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International Development: Sanitation and Water

Volume 736: debated on Monday 19 March 2012

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to enhance access to proper sanitation and safe water in developing countries.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to open this debate, and I thank noble Lords who are willing to take part after what has been a full day.

There will no doubt be some amusement that a contribution such as this is being made by the Bishop of Bath and Wells—the name involves two receptacles intimately associated with water. However, I am not the first holder of this office to be so concerned. Bishop Bekynton is remembered and commemorated for his contribution to the health and welfare of the citizens of Wells during the 15th century. Bekynton made a grant to construct the conduit by which the city would receive its water supply from the Well of St. Andrew in the grounds of the bishop’s palace. However, the condition upon which such benefaction was made was that the citizens and burgesses bound themselves in return to visit once every year the spot in the cathedral where Bekynton was to be interred and there pray for his soul, for which the same prelate granted them an indulgence of 40 days from purgatory. Bekynton is still commemorated, and the people of Wells remain healthy, although regrettably the water from the well is no longer safe to drink, and indulgences are no longer a part of my privilege as the Bishop of Bath and Wells.

In opening this debate, I declare an interest as an ambassador for WaterAid. More widely, in my time as director of an international mission and development agency, I have seen the effect that the provision of clean water and sanitation has, not only on individuals and communities but upon economies, healthcare and education.

Today’s debate has been called as a response to the sanitation and water crises in the developing world, and it could not be more timely. Not only will it be World Water Day on Thursday, but we are just one month away from a vital meeting to push forward progress on tackling the water and sanitation crisis—the Sanitation and Water for All high-level meeting.

Water and sanitation poverty is one of the greatest and most neglected crises in international development. It is undermining the collective efforts of the international community to achieve the millennium development goals. Diarrhoeal disease is, according to the World Health Organisation, the biggest killer of children in Africa. Ninety per cent of cases are caused by the lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Diarrhoea causes more child deaths than AIDS, malaria and TB combined and, as the latest United Nations report on water and sanitation indicates, the majority of these child deaths are in south Asia.

It is entirely unacceptable in the 21st century that international development efforts are still held back because of a lack of access to clean water and sanitation. Regrettably, the United Kingdom’s record on development is being weakened by the lack of concerted international action on water and sanitation. Put simply, there can be only limited benefits from focusing on giving children life-saving medicines without ensuring that the water with which they drink those pills is safe and free from human faecal matter.

Likewise, the international community’s emphasis on girls going to school is to be welcomed. However, when so many are held back from attending school by the hours spent fetching water, our collective efforts and financial contributions are being undermined. If girls are to stay in school when they reach menstrual age, it is essential that there are adequate toilet facilities when they get to school.

As our own history of public health shows, safe water and sanitation are essential not only for reducing the preventable deaths of young children but are essential services critical to public health, welfare and the productivity of all. The British Medical Association voted the commission of the London sewerage system as the most important breakthrough ever in public health—more important than penicillin or vaccines.

However, the benefits go beyond health. Diarrhoea is believed to cost Africa up to 5 per cent of its gross domestic product annually. The United Nations estimates that, on average, $1 spent on water and sanitation generates $8 in return. Earlier this month, the United Nations announced that the millennium development goal target for water had been met, five years ahead of schedule. Two billion more people now have access to water than in 1990. That is a welcome and significant achievement, and it demonstrates what can be done when the willingness is there. It shows that aid can and does work. Success in meeting the water millennium development goal target is self-evidently transformative. It happens when political leadership is combined with sustained investment.

Sadly, those gains have not been made equally across the world. I do not need to remind your Lordships that water, sanitation and hygiene are recognised by the United Nations as human rights fundamental to life and dignity, yet 780 million people are still without access, the majority of them are the poorest in society and four in 10 live in sub-Saharan Africa. Sustainability is essential. Access to safe water needs to be complemented with access to sanitation. Without adequate toilets, human waste will pollute water sources.

Both former and present Governments have good reason to point to our successes in delivering water to the poorest people and the saving of lives. Eight of the top 10 recipients of aid for water provided by the UK are on track to meet the millennium development goals or have already met them. Having met the water target, we need to complement our efforts on water by making and keeping it safe and clean. That requires investment in sanitation. That is particularly critical at a time of rapid urbanisation when the growth of the world's population is largely in urban slums. On current estimates, more than 500 million people will suffer through the failure to meet the sanitation millennium development goal. It is said that in Africa universal access to sanitation is still more than 250 years away.

The Secretary of State is to be commended for leading the world through his commitment to attend the Sanitation and Water for All partnership high-level meeting in Washington next month. He was the first donor Minister to do so, and our hopes are high for both attendance and outcomes from that crucial meeting. Our Government are further to be commended for their commitment to 0.7 per cent of annual income to be spent on aid, but overall, aid for water and sanitation has declined in proportion to the aid for other sectors. Where it stood at more than 8 per cent of total aid in the mid-1990s, it has now fallen to below 5.5 per cent. Globally, there is a huge shortfall in funding for the crisis.

I regret that the picture is less healthy when we look at the United Kingdom’s contribution. The UK’s bilateral aid to the sector was less than 2 per cent of our total aid in 2010, and the proportion of UK bilateral aid that goes to water and sanitation programmes is less than 50 per cent of the average reported by other donors. Although the Secretary of State himself is showing great personal leadership on the issue, the UK’s financial contribution on water and sanitation is not keeping pace with other donors and, more importantly, not rising to the scale of the crisis.

