapstand 15 minutes’ walk from Erika’s house and in her school. Erika now attends schools with her friends. Get the water right, get the health right, get the education, give them opportunities—those things follow on from each other. She is a prefect. Discussing the transformation in her life, she said:

“If I still had dirty water I wouldn’t be going to school anymore. I probably wouldn’t have had any real education at all. Also, most of my friends would probably also have died from the diseases we used to get. Life would be miserable. I feel I can at last look forward to a brighter future. Perhaps I will be a health and hygiene teacher when I leave school.”

WaterAid, this House, our Government and all the many other organisations—whoever they may be, and whether they are Churches, individuals or groups—have enabled that to happen.

Dr Lee Jong-wook, the former director general of the World Health Organisation, said:

“Water and Sanitation is one of the primary drivers of public health. I often refer to it as ‘Health 101’, which means that once we can secure access to clean water and to adequate sanitation facilities for all people, irrespective of the difference in their living conditions, a huge battle against all kinds of diseases will be won.”

I conclude with a question for the Minister. I am convinced that his response will be positive and helpful; I have no doubt about that. The contributions we all make show how united the House is on the issue. I will say it again: in this House, we are fortunate to have access to water for all purposes, whether that is washing, cleaning, sanitation or regular showers. Many of us have a shower every morning, but many people elsewhere would just love to have that water. We have it every day. We have to be the voice for the voiceless. We have to speak here on behalf of those who need help, wherever they may be in the world. Can the Minister give us some idea of the Government’s bilateral and multilateral aid reviews? Will he set out and prioritise water and sanitation in the reviews? We need to be ever mindful of the fact that if we start with water and sanitation, then health, education and opportunity follow.

The Front Benchers will be called at the usual time. There is plenty of time for the debate, so there is no need for a time limit or anything like that.

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Percy. I did not know that you had been made a Chairman. I am delighted to see someone from our intake—you are possibly the first—become a Chairman in the House.

Absolutely. Congratulations.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing the debate. It is a shame it happened to come on a Thursday afternoon when everyone is desperate to get home, but it is an important debate. I apologise if I repeat things that he said, but I am completely deaf in one ear and 50% deaf in the other since I had a really bad cold. I cannot clear it. Although I listened as much I could, I did not hear very much of what was said, so my apologies if I repeat anything.

Just this once, it was not the hon. Gentleman’s accent that confused me, but the fact I could not hear. That is my problem, and I apologise.

Clean water is one of the fundamental things that we expect to have. In this country, we have had it for donkey’s years. but we recently saw the problems in the north-west when water was contaminated for some time. One suddenly realised how much we take it for granted in this country that we can wash and use the washing machine and probably the dishwasher. We can have a shower or bath or clean our teeth with no worries at all. That incident showed the population of Britain that we use a huge amount of water without thinking about it.

For those in a developing country—we know that almost a third of the global population lack access to sanitation facilities and more than 660 million people lack access to clean water—it is a daily problem that they have to live with and deal with. We see so many young people dying under the age of five because they do not have access to clean water or sanitation. We and many other countries accept water as something that we can use at any time, and we should be looking to help the countries affected. Other countries have to look themselves at improving clean water facilities, but it is incredibly difficult. Where does a President or a Government start if people have no decent housing, no clean water, no or few sanitation facilities, no education and no good health facilities?

Without clean water, people cannot have access to education or decent healthcare. I have seen some hospitals where there is no running water—how can a hospital facility have no running water? How can things be kept clean? Even in the Crimean war, Florence Nightingale understood that the one thing needed in a hospital is cleanliness and sanitation. That was a very long time ago, but some countries in Africa do not have that facility, and that is totally shocking.

I am pleased to see that sustainable development goal 6 is the aim of achieving universal access to safe water and sanitation by 2030, but 2030 is not very far away—only 14 years. We have been involved in international development for many years, as have many other countries, non-governmental organisations, charities and individuals, along with diaspora communities that send money back. Why do some Governments appear to have little will to install decent water facilities? It is not difficult to do; it just needs a comprehensive plan.

As a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I have visited many countries in Africa where I have been shocked by the poor facilities that people have to live with. For instance, when we went on a visit to Burundi, we were embedded in a house right out in the sticks for 24 hours with no water and no sanitation. The only place to go to the toilet was where they had literally dug a hole specifically for me to go in. I found that rather embarrassing—not for me, but for them to have to do that. They did it, though, and the joke was that they made a wooden box for me to sit on so that I would not have to squat. They thought that as a westerner, I would not have been able to cope with that. It would not have bothered me, but they have to deal with that all the time, and I do not know that things are that much better now in Burundi. There are a lot of other problems there, but when there is conflict in an area, it makes things harder still, and not just for the people living there. How do Governments, if they are in conflict and there is a civil war, or whatever the situation is, deal with the country’s problems with water and sanitation?

I have spent a lot of my time in Uganda with a friend of mine who was a Member of Parliament there. Sadly, he lost at the last election; I do not think it was quite fair. He was very keen on helping his community have sanitation and water as well as decent health. He is a doctor, so he is very keen on health facilities, but he was struggling. I was able to go to Uganda at the beginning of this year, and I saw for myself the problems with malaria. There is no clean water. I went to a hospital that had no sheets on the bed. The parents and family members who had to go to that hospital with their children had nowhere to go to the loo. It was a state-run hospital, and I think that situation is pretty appalling. Some of the children who were in the hospitals I went to did not have malaria. They might have had dysentery or diarrhoea, which are relatively easy to cure if there is clean water and the right medication.

The hon. Lady made an interesting reference to the pit latrine that she encountered in Burundi, but does she agree that those are the least of the problem? Within memory, people in this country had to use toilets at the bottom of their garden or chamber pots. Part of the problem is that there are too many parts of the world where people are still accustomed to defecating in the open, in fields, with all the hygiene problems that that causes.

I was going to mention that problem. I well remember living in Lincolnshire as a child and having to go down the garden to the toilet. There was a large seat for the adults and a small seat for the children. I did not mind doing that, because I had not known anything different. Of course, at night we had a chamber pot, and when it was freezing cold it was frozen in the morning. That is not that many years ago; I know I am old, but I am not as old as the Queen, although I suspect she never went down the garden to the loo. Nevertheless, I remember doing that, and it was something that one lived with. I remember having a tin bath in front of the fire with everybody around me—there was no hot water upstairs. I was tiny, but I do remember it. It has not been that many years since we solved the problem, but we have solved it.

As the hon. Lady says, one problem is open defecation. I described the hole in the ground in Burundi, and it was a tiny hole just for me, not for anyone else. The problem with open defecation is that people have to go into the bushes to get some privacy, so they are at risk of rape and all sorts of violence. Of course, when the rains come, all the sewage is washed through the villages, which is one of the biggest problems in many places. When the Select Committee went to South Sudan, we saw that was happening. The people in the refugee camp who had been told to leave Sudan and go to South Sudan—although they and previous generations had never lived there, they were considered South Sudanese, so they had to go and had walked there—had no toilet facilities and no water. People can go to collect water, but toilet facilities are a basic human right and everybody should have them. It is a huge problem.