Is there an imbalance here that needs to be corrected? There is no sense in a government strategy which invests in girls’ education without investing in the removal of barriers to their attendance. Surely the Government must consider the drawbacks of investing resources in medicine without ensuring that the water taken with those medicines is clean and free from human faecal matter. DfID’s water, sanitation and hygiene programme is fantastic value for money, but we must step up the volume in line with the quality of our aid if we want results across health, women's livelihoods, education and nutrition.

I dare to hope that this debate today may have something of the same effect on the world’s population, to its benefit, as Bishop Bekynton did for the people of Wells in the 15th century. While I cannot offer indulgences, I crave your Lordships’ in support of the Question on enhancing access to proper sanitation and safe water in developing countries.

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, while preparing for this debate I thought about water every time I turned on a tap, filled a kettle, flushed the loo, ran a bath or a shower: simple things that we all do every day without thinking about it. Tomorrow, however, and perhaps the day after, we will all go back to taking for granted the miracle that is fresh, clean running water.

We owe the right reverend Prelate thanks for initiating this debate and for reminding us of our luck. In 1880, when we here in Britain revolutionised the infrastructure of water and sanitation, life expectancy for the average Briton rose by 15 years. Working towards improved sanitation for the billions of people currently without it will lead to similar improvements across the world.

In the last 20 years, between 1990 and 2010, over 2 billion people gained access to improved water sources and 1.8 billion people gained access to improved sanitation facilities. Globally, though, 783 million people—11 per cent of the world's population—are still without safe drinking water and 2.5 billion without sanitation, so, as the right reverend Prelate said, there is still much to do.

Water and sanitation are rightly high on the aid agenda. I am delighted that the UK and DfID are leading the way by showing commitment to ensuring that clean water and sanitation get to more people globally than in the whole of the UK. As the right reverend Prelate said, we welcome the Secretary of State’s decision to attend the high-level meeting on sanitation and water in Washington this April.

It is important, however, to note that progress is not just about access to clean drinking water. Hygienic toilets, education in sanitation, and effective hand washing really do save lives. Anyone who works for a water charity will tell you that access to water is not about stopping dehydration; it builds communities. By building a latrine and sanitation block in a school, attendance, particularly for girls, can double. When Wells for India, a UK-based charity, builds such facilities it always give preference to girls to attend the school, because by lifting barriers that keep girls out of school they are given a real chance to take control of their lives, from reproductive choices to education and economic control. For example, girls are far more likely to attend school when there are private and safe facilities for adolescent girls during menstruation. The availability of sanitation services at school can directly impact the drop-out rate of girls from full-time education. By increasing these amenities, we can dramatically improve the opportunities for these young girls.

Women are helped in a multitude of ways by increased access to water and sanitation. For example, going to the toilet in the open puts them in danger of being assaulted. In Bhopal, WaterAid has spoken to women who forgo food and drink during the day to avoid needing to defecate in the open in daylight. By waiting until nightfall they then place themselves at greater risk of sexual violence.

Water aid charities rightly focus on new technology for harvesting water. From gully plugs to loose stone dams and trenches, there are lots of cheap ways to harvest water. Even turning a flat roof on a house—such a common feature—into a pipe for siphoning rainwater into a tank makes the type of difference we can hardly imagine.

Poor families in sub-Saharan Africa spend around 11 per cent of their income on water. Money donated to increase access to water is extremely cost-effective—£385 can build a sanitation block for 150 people. Donating the materials to turn open-water wells—in which the water is likely to become infected—into closed, pump-using wells is astonishingly cheap; again, a small act which makes a huge difference.

Just this afternoon, I bumped into someone who told me about the role of crushed seeds of the moringa tree in clarifying and purifying water to make it safe for drinking and to suit domestic use. I rushed to my desk to investigate this magic seed further. One billion people across Asia, Africa, and Latin America are estimated to rely on untreated surface water sources for their daily water needs. Of these, some 2 million are thought to die from diseases caught from contaminated water every year, with the majority of these deaths occurring among children under five years of age.

Moringa oleifera is a vegetable tree grown in Africa, Central America, South America, the Indian subcontinent, and south-east Asia. It could be considered to be one of the world’s most useful trees. Not only is it drought resistant, it also yields cooking and lighting oil and soil fertilizer, as well as highly nutritious food in the form of its pods, leaves, seeds and flowers. However, perhaps most importantly, its seeds can be used to purify drinking water at virtually no cost. Moringa tree seeds, when crushed into powder, can be used as a water-soluble extract in suspension, resulting in an effective natural clarification agent for highly turbid and untreated pathogenic surface water—dirty river water to me. As well as improving drinkability, this technique reduces water turbidity—or cloudiness—making the result aesthetically, as well as microbiologically, more acceptable for human consumption, removing between 90 and 99 per cent of bacteria. Despite its life-saving potential, the technique is not widely known, even in areas where the moringa is routinely cultivated.

North Africa, which comprises 20 per cent of all land in Africa, receives less than a third of the continent’s total annual rainfall—an extremely small and unpredictable amount. For a continent that is so highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture, it is important not only to harvest as much rain as possible but to be able to predict when this rain will fall. In the UK there are 4,400 weather stations, at a rate of one per seven square kilometres. By comparison, in the whole of Africa there are 1,152 weather stations—roughly one per 26,000 square kilometres. In a continent where rainfall is so variable, it is impossible for farmers to know simple things, such as when to water their crops. Understanding rain dynamics, from daily to monthly scales, would strengthen early warning systems and help people such as subsistence farmers to make informed decisions on matters such as crop planting and storage.

I thank the right reverend Prelate for securing this important debate. Although I welcome the significant progress that has been made, like the right reverend Prelate, I believe it is imperative to stress that reaching the sanitation goal is still some way off. The fact that DfID is now putting such emphasis on water and sanitation is much to be welcomed and I hope that its work continues to go from strength to strength.

My Lords, 50 years ago this year, my parents moved to a farm in a very remote part of the Isle of Arran to build a business and grow a family. Although they had no mains electricity or water, they benefited from access to clean water in the hills and had the use of a septic tank and an electric generator. Partly as a result of that and partly due to their own skills and hard work, they developed an award-winning farm, as well as an award-winning team on the farm. I have always been very grateful that as a youngster I was able to grow up in such a beautiful place with access to clean water and sanitation.

Over the years as I have got older, I have become more and more angry that in a world where we talk about finding water on other planets and other such amazing developments, hundreds of millions of people all over the world today still do not have the access to clean water and sanitation that I enjoyed as a youngster. Indeed, the relevant millennium development goal, MDG 7, is unlikely to be reached. It is claimed that it may be reached and may already have been reached in relation to water, although I think that that claim may be made by the donor community rather than by those who are in need and who use the water, but on current predictions it will certainly not be reached in relation to sanitation. That is a tragedy in many respects, and I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells for drawing our attention to this matter this evening. I am also grateful to him and to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for their wide-ranging, intelligent speeches on the issues, and I want to add to, rather than duplicate, what they have said.

I agree entirely that this matter is central to the issue that many people all over the world talk about—girls in education. Sanitation is fundamental, particularly for those of teenage years. It can also be central as a cause of conflict. As with other natural resources, access to water can be a cause of long-lasting or occasional conflict, and it contributes directly to matters of hygiene and disease. The outcomes are entirely preventable, as we know here in London and as has already been mentioned by previous speakers. Critically, access, or the lack of access, to water and sanitation is an issue of productivity too. If we genuinely believe in sustainable development, access to water and sanitation has to be central to our development strategies, but also to the strategies employed within communities in the developing world.

It will simply not be possible to build sustainable, productive economies in situations where so many, particularly women and girls, spend so much time trying to access water or are affected by the diseases and conditions that result from a lack of access to safe water. A few years ago, it was estimated by the UNDP—it is almost certainly still relevant—that 40 billion hours of labour are lost in sub-Saharan Africa every year as a result of the time taken to access safe water and to bring it back to the family home or community. That is equivalent to a total year’s labour by everyone in the workforce of France. That is how much is lost every year by the simple day-to-day duty of travelling to safe water—sometimes it is not safe—and travelling back home again.

That lack of productivity, which impacts on the local economy, on families and on community development, is central to this issue. Although I certainly welcome the efforts that have been made over the years, given the impact that those efforts have had on the number of water pumps, the development of sanitation programmes, and the other crucial elements in the international strategy to tackle this issue and to try to reach that millennium development goal, we sometimes have to question the outcome. I do not think it is good enough for those who pay for this development strategy to claim that, as we have introduced a number of pumps or a number of sanitation programmes, which affect a number of people in different parts of the world, we have achieved our goals.

If those pumps are not in use and if the local communities are not able to maintain them because the skills are not there, the capacity is not in place and the pumps are useless. I suspect that if the true figures were known and the numbers calculated by those in need, the number of people who actually have access to safe water in the world today would be significantly less than that estimated by the donor community. We need to look at this from the perspective of those who use the water rather than from those of us who have been paying for it over the past few decades.

I urge the department, the Government and our international partners to think more deeply about the strategies that we can employ to put control of this issue in the hands of local communities. We need to train local people in the necessary skills to make water and sanitation developments sustainable so that they do not need to hire engineers from 200 miles away, who take six months to get there when the pump is out of use. They should not have to wait months and sometimes even years for pumps to be repaired. Training local communities and creating the infrastructure and the capacity in local government and local businesses, with systems of payment for repair, would help to regenerate local economies and ensure that the pumps are kept in regular use. If we do that, perhaps some day we will not only reach the targets that we have set ourselves and the targets that we congratulate ourselves upon as we reach them, but we will reach the point at which, across the world, everyone has access not only to water pumps but to clean water.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells. We have had very thoughtful contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. I hope to add to what they have said, based on a number of sources, not least my own experience.

I do not know whether any noble Lord saw a rather alarming headline in the Times of London a couple of weeks ago that said that, in India, more people have access to mobile phones than to clean water. That was meant to be quite shocking and of course it was. I started to think a little more about that and it occurred to me that one of the reasons for the mobile phone explosion was not just because people wanted phones but because they are easy to get. They provide a cash flow and a really good opportunity for investment and profit. The industry does not require large, expensive and hard to maintain infrastructure. It is a satellite issue, with nothing much on the ground. Now compare that with providing clean water and sanitation. You need a large, comprehensive network to provide water or to deal with sanitation. In countries such as India, that is not so easy. It is expensive and it is hard to maintain.

We are also dealing with the fact that the United Nations has already declared clean water and sanitation to be a human right, which tends to introduce a reluctance in the population and Governments to charge reasonable rates for their provision. It makes it a bit more difficult. There is also no alternative to a mobile phone. You cannot introduce a landline and set up telegraph poles. That does not work in continents such as India. There is, however, an alternative to ground water. It is not exactly attractive; it is going to be untreated—I am afraid to say that open-air defecation is still the traditional practice in much of India and other parts of the world—but it is a water supply. There is a reason why the expansion of clean water and sanitation cannot keep pace with the attractiveness of the mobile phone; indeed, the newspaper report is not quite as shock-horror as noble Lords might think.