The hon. Lady is making a number of interesting points. Interesting though this trip down memory lane is, for most of us these are memories, either distant or otherwise, because we recognise the need for proper sanitation facilities. Is it not right that the focus of the debate is on how we can work with others to ensure that everyone has access to those same facilities?

Yes, they should have access to those facilities.

The WHO and UNICEF joint monitoring programme has drawn up a ladder of WASH—water, sanitation and hygiene—facilities, ranked according to their degree of safety. The facilities fall into the following categories, from the most to the least safe. The safest are “safely managed” facilities, which include

“drinking water sources that are located on premises, and are free of faecal and chemical contamination. Private sanitation facilities where excreta are safely disposed are also included.”

That was what I had, because the night soil men used to come once a week to clear it out. That was absolutely safe, but it was still pretty basic, and people would not want to be doing it now. “Basic” facilities include

“piped water sources, protected groundwater sources (such as standpipes, hand-pumps and protected dug wells) within a 30 minute round trip of a household. ‘Basic’ sanitation facilities include flush, or pour-based toilet systems connected to a piped sewer or septic tank and contained pit latrines. Hand washing facilities with both soap and water are counted as basic”—

but without them, how can there be any sort of hygiene?

“Unimproved” facilities include

“unprotected groundwater sources, water provided by tankers, or water sources that are greater than 30 minutes-walk from a household. Shared sanitation facilities, uncontained pit latrines and handwashing facilities with no soap are also included.”

“Open defecation”, which is the worst and the least safe, is where

“human faeces are disposed of directly into the open environment”,

as the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned earlier.

When there is a move towards proper, contained pit latrines—not open pit latrines—that are emptied regularly, it is important that girls and boys at schools have separate facilities, because many girls say they cannot go to school because they are in danger of being raped in the toilets. If they cannot go to the toilet in private, that is horrific. Not only that, but if they have to share the facilities, they cannot go when they are menstruating because they find it embarrassing and are likely to be made fun of, so they need better facilities than most schools, particularly those in rural areas, currently have. They need that protection so that they feel safe and have privacy and can go to the toilet during menstruation and at other times without feeling threatened. That is not the only reason why girls do not go to school, but it is quite a large one.

Diarrhoea kills many under-fives, so there should be better testing and better, quicker medication. Mothers often think it is malaria when it is not. There are rapid diagnostic tests, but we all know that in some places in some African countries, the rapid diagnostic tests and medication do not get to pharmacies or health facilities. Better access would help many children to live much longer.

The Department for International Development is providing funding to the SHINE—sanitation, hygiene and infant nutrition efficacy—trial. People will have poor nutrition if they do not have clean water for mixing bottles or whatever. Mothers without clean water will also have problems before they have children. Many children either die before birth—stillbirths or spontaneous abortions—or have low birth weights or stunting. Children who have been stunted never catch up, so access to clean water is needed. I am pleased that DFID is providing £7.2 million of funding to support the SHINE trial that is currently under way in Zimbabwe, because that is another problem that children without clean water face—they seem to have one thing piled on top of another.

As I said earlier, I have worked very closely with a friend who was a Member of Parliament and a medical doctor. In his former constituency is a place that I know only as a landing site. It is on the lake between Kampala and Jinja. The people there spend their whole lives on the lake, because they are fishermen, fisherwomen and indeed fisherchildren—many of the children have to go out fishing and are exploited by their employers. They have water, but because it is not clean there is a lot of disease and stunting. They have very poor livelihoods. They drown in the water because they cannot swim—they are not allowed to, because the water is too heavily contaminated. They need their own borehole, because they have to walk miles to get to one, so of course they do not bother. More places should have at least a simple borehole so that people can access clean water.

I know about the importance of boreholes from my experience with a charity called Free The Children, which the Minister will know. I went out to Kenya with Free The Children staff to see what they were doing there. They are building health facilities and schools in communities, and they put a borehole next to schools so that the children—particularly the girls—can go to school and take water home in the evening. That saves an awful lot of worry for the parents, because they know that the water is clean and that their children are in school, so they are safe and getting an education. There are health facilities nearby to which the mothers can go for pre-natal classes and monitoring, so they are helped too.

There was something that I did not appreciate until I did it for myself. We walked a kilometre with the yellow cans that people put on their heads, although we had them on a rope band around our heads. I could not lift the large, 20-litre ones; I could not even get them off the ground. I managed to get a 10-litre one off the ground, but I could not physically manage to get it all the way back, so somebody had to help me. That was a lesson for me. I have been to countries where women and children walk miles to collect their water, but I had never thought of the weight. Not only is it not good for people to have it on their head, because it affects their neck muscles—although they are obviously more used to it—but the sheer weight of the can means that getting it home is problematic. Sometimes people have to do that 10 times a day to get clean water for their family. A big lesson for me was not just the distances that people have to walk but the weight that they have to carry. We have to encourage children to go to school; that has to be done better. If they have to have a water facility that requires them to carry the water like that, it is incredibly important that it is close to a school and/or a health facility. I am very pleased that DFID is doing a lot of work in that area.

We have to concentrate on water facilities and work with the charities that do such a good job of providing them, but we have to monitor them to ensure that they are being used and that people have access to spare parts. In some parts of the world, a facility can be put in, but unless the spare parts are easily available and simple to install, it will go into disuse. I have seen that happen in Africa. The International Development Committee went somewhere where there was a borehole and a pump, but the pump was broken so the people could not use it and had to go to the next one.

There are many things that can be done to help people in sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the world to access water, but we need to act fast. If we are serious about giving everybody access to water by 2030, we have got only 14 years left, which is not very long at all. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford for securing this debate on this important subject. I am delighted that I have been able to take part in it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Percy. I apologise to you and the Front Benchers for not being able to stay for the whole debate. I have a meeting in my constituency later, so I have to get the train. As Members know, my constituency is quite a way away, so it will take me a few hours to get there. I congratulate the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate.

The UN defines access to safe water and sanitation facilities as basic human rights. Promoting hygiene is widely regarded to be one of the most cost-effective ways of improving public health. Poor water and a lack of sanitation have a wide range of negative effects. For example, they are major causes of infectious diseases; they have knock-on effects on educational attainment, public health and economic productivity; and they exacerbate the impact of disease outbreaks, such as Ebola and the Zika virus. That is why this debate is so important, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing it to the House.

Given the amount of time we spend in Parliament discussing access to healthcare and education, it is interesting that we do not spend enough time discussing access to clean water and sanitation. Those issues underpin people’s life chances, so it is extraordinary that we do not look at them in more detail and more often. I hope that today we will be able to set out a clear way forward, which will enable us to return to this issue in later months.