Nevertheless, there has been progress. The millennium development goal target for halving the number of people without access to safe water was met in 2010, as we know. However, while we have concrete proof, as the Secretary of State has said, that well-spent aid makes a difference to the lives of the poorest people, we have heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells that more than 780 million are still without clean water.

I must just add a few words about sub-Saharan Africa to the points that have already been made. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular lags behind. Two-thirds of the global population without an improved water source can be found in just 10 countries, six of them in Africa. Of the 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, only 19 are on track to meet the millennium development goals by 2015. Indications from UNICEF’s latest alternative means of analysing progress, its joint monitoring programmes, throw up some sobering trends in what is actually happening, particularly the urban-rural disparities associated with poverty and the relationship between progress and rapid population growth over the last 20 years. Rapid population growth has resulted in it being quite easy to lose any gains that have been achieved, because the additional capacity that has been provided has been taken up. On this basis, nearly 900 million people in sub-Saharan African live in countries where only 25 per cent have access to clean water. That is a very long way from the 50 per cent assumed in the millennium development goals. We are clearly not going to get there by 2015.

Turning briefly to the MDG to improve access to sanitation to 50 per cent, currently more than 2.6 billion people do not have access to flush toilets. Over 1.1 billion people still defecate in the open, and the MDG report calculates that it would take until 2049 to provide more than 75 per cent of the global population with improved sanitation—the amount needed to meet the MDG target. The right reverend Prelate made the point that to get everyone on mains loos would take another 250 years. That is a startling figure.

Much of sub-Saharan Africa is lagging sadly and desperately behind. Nearly half of the population uses either shared or unimproved facilities, an estimated 25 per cent practise open defecation, a decrease of only 11 per cent since 1990. In fact, with population growth this means that the number of people practising open defecation has increased by 33 million since then. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of people using unimproved sanitation of any region.

I will say a few words about capacity-building, as this is quite an important aspect of this issue. The countries lagging furthest behind the MDG targets on water and sanitation are those where capacity is poor. They are often conflict-affected states with weak institutions. In those countries, where political stability is also challenged, policy development and departmental roles and responsibilities are unclear. Accountability and transparency are weak and the provision of water and sanitation services does not figure high on the agenda for career advancement in civil service departments.

The right reverend Prelate called for clean water, medicine, and education for girls. I would add political stability and capacity to that list if we are going to underpin these essential requirements. We will not achieve them without that. Institutional strengthening and technical assistance are by no means as straightforward as they seem. In my experience, appointing counterpart engineers—to pick up a point made earlier—to work with local staff can easily be compromised when you are trying to manage a project for a client team that is used to working, for example, in a French administrative system in French with young engineers who have been trained in Russia in Russian and dealing with a donor from the Middle East who refuses to work in anything but English. It is quite a challenge. You achieve the project, but you do not achieve the training. That is why there is a real problem about capacity-building. If you ensure that people can take ownership of the facilities and feel that they are theirs rather than the donors’ or the experts’, they start to look after them and cherish what they have.

My Lords, my intervention is slightly tangential to the main thrust of the right reverend Prelate’s Question, but I thank him very much for giving me the opportunity to make it. I want to talk about water as the source of food and possible conflict in the developing world. I realise that lack of access to proper sanitation and safe water kills about 1.5 million children every year, but I want to talk about the nearly 1 billion people who go to bed hungry every night and the other 1 billion who suffer from such a single staple diet that they lack the necessary vitamins and proteins to live properly active lives. It is worth noting that the worst effects of such chronic malnutrition are on children. Not having a proper diet in early years affects brain development. For instance, it is believed that during the food price hike in 2008, some 40 million kids in the developing world suffered permanent cognitive damage from food deprivation.

The connection between this and today’s debate on water is that irrigated agriculture provides 40 per cent of the world’s food from only 20 per cent of the world’s agricultural land. It is twice as productive as non-irrigated land, so in terms of feeding the world it is very important. For instance, 90 per cent of rice grown uses irrigation. By 2030, agriculture will need 45 per cent more water, and even by 2025 the UN reckons that 40 per cent of the world’s population will live in water scarce regions, which will include all of China and India. Indian farmers are already taking 100 cubic kilometres per annum more from their aquifers than are being replaced by rains, and the aquifer under the Hebei province of China, where most of its wheat is grown, is falling at the rate of three metres per annum.

There are two simple points I want to make. First, we have to help the developing world manage its water better and, secondly, we have to help nations get together and equitably share their transboundary water before more people die in conflicts caused by water, a commodity more valuable than all the precious metals in the world.

In terms of helping countries manage their water better, I want to focus on sub-Saharan Africa. It uses very little of its renewable water resources—less than 3 per cent, of which 2 per cent is used for agriculture, compared to many parts of Asia where it is over 40 per cent. So it is in Africa where the potential for improvement is greatest. Here, the problem is based more on economics and lack of knowledge than actual physical scarcity because the greatest poverty in Africa is a poverty of information, closely followed by a lack of responsible investment.

Here are a few ideas, whereby the UK and other donors can make a difference. We can help provide more cheap farm-based and community-based reservoirs for both agricultural and domestic use. Very often, that just involves a couple of days with a bulldozer. Smallholder farmers need the knowledge to manage their soils to make them receptive to rain, they need the knowledge and funding to have drip irrigation which does not waste the water and they need the funding for small, shared abstractions from aquifers. We in the UK can help with that seed-corn funding and the dissemination of knowledge.

Ground water provides reliable water to more than 100 million people in Africa, and is a resource of choice for developing rural water supplies. But these underground resources need to be defined by their location, quality, quantity and, above all, recharge rate, so that they can be managed sustainably for future generations. We need to avoid the problems of the overused aquifers in India and China. Again, I believe this is an area where we can help.

To endorse a point already made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, if a poor African smallholder buys modern seeds to produce three or four times the yield of her normal seeds, she is often risking all the family’s wealth to do so. Indeed, her family’s ability to survive could be on the line, because if she plants and there is no rain, she will get no crop and will be unable to feed her family. This terrifying risk, which can get only worse with climate change, is not helped by the fact that African farmers rarely get weather forecasts to allow them to make informed decisions about their farming practices. Again, we can help here, both in the production and communication of forecasts.

Turning to my second point, water can and almost certainly will cause conflicts over the next few decades. The trouble is that waters and rivers do not recognise political boundaries. The 10 nations now using the waters of the Nile are a good example of where things could go wrong. Turkey’s dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, rivers that are the lifeblood of Iraq and Syria, are another. The excessive abstraction by Israel from the River Jordan before it reaches the country of its name could inflame an already sensitive situation. There are some 250 other shared waterways throughout the world. The Indus, for example, is another sensitive spot.

There is a UN convention on the non-navigational uses of international watercourses, which sets out how nations should resolve their differences over shared waterways. It is only in this way that the management of transboundary fresh water will be equitably shared between the conflicting needs of the poor, the rich, the farmers, the towns, and the environment in both upstream and downstream countries. This convention, which was devised with the help of UK lawyers, needs 35 countries to accede to it before it comes into operation. It currently has about 25, so anything we can do to encourage further signatories, the less danger there will be from wars breaking out over water. In spite of the fact that no one in the UK, including Defra, DfID and the Foreign Office, is able to put forward a single remaining argument against signing, our Government have not acceded to this convention. Frankly, it is a disgrace. I will end there.

My Lords, I am sure we all want to put on record our appreciation to the right reverend Prelate for having introduced this debate tonight. I find it very appropriate that it comes after such a long day—indeed, many weeks—of concentrating on health in our own country. It is difficult to imagine any greater single contribution to the health, well-being and productivity of the British people than what was achieved, in the 19th century in particular, in terms of drains and potable water supplies, which were desperately essential if people were to survive the awful diseases we had here, such as cholera and all the rest.

I am glad that the right reverend Prelate also drew attention to the importance that, while being excited by what the Joint Monitoring Programme has told us about progress, we should not let those overall figures mask the very real challenges that still exist. It is clearly a very complex issue, because while it is true to say that 40 per cent of the global population without access to improved drinking water is in sub-Saharan Africa, most of the progress that has been made, proportionately, is in places such as China and India. But then, within China and India there are huge discrepancies. Indeed, according to the Joint Monitoring Programme, in India only 34 per cent of people have access to improved sanitation facilities, and it is estimated that 51 per cent of people still defecate in the open. Poor sanitation is costing India $54 billion every year, or 6 per cent of its gross domestic product. There is obviously an urgent need for investment in both hardware, such as latrines, and community-led total sanitation programmes that can impact on behaviour change.

When these matters have been raised with the Government, DfID has said that it is doing pioneer work in Bihar and that, according to the outcome of that work, it will see how such programmes can be rolled out more widely in countries such as India. It would be extremely helpful if, when the noble Baroness replies to the debate, she could tell us something about progress in Bihar.

I want to concentrate on something rather different. It has struck me that, in a world of increasing resource constraints and increasing food insecurity, access to water must also be of key geopolitical concern. Water, the lifeblood of agriculture, is already scarcer than land and is a driver of land investments. Nearly 3 billion people live in areas where the demand for water outstrips supply. In 2000, 500 million people lived in countries that were chronically short of water. By 2050, the number will have risen to more than 4 billion. By 2030 demand for water is expected to have increased by 30 per cent. Access to water is therefore a key consideration in the modern-day rush for land that has seen as many as 227 million hectares of land in developing countries—an area the size of western Europe—sold or leased since 2001, mostly to international investors. The bulk of these land acquisitions has taken place over the past two years, according to the excellent research that has been undertaken by the Land Matrix Partnership. Often these large land acquisitions can be termed as “land grabs”, taking place over the heads of communities which live or rely on the land without free or prior consent, and often constituting an abuse of human rights. Therefore, any discussion about access to water and sanitation must understand the practices and economic activities which are directly taking water away in many situations from those who most need it.

Clearly, water has great strategic significance, and clearly there is potential for greater conflict in the world as these problems become more and more acute. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Gaza. If we want peace in the Middle East we should consider the situation in Gaza at the moment. The Strategic Foresight Group pointed out in May 2011 that, at the current rate of depletion, the Gaza aquifer will become unusable by 2016 and damage will be irreversible by 2020. Against this, Israel has approved the entry of materials for only four water, sanitation and hygiene projects in Gaza, with a total value of $3.75 million. A further 13 projects, worth $74.5 million, which would benefit more than 1.4 million Palestinians, are still awaiting approval. How can we build peace and stability if people are facing injustices of this order? Surely this plays into the hands of extremists.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, pointed out on 1 February, according to the latest report from the Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Group in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, residents of Gaza use an average of 91 litres of water a day. This is less than the World Health Organisation’s recommended minimum of 100 litres of water a day to meet all health needs.

I shall be grateful if, in her reply, the noble Baroness can tell the House what specifically the Government are doing to tackle the water problems of the Middle East and Gaza because I see them as central to an overall solution in the area.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming this debate and thank the right reverend Prelate for initiating it. He said in his opening remarks that some may find it surprising that he initiated such a debate. The giveaway is in the name of the diocese that he represents: it is entirely appropriate that the Bishop of Bath and Wells should initiate a debate on water.