On that point, will the hon. Lady join me in congratulating organisations such as WaterAid on their great work? They not only educate the wider public but come directly to parliamentarians to give us knowledge about what they do. WaterAid works in 37 countries around the world. I pay tribute to the work that it and other organisations do.

I was going to acknowledge WaterAid’s work later in my speech, not least because Northumbrian Water, which is based in my constituency, does a lot of work with it. Northumbrian Water has been very energetic in getting MPs in our region to take note of the sort of issues that WaterAid gets involved with.

Since 2000, there have been two rounds of UN-sponsored global international development goals. The first was the millennium development goals, which ran from 2000 to 2015 and aimed to halve the number of people without access to improved drinking water and sanitation. Interestingly, the water target was met but the sanitation target was not met by a considerable amount—about 700 million people. The headline figures mask large geographical variations among countries and between rural and urban populations.

The MDGs have been replaced by the sustainable development goals. SDG 6 relates to what we are talking about this afternoon. We need to take on board the lessons learned from the MDGs, which showed that a donor-led approach on its own is not enough. Work has to be done in partnership with the recipient countries. There can be too much of a focus on short-term targets, rather than long-term viability. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) touched on that point when she said that the facilities that are put in might not be appropriate or sustainable. It is really important that there is some sort of community partnership. There was a failure to exploit links with the private sector fully. The focus was on absolute numbers, so the poorest were often neglected because they were not picked out as a group for targeted intervention. I will talk more about SDG 6 in a moment, but it is interesting that it was informed by the lessons learned from the MDGs.

Globally, one in 10 people still has no access to a safe water source, and one in three has no access to proper sanitation. In parts of Africa, a third of the population does not have access to clean water. In Ethiopia alone, 42.2 million people have no access to safe water. There is still a significant problem, which is a big problem for the new SDG goal to meet in 14 years. Yet we know that it is really important. There cannot be societal transformation without proper access to clean water and sanitation. We know that from our own experience. It was only when the UK recognised, from its public health problems, that we needed properly piped water that we got the economic development that moved us on. There was a transformation in our public health, and that is what we want to see in other countries.

We are not only talking about health, because research has shown that, for every $1 spent on water and sanitation, $4 would be generated in increased economic opportunity. It has been estimated that, if everyone had universal access to water and sanitation, there would be $32 billion in economic benefits each year globally, from reductions in healthcare costs and from increased productivity as a result of reduced illness.

Interestingly, more than a quarter of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa are poorer now than they were in 1960. Therefore, foreign aid is going in, but if it is not directed in the right way, we do not necessarily get the development that we would want. The lack of access to clean water and basic sanitation is among the reasons given for the lack of economic development flowing from aid. Some of the biggest challenges are in sub-Saharan Africa: only about 30% of individuals have access to improved sanitation services; and nearly half of all people who use unimproved sources live in the region.

We have already heard this afternoon about some of the health impacts. According to the World Health Organisation, 50% of malnutrition is associated with infections caused by a lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Globally, malnutrition accounts for 45% of child deaths, of which a large proportion is in Africa. A truly stark figure, also mentioned by the hon. Member for Strangford, involves children in sub-Saharan Africa, who are over 14 times more likely to die before the age of five than children in developed regions. The figures speak for themselves and are clear: there is an urgent need to improve access to clean water and good sanitation.

Another thing we have heard this afternoon is that limited access to clean water and good sanitation disproportionately affects women and girls, who are more than twice as likely as men to be responsible for water collection. On average, women and girls in developing countries walk 6 km each day to collect water—time that could be spent in school or at work. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, each day, women spend a combined total of at least 16 million hours collecting drinking water. That is a truly staggering figure.

Additionally, more than half of girls who drop out of primary school in sub-Saharan Africa do so because of a lack of separate toilets and easy access to safe water. However, the issue is to provide not any sanitation, but the right sort of sanitation. I have visited villages in Asia and Africa where money has come through for new sanitation in schools. Toilet blocks were put in, but the schools might as well not have bothered, because the toilets were communal ones, could be too easily accessed by a wide range of people, or had doors that did not close properly—people could look over the top. There was a complete lack of consideration about what actually needed to happen to make the toilets a secure, safe place, in particular for girls, enabling them to stay on at school. So, alas, despite new sanitation facilities, the girls could not continue at school anyway, because they still did not feel safe. So many girls leave education at puberty. Obviously, therefore, co-operation with the local community is necessary, and water sources should be as close as possible to the people who need them.

I will now outline some of the things for which WaterAid is calling, before finishing with a few questions for the Minister. As we know, world leaders committed to reach everyone, everywhere with safe water and sanitation by 2030. That is a wide-ranging goal, with eight objectives, and if they are met that should be a good and helpful step forward. WaterAid, however, has said that Governments must bring about a dramatic and long-term increase in public and private financing for water, sanitation and hygiene to achieve strong, national systems so that there is universal access. Private and public sectors need to co-operate effectively to achieve that universal access. An integrated approach could ensure that improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene services is embedded in plans, policies and programmes on health, nutrition, education, gender equality and employment. Last but not least, pledges made at the 2015 Paris climate summit must be implemented, because they are about the long-term sustainability of water supplies.

Are the Government using their strong voice internationally to push up the international agenda the importance of clean water and sanitation? SDG 6 should become a real priority, so how will progress towards achieving it be monitored internationally? Will the Government use the expertise of the Department for International Development, which works on some very good schemes, to inform best practice everywhere and to ensure that women and girls are prioritised for sanitation and water supply?

There is much talk in the press maligning DFID projects, or saying that some are not used properly. Sometimes it is good, as the hon. Lady has just done, to focus on some of the excellent work that DFID does and on the projects that are successful. It is good to remind us of such things, because everything is not negative.

I echo that point. I urge the Minister to use that good experience to help to roll out best practice elsewhere.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Percy. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing the debate and for speaking so eloquently, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods).

I will give two examples from my own experience of why this issue is so important. In 1982, I visited for the first time a country that was then a developing country—Peru. I was in the high Andes and visiting a friend of mine, Philip Archer, who was a doctor with a mission there. For the first part of his service—three or four years—he had been a doctor at a health centre. Time after time, the patients who came through his door had diseases that were caused by poor water or lack of water. For his second period of service, he said, “There is no point in my treating the symptoms; I will treat the cause”, so he ended up becoming a public health educator and putting in water systems to help the people of the high Andes.

My second example is perhaps closer to home. My wife ran a public health education programme in northern Tanzania, Kilimanjaro region, for the Evangelical Lutheran Church Northern diocese. As part of the programme, she and her colleagues also saw the problems caused by poor water—not so much on the mountain, where there was plenty of water, although sanitation was sometimes an issue, but on the plains, in particular among the Masai, and elsewhere. She, too, said, “There’s not much point talking to people about health education when they don’t have water, or if they do, they have to walk several kilometres to it.” The problems that that brings have been eloquently described. Collecting water is usually—almost always— done by women or girls. They suffer attacks from wild animals. We heard of people being killed and very badly hurt by crocodiles when collecting water from rivers and, when walking through the bush, by other wild animals. People are also attacked by humans from time to time—they have to cope with all that as well as missing out on their education or livelihood.