Some 783 million people live without access to safe water. That represents about 11 per cent of the world’s population. As we heard from other noble Lords, close to 1.3 or 1.4 million children die every year from diseases such as diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation and unclean water. There are 4,000 child deaths a day—or one child every 20 seconds. I am a father of young children. Focus on those numbers for a moment. As my noble friend Lady Jenkin said in her speech, how do we take this basic commodity so much for granted? It is not a privilege but a right that should be available to all.

One in eight people in the world do not have access to safe water. Many women and children in rural areas in developing countries spend hours every day walking many miles to collect water from unprotected, unclean sources: open wells, muddy dug-outs or streams. As I saw when I led a delegation to Bangladesh, in urban areas many collect water from open, polluted waterways or pay high prices to buy what they think is clean and sanitised water. Quite often that water is dirty and unsafe but they have no alternative. Diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation cause further diseases. Cholera, typhoid and dysentery are common across the developing world.

I will focus on two elements in my brief comments this evening. We all agree without exception that there is an urgent need for action, but all too often while we consistently talk about clean water and sanitation they are overlooked in the global development agenda. It is important that we see the right solution for the right area.

Through my work with charities such as Humanity First, I have seen first-hand what can be done. Humanity First says about water hand pumps that,

“Africa and Asia have many rural villages where the population is typically between 500 to 2,000. For these areas, investment in heavy duty filtration systems is not economic”,

or viable. Bore hand pumps have been installed in 18 countries by this charity, serving 1.2 million villagers. It is important that these specific solutions are sought. Filtration pumps provide another solution in metro areas. On sanitation, where there is regular rainfall, rooftop collection systems may be used,

“to harvest water into tanks which can then be used for taps and sanitary purposes”.

As other noble Lords have said, education is also key. There is no point installing systems if people do not know how to use them. Gravity-fed systems provide another alternative,

“in areas such as Sierra Leone and Uganda where natural dams of water are held in the mountains”.

These can be used by sealing the source dam and piping the water down to feed off to villages. Finally, in the most remote parts of the world, family filtration units can also be used. In the event of disasters specifically, these provide a vital source.

The other element that I briefly wish to focus on is a disease called trachoma, which can ultimately lead to blindness. It is counted by some as a neglected tropical disease. There are 110 million sufferers. It is often carried by children and is transmitted by flies. The root cause of the disease is found in poor sanitation and a general lack of clean water. That allows these flies to fester and carry the disease by landing on young children’s eyelids which then, tragically, turn inwards and cause the eventual blindness of the child. I ask Her Majesty’s Government to outline their commitment to doubling total government investments in water and sanitation to meet the millennium development goal targets of halving the proportions of people living without water and sanitation by 2015.

While we often talk of cures, the diseases linked to lack of sanitation and lack of clean water should never get to that stage. They are not just curable diseases—they are preventable ones. Clean water and sanitation provide the solution and, as I said earlier, clean and safe water is a right, not a privilege.

My Lords, I also appreciate the opportunity to talk again in this Chamber about the needs of various parts of the world where clean water is treasured more than gold.

The Pacific Institute research report said that the failure to provide safe drinking water and adequate sanitation to all people is perhaps the greatest development failure of the 20th century. There was a time when we would say that if we could abandon the production of nuclear weapons for 14 days, we would be able to provide every home in the world with safe, piped, clean water. That of course has not happened and arid desert areas, countries where drought is endemic and places where war has destroyed normal water resources arouse so much compassion on our part. We are indebted to so many organisations, voluntary as well as government ones, which have tackled the problem in such a real and effective way. They deserve our deepest gratitude.

I was associated with the Welsh Water dragon project and after the rugby result on Saturday I am glad to be able to say I was. It was at the time of the great crisis and the war in Rwanda. A team went out with the Association of Pioneer Rescue Officers and they dug wells and cleaned existing water sources. I had a fax one morning which said, “We have stopped cholera dead in our patch”. Of all the faxes I have received, that was the one that nearly made me sing the “Hallelujah Chorus”. This happened and it can happen.

It is estimated that water-borne diseases will be responsible for 135 million deaths by 2020. We have already heard how every 15 seconds a child will die of a water-borne disease. This is a massive crisis and as the Pacific Institute research said it is our greatest failure. When the need arises in a particular emergency, how ready is the United Kingdom to respond? Is there a permanent emergency working group ready to assist immediately where there is exceptional need, drawing on the experience and using the valuable talents of organisations that have also dealt with similar situations? Have we got that? Are we prepared, wherever in the world it might happen? Should this now be part of our European commitment, or even wider than that, to make sure that if there is a need, we are there.

I have also, over the years, questioned where there is water purification equipment in the United Kingdom. When we were threatened some years ago with a nuclear attack we were told then that there were 14,000 available purification plants in the United Kingdom. Some, we know, did go to water companies and then went out to places in need. A few were made available directly to places such as Bosnia. What is the situation today? Where are these 14,000 water purification plants? Have they been destroyed or sold for scrap, or do they exist somewhere where they could be made available to meet the needs of various places in the world? Finally, and very briefly, the better prepared we are to meet urgent situations immediately, the sooner we can respond and the more lives will be saved.

My Lords, I, too, express my warm gratitude to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells for initiating this debate. It is ironic that your Lordships speak on the urgent need for clean water and sanitation in developing countries when over half of our country is shortly to be subject to drought orders, in order to conserve water. Much more must be done to manage water here, but in parts of the developing world the lack of clean drinking water has a devastating effect on the lives of millions and, tragically, a fatal one for almost 1.5 million people each year, a quarter of whom are children under the age of five.

It is in sub-Saharan Africa, as noble Lords have said, where the situation is the most critical. It is a part of the world where the Commonwealth has 19 members and hence, I believe, where the United Kingdom has a prime responsibility. In much of sub-Saharan Africa, still only 50 per cent to 60 per cent of people have access to improved water sources. This compares poorly with other parts of the developing world. The people of sub-Saharan Africa have for far too long been living in a vicious cycle of hunger, malnutrition, poverty and conflict. The most particular concern in threats to sustainable agriculture remains the reduction in availability of water. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, has already highlighted this. Without water there is no prospect of increased output and improved yields.

Recent initiatives in Turkana in northern Kenya by the charity Practical Action, whose patron is the Prince of Wales, are a source of great encouragement. Using what Turkana has a great deal of, sunshine, a solar-powered water pump has the capacity to draw up to 10,000 litres of clean water an hour. The solar system can also help purify the water. Its impact is transforming: illnesses have been much reduced; women are no longer having to walk up to seven miles to find water, and are no longer vulnerable to attack in doing so; and the production of crops and vegetables has provided enormous nutritional benefits. These are all benign differences that these solar pumps can make to these communities.

The Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth is the only agricultural NGO within that association of nations. It is holding its biennial conference in Livingstone in Zambia this year. Its theme is “Feeding People: Africa’s Role in Sustainable World Food Production”. Water management is not only key to providing clean drinking water but is essential for the production of food. Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050 and stable food production will be dependent on stable water supplies. Indeed, what could have been a more impressive theme for an earlier Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth conference than “The Power of Water”?

I very much welcome the Secretary of State for DfID reviewing where British aid should be directed. Providing clean water and sanitation in the world’s poorest countries should surely be central to Britain’s aid programmes. Not only do these measures immensely help people who live without these basic requirements of life, they also provides tangible evidence to British taxpayers that their money is being spent on making a profound difference to the world’s most disadvantaged.

The Government have been setting themselves challenging targets, looking for results and value for money. If over the next four years, because of aid from Britain, 15 million more people have access to clean drinking water and 25 million more people will have better sanitation facilities, what a difference that would make. I remember as a young man visiting British aid schemes in Malawi. I was struck then by the dedication of British aid workers on the ground. Today, they often work in far more dangerous areas than they did 30 years ago. We should acknowledge their outstanding contribution, which does so much to enhance Britain’s reputation as a decent country. The truth is, of course, that there is so much more to be done in securing a better, safer and prosperous future for millions of our fellow human beings.

My Lords, first, I thank the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate. I know well his very strong commitment to international development and this is a very timely debate.

Clearly, noble Lords know and understand why water, sanitation and hygiene are critical to the efforts that we make to meet the millennium development goals, especially on health and child mortality, but also on education, gender and on other targets.

The unifying principle for public action is the recognition that since water and sanitation are basic human rights, there is an obligation upon us to act. What we do know is that there is no quick fix. Investments and policies put in place today on water and sanitation will take years to produce the results required on the scale that we need to see. However, that should not deter Governments and donors from making a far greater priority of such life and death issues.

For years many of us have identified the need for a rights-based approach to development which is clearly understood by Governments and by donors. I regret to say that this is not the case now for water and sanitation; the objectives remain the poor relation when political and economic priorities are being set. When it is so important, why is it that there are few, if any, dedicated sanitation ministries in developing countries led by senior Cabinet Ministers? How, therefore, will the under-resourcing and the need for building political momentum be dealt with, if across Governments water and sanitation are lagging behind at the back of government priorities?

This is a crisis. In development, we use that word quite a lot, but here we really have to mean it. So why is there such a shortfall in funding for this crisis? Why is it actually slipping down the priority ladder? Few noble Lords have made that point. I understand that DfID is reviewing water and sanitation programmes, checking, I suppose, for value for money. I certainly trust that the Government are listening closely to the Sanitation and Water For All partnership, which is doing such excellent work in encouraging the development of high-level political will to see a step change in the provision of water and sanitation.

However, to bring the issue into sharp focus, I have to express deep concern and dismay about the fact that the UK's bilateral aid to the sector was less than 2 per cent of total aid in 2010. Yet the proportion of UK bilateral aid that goes to water and sanitation programming is one-third of that of Germany and Spain and is less than 50 per cent of the average that is reported by other donors.

DfID can and surely should bear the burden of water sanitation and hygiene. The reason is plain. In 2010, the UK made just $66.3 million of new commitments to water and sanitation, compared to $252 million in the previous year under a Labour Government. In fact, in 2009, the Labour Government committed to spend £200 million a year on water and sanitation just for Africa, while—as the figures now clearly show—the coalition spent only half that amount worldwide in 2010-11. To be country-specific, I have to express my concern that, for instance, in Ghana, where 85 per cent of the population is without access to sanitation, 9.5 per cent of Ghanaian child deaths are due to diarrhoea, second only to malaria.

DfID has a large development programme in Ghana, which receives 3 per cent of all DfID’s aid to sub-Saharan Africa. In spite of that, though, none of DfID’s aid goes towards sanitation in Ghana, a country whose Government have an extremely good strategy on sanitation. I am therefore obliged to ask why DfID does not support this work and integrate it into its health and education programme, which works very well in Ghana. And while 5.5 per cent of all diarrheal deaths in the world are in Pakistan, DfID’s largest development partner, again, none of DfID’s programme in that country is directed to sanitation.