With the help of the Rabobank Foundation of the Netherlands, the northern diocese of the Lutheran Church instituted a programme for drilling shallow wells in various villages. In my view that was done in a very sensible manner—I have to say that because my wife was in charge of the project and she is an extremely sensible person, as were her colleagues. They did it under the guidance of the local community, which, first of all, would come to them and say, “Let’s have a shallow well. We really want one.” They then had to show a sign of commitment, so the idea was that the well would be drilled with money from the Rabobank Foundation and other donations, but the villagers would collect the money for the pump. By doing that, they would assume responsibility for the pump and for its maintenance.

By and large, the programme worked well. I shall be going back to Tanzania later this year and I hope to see some of the wells that were drilled up to 20 years ago—or even longer—still in operation and maintained, with the villagers contributing a set amount each month for the pump’s maintenance. Perhaps they will have replaced the pump in that time with the money that they have accumulated.

To me, the programme spoke of a lot of things: first, of the determination of the people themselves. They wanted clean water and could see the impact on their wives and daughters; the women were the loudest in saying, “We want this.” Secondly, these were not massive programmes. This was not a huge project. It involved a few thousand dollars per village and the villagers themselves were able to collect several hundred dollars for the pump. We are therefore talking about small programmes, the impact of which, as we have seen in the International Development Committee, is sometimes overlooked. However, a great deal can be achieved by running a large number of small village and community-based programmes.

At the same time, sanitation was a clear issue. Public health education was the way to convey the importance of good sanitation, and it did not take a lot of money; this was a public health programme that covered several hundred thousand people yet probably cost only a few cents per person per year. People did not have to be given money; once they were told the importance of putting in more modern sanitation and modern toilets, they did so, because they saw how obvious it was. They heard about the consequences of poor sanitation and poor water and did something about it. I will come on to what I would like to ask the Minister at the end, but I am talking now about a relatively modestly funded programme achieving significant results. The educators, who were trained by my wife and her team, would go out into their community, month in, month out, and encourage people to improve the sanitation in their homes and villages.

My final point is about the link with disease, which has already been made very clear and is completely uncontroversial. If we look at the diarrheal diseases, in particular, and one or two others that are classified among the neglected tropical diseases—I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire also contributes hugely—we see that many of these diseases are directly linked to a lack of water or poor water and a lack of hygiene. I know that DFID has made neglected tropical diseases a key part of its programme from 2011 onwards. Indeed, under the previous Labour Government, a significant sum of £50 million was committed, which was raised to £240 million over five years under the coalition Government. It has been shown that there is a huge payback from work on neglected tropical diseases—something like £30 to £40 for every £1 invested.

Will the Minister commit, first, to look at the whole area of water and sanitation and see what more can be done? This is a very basic thing. I saw the impact at first hand 35 years ago, yet we are still talking about it. Let us do more.

Secondly, let us do it in a smart way. There are so many programmes around the world. Water Aid is a fantastic organisation that has contributed to many of them, but there are so many programmes that are not big and which perhaps go under the radar. Let us see how we can support them as a country. We may have to go through a larger organisation to do so, but let us ask how we can do more than we are doing at the moment. Let us not hear colleagues come to us and say, “Well, I’ve got a link in my constituency to a water project in Africa, but I cannot get DFID to support it because it is too small.” Excellent programmes such as Aid Match and Aid Direct have made a real impact in this area, but let us make water programmes a priority; they are ideal and they very much fit into that category of spending.

Thirdly, let us look at how we can support health education programmes, which, again, are often fairly low-key but incredibly effective. They can be run through government, faith groups, Churches and community organisations and are often low-cost, involving amounts of money that do not appear on DFID’s radar. There must be ways of ensuring that these programmes are supported, either though some kind of match funding or direct funding, or even possibly, as we have suggested in our Committee, by making funds available to local DFID offices for support, without people having to go through the centre, with the time and effort that that involves.

Finally, I emphasise again the importance of continuing to support neglected tropical diseases alongside the work on WASH—water, sanitation and hygiene. In fact, WASH projects and NTD projects should go together. Even though providing medicines to schoolchildren to get rid of worms is excellent, there is little point in doing that year after year when those children will get worms back immediately because the water is poor. Let us have the two kinds of projects going hand in hand. As the current programmes come to an end and the Department considers the future funding of neglected tropical diseases, I urge the Minister to consider the huge value for money that those programmes provide.

Thank you for chairing the debate, Mr Percy, and I thank the hon. Member for Strangford for securing it.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Percy. Although I am responding for the Scottish National party from the Front Bench, I would like to put on record the apologies of the SNP’s international spokesperson, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). He has important constituency work today, otherwise he would have been here; this is a cause he is very passionate about.

I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing this important debate, which has been really good. I have a feeling that because he covered the issue so comprehensively, a lot of my comments will be prefaced by, “As the hon. Member for Strangford said earlier”. The two cases he mentioned at the end of his speech were very powerful and illustrated the need for further action on water and sanitation in Africa.

The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) certainly added to the debate, giving examples from Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan. She talked about open defecation in the fields and witnessing the sewage traversing towards villages, and that underpins the need for more action. I must say, I have learned more today about Members’ childhood toilet activities than I thought I would.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) made some important points about the millennium development goals and learning lessons for the sustainable development goals. She made a powerful point about sub-Saharan countries being poorer now than in the 1960s.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) presented some excellent examples from his personal knowledge of and involvement in projects. Importantly, he touched on the fact that small programmes and smart working are the way forward. There does not have to be big money. We hear about expenditure on headline projects and the overseas aid budget, but the way forward is to work smart and invest in small, sustainable projects so that communities can take ownership of them.

I am a civil engineer, and prior to being elected to this place, I spent my career in the water industry. I have always known the importance of clean water and sanitation in this country, let alone in the developing world. I used to do presentations in schools, and to try to capture the children’s imagination I used the example that the water infrastructure in this country saves more lives than the NHS. That is backed up by the fact that the World Bank has declared that hand-washing with soap is the single most cost-effective health intervention.

Hon. Members have touched on the fact that because we have a successful water and sanitation infrastructure in this country, many people it for granted. Some people complain about the taste of water if there is a slight change and do not realise that it is still perfectly healthy and provides great health benefits. They complain if they lose their water supply for three hours and cannot put their kettle or have a bath or shower, without realising that some people without water and sanitation face personal challenges every day.

It was when I worked for Scottish Water and its predecessor that I became aware of WaterAid and WaterAid Scotland, and I pay tribute to them. What struck me when I first went to a WaterAid presentation was the sustainability aspect of the projects it invests in, which struck a chord with me. That touches on the point the hon. Member for Stafford made about smart investment in sustainable projects. I am also impressed by the wider education that WaterAid is involved in. As my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara) said, it is fantastic at engaging MPs and widening their education, but it goes further than that in its education programme.

I was pleased that earlier this year a school in my constituency, James Hamilton Academy, won WaterAid’s star supporters competition as a result of its innovative learning programme about water collection and sustainability. The project challenged pupils to think differently about water usage and to compare their usage with that of a child in the developing world. We can safely say that the pupils will no longer take their water supply for granted.

Another example of education was in October 2015 when a group of Scottish Water staff headed out to Zambia to visit WaterAid projects. They visited communities with and without access to safe water, which helped them to gain a real understanding of the challenges facing communities. Since their return, the Zambia team have delivered numerous presentations to their colleagues at Scottish Water. That became an ongoing education programme to spread the word.

Statistics highlight the importance of this debate. It is a basic fact that unclean water and the lack of basic sanitation prevents the eradication of poverty and disease globally, and particularly in Africa. It is well documented that water and sanitation are necessary for success in many other development areas, such as improving health, education and the prospects of women and girls.

In sub-Saharan Africa, only 68% of people have access to clean water and 30% to adequate sanitation. That means children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 14 times more likely to die before the age of five than children in developed regions. In Uganda, 80% of the population does not have a safe place to go to the toilet. Every year, 500,000 children, most of whom live in Africa, die from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. That is more than one child every minute.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is not a proud record for a President who has been in power in Uganda for more than 30 years? What progress has been made over the past 30-odd years? The President plans to carry on for ever. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the situation in that country is desperate?

I agree with the hon. Lady. She obviously has a good understanding of Uganda, and I thank her for her intervention.

More than 9,000 children die every year in Ethiopia alone from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation. Approximately 800,000 children aged between one month and five years died from pneumonia in 2013, and about 1,400 children die every day from preventable diarrhoea. Some 58% of diarrhoeal deaths are caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation and hygiene.

The effects of a lack of water and sanitation go much further than just disease, as other hon. Members have said. It affects all aspects of life and has a profound impact on women and girls in Africa. As we have heard, they are typically responsible for collecting water for their family, and girls spend as many as six hours a day collecting water, leaving them little time to go to school. In many places, schools are not located within villages or close to where people work, so if girls must travel for hours to collect water, they face the problem of having to travel for hours to go to school as well, so attendance is difficult.

Without a safe and private place to go to the toilet, many girls are forced to drop out of school when they start to menstruate. Many women and girls also have to wait until night to relieve themselves in the open, which causes further health problems and strips them of dignity. Many are harassed or even assaulted. A former work colleague of mine who went to India on a fact-finding mission gave harrowing accounts of women being raped as they went out at night to open fields to use as a toilet. Clearly, the same can happen in Africa.

A lack of clean water also makes it extremely difficult to give birth safely, and mother and child often do not survive. I would like to illustrate that point with one case. Aisha Mkude, who is 38, lives in Lugono village in Tanzania. Last year, she gave birth to her first son, who was born healthy. Aisha says she left the hospital feeling joyful, but just two days later her son got a high fever and started discharging smelly water from his belly button, so she returned to the clinic with him. She says:

“There wasn’t enough water at the health centre when I gave birth, resulting in him catching an infection.”

That was because after the birth, she had washed herself and her baby in water that her brother’s wife had fetched for her from the nearby river. It was the dry season, so she had to dig out part of the river to get water. Unfortunately Aisha’s son lived for only seven days, but if there had been regular availability of safe water at the health centre, that situation would have been prevented. She says:

“I feel so bad because I never expected this but because it has happened I will just accept it.”

She should not have to accept it, and that is the thrust of today’s debate. That example highlights the importance of WaterAid’s Healthy Start campaign, which brings into sharp focus the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene in improving the health and nutrition of newborns and children.

That example also illustrates why global action and co-operation are required in a wider context. To that end, we welcome the UN members signing up to the sustainable development goals, particularly goal 6—access to water and sanitation for all by 2030. It is vital that the UK Government set an ambitious and realistic agenda to help ensure that that framework of goals is achieved.

Other hon. Members have touched on this point, but investment in water, sanitation and hygiene is an extremely cost-effective way to spend the UK’s aid budget. We have heard about the 1:4 ratio—for every £1 spent on improving access to water and sanitation, an estimated £4 is returned. We also need to consider that according to the World Bank, total global economic losses due to inadequate water supply and sanitation services have been estimated at $260 billion a year. That illustrates the fact that it is imperative that suitable money be committed. At present, only 2% of UK bilateral aid goes to water, sanitation and hygiene. I put my name to a letter issued in the name of the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash) calling on the Government to increase that percentage. It would be good if the Minister could give his thoughts on that.

The hon. Member for Strangford touched on the fact that the House is generally united on this subject, but I will make one criticism of the Government. Their overseas development aid needs to be concentrated on programmes relating to water and sanitation projects throughout Africa and elsewhere, instead of on defence. I am concerned that there is increasing double-counting of defence expenditure towards both the NATO targets and official development assistance, through mechanisms such as the conflict, security and stability fund. We should not blur the lines between aid and defence spending. The Government need to realign their moral compass and redirect aid towards those who need it most. The £1 billion conflict, security and stability fund, which the UK Government lists as overseas development aid, is not an appropriate use of UK aid spend. Indeed, in February 2016, Oxfam, Global Citizen and ONE called on Governments across Europe to ensure that aid budgets are used only for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

On a more positive note, I welcome the Government’s commitment to reach a further 60 million people with access to clean water and sanitation by 2020. I look forward to seeing how that will be advanced when the bilateral aid review is published. I suggest, however, that the Government could be even more ambitious.

In Scotland, the SNP-led Government are also committed to boosting water and sanitation projects in Africa, through their climate justice fund. In December 2015, Nicola Sturgeon announced £12 million of funding to help mitigate the effects of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable populations. That was a doubling of the climate justice fund. The head of Oxfam Scotland, Jamie Livingstone, said that

“the Scottish Government’s enhanced commitment to climate justice is very welcome—it increases the funding promised and creates much needed predictability.”

The work enabled by that fund has focused on clean water provision and is aimed at mapping pollution sources, which are very often sanitation facilities. The Scottish Government are working to position water and sanitation assets to maximise access and minimise cross-contamination.

A lot of good work is ongoing, and there is the ambitious aim to supply water and sanitation to all by 2030. As the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire said, that is not far away, but I remind the House that even if we achieve that goal by 2030, there will still be millions of deaths before then, and that is why urgent action is needed.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Percy. I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for initiating this very important debate. I listened with interest to the contributions from the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) and the hon. Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). They all brought their different perspectives and insights to bear on this subject.

[Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

I do not want to repeat the points that have already been made, but I will begin by saying this. Last week, I was thousands of miles away from this Chamber in Somaliland, in the horn of Africa, where people are suffering an absolute lack of clean water—drought. If the Minister will forgive me, I will say a few words about the incidence of drought in eastern and southern Africa before I complete my remarks.

However, on the question of clean water and sanitation, I, like others, pay my respects to WaterAid, an international organisation whose mission is to transform the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people by improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. As hon. Members have said, WaterAid works with partners in 37 countries, and within Africa it works in 11 countries. Its global advocacy priority focuses on the importance of water, sanitation and hygiene in improving the health and nutrition of newborns and children.

There can be a tendency in advanced western societies to take clean water for granted. In this country, we expect to turn on a tap and see clean water. We probably spend more time worrying about water, precipitation and rain than about its absence, but I remind the Chamber that, in north America, people are just coming through an awful crisis, in Flint, Michigan, caused by an absence of clean water. In 2014, the water supply for that very poor city in Michigan was changed to save money. As a consequence, for the past two years, the people of Flint have been exposed to polluted water; 6,000 to 12,000 children have been exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead; and, most recently, Government officials have had to resign and criminal charges have been filed. Even in relatively prosperous western countries, we should not take clean water for granted.

Before the Minister responds to the debate, I have the following points to put to him; they were reflected in earlier speeches by my colleagues. Hon. Members want the Government to set an ambitious agenda that will help to ensure that SDG 6 is achieved. It is crucial that water, sanitation and hygiene are integrated into Government plans to help to achieve other goals—for example, on poverty, hunger, education and gender equality. Water, sanitation and hygiene are enablers for and signifiers of different types of development, so the UK Government should prioritise water, sanitation and hygiene. That of course includes increased resources. The proportion of UK bilateral aid that goes to water, sanitation and hygiene is currently just 2%. We would like those resources to be increased and will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say to that. We would like water, sanitation and hygiene to be integrated into relevant health and nutrition programmes, including those to be announced in the bilateral aid review, which is expected shortly.

The UK Government should use their global influence to encourage national Governments to ensure that water and sanitation is prioritised. It is a contradiction that in Ghana, for instance, residential developments being built now are the equal of any in Miami or elsewhere in north America, but it is the country with the second highest level of open defecation in the world. We want to ensure in these societies that as well as private affluence, we see an end to public squalor. That includes public defecation and an emphasis on clean water, sanitation and hygiene.

This August, global leaders will attend a crucial summit on nutrition to pledge resources to tackle all forms of malnutrition. At that summit, we would all like the Government to prioritise water, sanitation and hygiene within any financial commitments that are made. The Government should also make clear the links between water, sanitation and hygiene and nutrition in keynote speeches that they deliver.

We are faced with many development challenges in an increasingly globalised world, but drought in the horn of Africa and southern Africa is a real issue. I was pleased to visit British Somaliland last week with the Muslim Charities Forum to see at first hand the consequences of that absence of water and to understand how problematic an absolute lack of water is. The peoples of Somaliland are largely pastoral, and they take their flocks of goats, sheep and camels from region to region looking for water to graze. In effect, they follow the clouds. A succession of seasons of drought has put them in a serious position. The danger in British Somaliland is that drought may turn into famine.

We know that Ministers have some excellent programmes in Somalia, but immediate help is needed, both to provide water, food and shelter and to make regions such as Somalia resilient to the increasing incidence of drought, which means more boreholes, better irrigation and better methods of storing rainwater. We saw flash floods when we left British Somaliland, but the water runs off the earth and into the rivers. Clean water is an issue, but so is an absolute lack of water. If the Minister is unable to answer now, will he write on what is being done to help the people of Somalia to deal with the incidence of drought that they are enduring now and on what is being done to help them to be resilient? With climate change, such regions of the world, which once might have seen drought every seven years or every decade, are seeing drought year after year. They need help in both the short term and the medium term to become resilient to drought.

It is easy in a country such as the UK to take water for granted, but whether it is the complete absence of water in the shape of drought, the absence of clean water or the absence of sanitation, such issues are crucial for developing countries. In this Chamber, which is within a few hundred yards of the River Thames and Peter Bazalgette’s great sewer, we cannot forget that nothing in the 19th century pushed back the incidence of infectious disease more than the creation of genuinely clean water and access to sanitation. What we did in the UK in the 19th century we can do in Africa and the developing world in the 21st century. I await the Minister’s response with interest.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. You have missed a good debate, with some typically thoughtful Back-Bench contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and from the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), who unfortunately has had to go back to her constituency. I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) on securing this debate, which is an opportunity to throw light on an important issue that is central to what we do to try to help people in Africa out of poverty. It is worth remembering that we invested almost £800 million of taxpayers’ money in that work in the last Parliament. People complain about the smallness of that as a percentage of overall spending, but it is a lot of money to most of our constituents. It is therefore important to take such opportunities to remind ourselves of why we are spending that money and to what effect, and to ask ourselves whether we are doing enough.

Like others, I congratulate WaterAid on its work, and through the hon. Gentleman I congratulate the charities and churches and the scouts in his constituency on their work, which is emblematic of some of the small-scale, hugely valuable work to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford also alluded. I have been pleased by how many speakers have been informed and perceptive enough to see the links between this agenda, which cannot sit in a silo, and other agendas about which we care deeply, particularly the transmission of diseases. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend talk about the links that this subject has with neglected tropical diseases—we share a passion for that subject—and with our determination to support more girls into education. He also spoke about the links with our work on climate resilience and on the conservation of water resources. This agenda touches so many other things.

I am delighted that the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) mentioned drought and the region’s vulnerability to extreme weather. She deserves great credit for visiting and seeing that for herself. We are living through a period of enormous risk to people’s lives, and the impact of El Niño in that part of the world is not sufficiently understood or appreciated. I thank her for raising its profile, and I assure her that DFID is on the case in the sense that, since mid-2015, we have committed an additional £150 million of support to the area. I have been to Ethiopia, and I am in regular contact with Ethiopia to help it manage the risk, which is at a 1984 Band Aid-type level—it is as severe as that.

Forgive me for my late arrival. I, too, pay tribute to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for securing the debate and for being kind enough to help me prepare for it. One point that I have not heard in the Minister’s summing up—perhaps it was raised earlier—is about nature of power. I served in Afghanistan and sought to develop civil culture in areas where water was controlled by an individual or a small group. WaterAid should truly be valued for equalising power in communities that have only one source of life. The work being done is not simply about health or the ability to grow a crop or two, but about changing the democratic mandate in any group, whether it be a small tribe or a whole country. The work being done by DFID, which I saw for myself in Helmand in Afghanistan, is about exactly that. It is about empowering communities to take control of their own lives, not just to be free of disease.

My hon. Friend adds another texture—another layer of relevance that has not yet been mentioned in this debate—so he has added value.

Like the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, I will not go over the statistics again, because they have been given a good airing. However numb we have become in this House to the horror of much of what is happening around the world, it is still staggering that by the end of the day another 1,000 children under five will have died from a lack of clean water and basic sanitation, which is just not acceptable. Such deaths are utterly preventable. The drinking water of at least a quarter of the world’s population is contaminated with faeces, and more than 650 million people do not have access to a water supply close to their home. Those numbers are shaming, given what we take for granted. That ground was well covered in the debate.

I was also extremely encouraged to hear how many Members wanted to emphasise the particularly heavy burden that falls on women and girls, which matters a great deal to the Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire spoke powerfully about the huge physical burden on them. I lifted a water container in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and I was staggered by how heavy it was. I asked the ladies how far they had walked with it, and their answer was extraordinary. I also asked them about the risks they take in queuing and walking. The situation they face is genuinely shocking and unacceptable.

The human dimension has come through powerfully in the debate, but the economic dimension has not come up. Some clever people have attributed an economic cost to the lack of good water and sanitation at about $1.8 billion a year in Nigeria alone. Whether that is right or wrong, the human and financial cost is massively significant. So this issue matters, and I genuinely congratulate hon. Members on throwing a spotlight on it today. The good news is that we can do something about it. We have done something, but not enough. I will return to that, but it is worth noting that human endeavour has moved the needle in important ways.

The world met the millennium development goal for drinking water in 2010, and although the sanitation target was missed—I will return to that—2 billion more people had a toilet in 2015 than in 1990. Some countries have shown outstanding leadership in that context. For example, Ethiopia has reduced open defecation by 64% over the MDG period.

I am genuinely proud of the role that the UK has played over many years. It predates me and this Government, so I claim no credit for it. Between 2011 and 2015, we helped more than 60 million people to get access to water and sanitation, exceeding the coalition Government target. That has made a real difference to poor people’s lives in countries such as Ethiopia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Nigeria. Many Members have seen that for themselves in their visits and know how powerful and important it is.

In Ethiopia, we are working hard to support the Government to reach 31 million people with sustainable water and sanitation services. That includes ensuring that the services are resilient to future threats from climate change, because as many Members will know, the sustainability of such services is critical.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the money that DFID is putting into Sierra Leone post-Ebola will be incredibly important to it in moving forward? The fight against Ebola required a lot of water, and water is crucial for many countries to stop disease. Sierra Leone had many problems before Ebola, and obviously during the outbreak it had more. In Freetown, in the slum area, pigs, chickens and people can be seen sharing the same dribble of water along the main street. Until that situation is solved, Ebola could occur again.

This is freaky; my hon. Friend has obviously seen my speech, because my next point is on Sierra Leone.

In Sierra Leone our support has been crucial in a country that was so cruelly affected by Ebola. I look forward to seeing our support on the ground there in a forthcoming visit. Our support for solid waste management in Bo will create more than 300 new jobs. There are many dimensions to the support being provided that we need to understand and appreciate. We have been leading innovation in how to deliver water and sanitation programmes. Through the WASH programme we have reached nearly 5 million people, but we have paid the NGOs undertaking the projects only once we have independently confirmed that the services are in place. Of course, we are working in a context of extreme and quite understandable scrutiny of the value for money of what we do, so as we contract services we have to be more innovative in how we push to make sure that we pay for results and get value for money for the British taxpayer.

I quite agree with the Minister about value for money, but there is another aspect that we have to be certain of. It is not enough to have capital spending and to physically put in place toilets, boreholes and so on; we have to work with communities so that they actually use those facilities.

I could not agree more with the hon. Lady, and I will say a little more about that.

The focus of the debate has been largely on the role of Governments, with some entirely correct acknowledgment of the role of civil society. We have perhaps not talked enough about the role of the private sector, which has an enormously important role to play in its responsibilities and opportunities to scale up and sustain solutions. I draw Members’ attention to an interesting initiative, the Toilet Board Coalition, which is looking at new ways in which companies are planning investments in water and sanitation. Through our support provided to Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor, DFID has played a leading role in developing private sector sanitation solutions, including the award-winning Clean Team, which is delivering high quality services in Ghana. That is an example of using a business model for installation and service, which provides an opportunity to scale and sustain work.

So there has been some genuine progress, but, as the tone of the debate has made clear, not enough. There is still a great deal more to do. There have been shortfalls, and it is important to understand why. Meeting the challenge of water supply requires a collective effort of Governments, donors, NGOs and the private sector. On sustainability, at any one time 40% of water supplies do not function because of poor operation and maintenance. On sanitation, there has been a gap, because we are fighting against the reality of political and community priorities, which shift if cholera strikes. Sanitation is the responsibility of the household and community, but households have competing priorities.

On the hon. Lady’s point about sustaining services and building community support, in a lot of the work that we do, our preference is to work through community-led total sanitation solutions, which is about promoting the construction of latrines and also the maintenance and rebuilding of them after the rains come. We have to take time to invest in and engage with the community so that they understand the priority that should be attached to this against other competing priorities. So this work is not easy.

I assure the House, particularly the hon. Member for Strangford, who secured the debate, that the UK remains—there is cross-party support for this; we have heard it today and I am grateful for it—hugely committed to this agenda and wants to stay ambitious. We have to because, as various Members have said, sustainable development goal 6 calls for universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, which is massively ambitious and time marches on, but we are determined to play a key role in achieving the goal.

The UK aid strategy confirmed that, on top of the millions of people we helped to gain access to water and sanitation during the previous Parliament, the Government are committed—it is printed on my table in my ministerial office—to helping a further 60 million people gain access to water and sanitation by 2020. That is the commitment we will be held accountable for and we will meet that through our bilateral aid review and through our centrally managed programmes. Our commitment is hugely ambitious, but we are determined to see it through.

The point that the Minister is making about increasing support is absolutely essential. I am sure I am not alone in having people write to me about concerns over migration to this country. There can be few better ways to encourage people to stay at home than to allow them the opportunity to enjoy the normal areas of sanitation and life that we enjoy here, so the commitment that he is making is extremely welcome and I thank the Department for it.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has skilfully brought us back to the national interest that we consistently need to focus on. There is a great deal of quite justified concern about migration from Africa. It is principally economic, but also driven by other factors. The drivers for why people move—of course, people have always moved in Africa, since time began—include land, access to water, and natural resources. Therefore, the more we can do to help people feel they can rely on resources and get access to those services in their area, the less risk there is that they will move.

The 60 million people are our additional commitment—they are in addition to the 60 million in the previous Parliament. I reassure the House—because it is the focus of the debate—that we will maintain an extremely strong focus on Africa and on meeting the needs of women and adolescent girls. Building on experience from countries such as South Sudan, Malawi and Tanzania, we will develop programmes that deliver improved nutrition as well as water and sanitation. It is becoming increasingly clear to me and the team I am working with that we must make more linkages across areas. Water and nutrition are an obvious case where work and thinking need to be integrated more.

Through our health programming we will continue to work with our partners to ensure that all healthcare facilities have safe water and adequate toilets and handwashing facilities. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire has been passionate and eloquent on that point, on the basis of her many visits.

It is heartening to hear about the Government’s commitment, and the figures that the Minister has given. Does he agree that it is critical that the UK should use its global influence to work with the Governments of other countries and ensure that they make a commitment to informing and educating their populations about how the connection with water can improve health and hygiene? There is a great deal to be done on that account.

I am delighted that another highly valued member of the International Development Committee has joined us. That is a hugely important point, and there are two elements to it: one is the role that the UK can play in influencing other international donors and Governments to step up—because we have taken a lead and others need to step up, in a crowded environment where there are many pressures on time and money. However, there is also a conversation to be had in countries that we try to help—about priorities and capacity. As I elaborated on when I was speaking about Ethiopia, we now have some quite rich experience of how to help with the thinking, within Governments, about the priority to be given to this agenda.

I want briefly to mention water resource management, which the hon. Member for Strangford raised. It is a critical aspect of the matter, and we will continue to invest in water resource management, to ensure that water and sanitation services are sustainable. Those investments also help countries to reduce the impact of floods and droughts. It is worth noting that water insecurity in Africa is estimated to cost about 5% of GDP, and we think that unlocking investment in water, together with improved governance, could help more than 2 billion people to lead healthier and more prosperous lives.

The whole agenda of how water is managed is critical and it needs to be part of the debate—as does the need for evidence. That may not have come through strongly enough, but what we do must be based on solid evidence. That is why we are one of the largest funders of research in the sector, with flagship programmes including the Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity programme, which is showing how sanitation can be improved most effectively.

We are keen to drive innovation in this area, wherever it comes from. The hon. Member for Strangford mentioned the statistic, which may or may not be true, although it sounds right, that in some areas more people have access to a mobile phone than to clean water. Our challenge is how to use that mobile phone technology as part of the solution. Part of the problem is the fact that often no one knows when water pumps fall into disrepair, and we are piloting work on building sensors into the pumps to provide real-time information on which ones are down and in need of attention. We are keen to see how the digital technology that is transforming all aspects of our life can help in that context.

I want to close by talking about our role in convening, encouraging and bringing people together. I am quite serious when I say that the pressures on the development budget are intense, because of all the problems around the world, such as El Niño, Syria and the humanitarian crises everywhere. There are lots of people competing to assert priorities, and powerful lobbies saying “We need more; we need to jump higher.” That is the reality of our world. The sanitation and water for all initiative was set up to develop political momentum and to secure financial commitments from countries and the private sector. We play an important role in that process; we think it is valuable and we will use it to hold others to account on their commitments, and to enable them to hold us to account on the achievement of our ambitions.

There has been clarity in the debate about the importance we should attach to helping millions more people to access the most basic necessities, which we take for granted. We can see all the development benefits that will accrue through doing that. In our view it is clearly in our national interest and we can see the consequences of failure. The evidence makes it clear that focusing aid money on delivering water and sanitation gives value for money, because of the changes it brings about. I hope that I have provided assurance to the hon. Member for Strangford in particular—who deserves credit for securing the debate—that the Government remain extremely committed to the agenda, to meeting the manifesto target, and to maintaining British leadership in this area.

I thank all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken for their valuable contributions, which I appreciate. I thank the ladies from WaterAid who kindly facilitated our debate with information, and whose knowledge helped us to bring the debate together factually. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) spoke with great personal knowledge gained through Select Committee work and the visits she has made. She mentioned having a tin bath, and I am in an age group that means I can remember that as well. I can also remember outside toilets. We have come on a great deal in our own countries, and there is a similar need to move on in Africa.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) mentioned the global goals—on water aid, which has been met, and on water sanitation, which has not. She talked about long-term viability and short-term fixes, and was clear about the need to have a vision and a strategy and to address urgent needs. I thought that she made an important comment when she said that some sub-Saharan countries are poorer today than they were in the ’60s and ’70s, and that addressing water aid and sanitation is even more difficult for them.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), whose contributions I value, as I do his friendship, gave us examples from Peru and Tanzania, where his wife has done good work, and talked about the importance of health education and treating problems at source. I thought it was great that he gave examples of what can be done with a $2,000 spend. A small investment can give great returns, and I thought it was a tremendous example. Some things that were done 30 or 35 years ago are still working today. He referred to the neglected tropical diseases, and we may want to focus on that over time.

The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) referred to communities involved in projects, including Scottish Water staff and their project in Zambia. He spoke of young people dropping out of school in Africa because of lack of access to water aid and sanitation, and the need to prioritise poverty eradication projects.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), brought to the debate something we had not considered: the problems stemming from drought that affects Somali tribesmen and their animals in their wanderings across Africa as they follow the water to where the grass is. She wanted to encourage national Governments to act together. She referred to the storage of water and the need to ensure that we access water wherever it is and retain it as best we can.

Some of the interventions were very helpful. I thank the two hon. Members who came in after the start of the debate; they had other engagements. I was aware of that. The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) referred to the power over water rights and access, which, until he intervened on the Minister, had not been considered in the debate, but it is a vital issue in countries where water is almost the equivalent of oil. Water is of tremendous importance. The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) referred, as she always does in the good work she does on the Select Committee, to the importance of the work within DFID to ensure that the Governments can deliver.

I was impressed by the Minister’s response—I am impressed by him anyway—for which I thank him. We recognise his commitment to his portfolio and to achieving what he wants to achieve, which I believe is what those who have spoken today and those in the House more widely want to achieve. That is important for us.

Water, sanitation and hygiene are enablers for other areas of development, including health and education. That theme ran through all the contributions today. Water, sanitation and hygiene are also highly cost-effective, but only 2% of UK bilateral aid goes towards that. However, I recognise the £800 million the Minister referred to. It is a significant contribution, but if we can do so much with small moneys, that is what we should be trying to do. I would also like water, sanitation and hygiene to be prioritised in the forthcoming aid reviews.

I have been told before that we are not allowed to use props in our speeches, so I am not going to use a prop, but I will refer to this bottle of water. To be truthful, I did not know this until yesterday, but on the labels of the bottles of water in front of us, it says:

“Belu is an ethical bottled water produced in the UK. It is completely carbon neutral. It comes in a lightweight recyclable bottle”

and so on. It then says that 100% of profits go to WaterAid. So, every time we pour a glass of water in this House from any bottle of Belu, we will be supporting WaterAid. WaterAid transforms people’s lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities, and to date Belu has donated more than £1 million to WaterAid. If anyone ever needs a prop, or something to reach to and say, “That’s what WaterAid does”, they can use that bottle.

I thank the Minister, the shadow Minister, and all other Members for their contributions and for highlighting this issue and the position of the people outside the House whom we and the Government want to help.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered clean water and sanitation in Africa.

Sitting adjourned.