I could give other examples that are of great concern. I ask the Minister specifically to explain why such a significant deterioration in commitment to this crucial area of development aid has taken place. What exactly will the Government do to improve their record so far? When diarrhoea is the greatest killer of children in Africa and the second biggest killer of children globally, why is water and sanitation one of DfID’s smallest investment portfolios? We need an answer to that question.

Why is DfID not leading by example? What are the prospects for greater investment and ambition? Is DfID considering the need to extend its work into new countries where there are great needs, and in particular the need to increase efforts in south Asia? This House requires answers to these questions and a firm commitment by the Government to improve on the record so far by showing that there is clear understanding of the importance of safe water and, especially, the importance of the neglected priority for the provision of functioning toilets in developing countries.

This debate has been about the multidimensional nature of the priority that we attach to water, sanitation and hygiene. There is a huge repercussive effect for women and girls, for tackling poverty and for supporting human development. Sanitation and clean water are without doubt the most cost-effective of all public health interventions in terms of saving lives, reducing the burden of disease and improving economic productivity and growth. We therefore need to know why, when water and sanitation are so central to meeting the millennium development goals, there is such a shortfall by this Government in money and in action. Global aid has risen but water and sanitation as a share of global aid have actually fallen in the UK. When 780 million people do not have adequate sanitation, it is surely time to act and deal with what the UN has called “a pervasive benign neglect”.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells on securing this debate during the week when we are commemorating World Water Day. His contribution and indeed those of all noble Lords participating this evening demonstrate our shared concern for an important issue that is central to the health and well-being of poor people in developing countries, particularly young children.

Several noble Lords have made reference to various statistics and facts to underpin the points that they have made. I will repeat some of them because they are worthy of repetition. The human and economic impact of inadequate access to water and sanitation is devastating. Some 4,000 children die every day from diarrhoeal diseases. That is an astonishing figure. On average, women in rural Africa spend one-quarter of their day fetching water, with girls sometimes being kept out of school by this onerous task. We have heard several references to the impact of the lack of safe water, particularly sanitation, on women and young girls. My noble friend Lady Jenkin was particularly compelling in her illustration of the risks put in front of young girls who do not have the benefit of sanitation.

The economic costs of inadequate access to water and sanitation are high. We estimate it is between 1 per cent and 9 per cent of countries’ gross domestic product. Other noble Lords have made interesting points in the context of the economic data. My noble friend Lord Chidgey was most interesting when he drew a comparison in India to the proliferation of mobile phones and the contrast with investment in safe water. Likewise, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, drew a stark contrast between the loss of labour hours in sub-Saharan Africa equating to a full year’s work by the French workforce. That was quite astonishing.

As many noble Lords have said, the millennium development goal on water has been met, and this is an extraordinary achievement, which is proof that well spent aid can make a real difference to the lives of the world’s poorest people. However, we have also heard that there are disparities in achieving that goal. Some countries are a long way off meeting it. If I may respond to a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about the measure used in meeting that goal, it is worth saying that the Joint Monitoring Programme measures use of improved water sources and adequate sanitation. So if facilities are not functioning properly, they will not be counted as providing access.

As we have heard, it remains the case that 783 million people are without access to clean water and an astonishing 2.5 billion people are without access to basic sanitation. This was a point made by the right reverend Prelate and many others. Clearly it is a long way from being met and the fact that we have a long way to go is reason enough for this to be an important issue that needs to be addressed. If this were not enough, climate change will make managing scarce water resources harder. The evidence is there as to why improving access to water and sanitation remains a priority for this and previous UK Governments. I pay tribute to the previous Government for their achievements, efforts and commitment in this area. Since coming to power, this coalition Government have set new, specific targets for our 14 bilateral aid programmes. This builds on the work of the previous Government. By 2015, we will ensure that: 15 million more people will have access to clean drinking water; 25 million more people will have access to improved sanitation facilities; and 15 million more people will have been taught about the importance of good hygiene.

However, it is not only in bilateral aid that we invest money to improve access to safe water and sanitation. We also support sustainable water and sanitation services for over 1 million poor people using the local private sector in 12 countries including Bangladesh, Kenya, Mozambique and Rwanda. These programmes support local entrepreneurs to develop and market low-cost latrines, or to construct and manage local piped water networks for the urban poor, another group of people that we have heard a lot about this evening. We provide support too, to civil society and some of our excellent British non-governmental organisations, including WaterAid, Tear Fund, Oxfam, and lesser-known organisations such as Practical Action, which my noble friend Lord Gardiner referred to. Each of these has proven their ability to reach the poor in large numbers. WaterAid’s work in Malawi is an example of what can be done. It has revived traditional approaches to composting latrines and introduced social marketing, with over 3,000 families benefiting as a result.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey asked what we were doing to build local capacity and ownership. He made the point that it is critically important, as well as providing finance to build infrastructure. In response, I can say that we work through national Governments wherever possible to develop capacity and build ownership. Our programmes combine technical assistance and infrastructure construction. That goes some way to answering one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, about making sure that this aid is sustainable and does not just address an immediate problem but can go on supporting a nation into the future.

The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, asked a very specific question about whether the UK supports the UN convention on transboundary water management. While the UK does not in any way object to the convention and sees it as potentially developmental, we do not currently see supporting it as a priority. However, I hope the noble Lord will be pleased to know that we support several major transboundary water projects, including the Nile Basin Initiative and the South Asia Water Initiative.

Since I am talking about other projects, this is probably the right point to respond to a question that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about Gaza and what the Government are doing to help the situation, which remains very difficult in that part of the world. We continue to call for the full implementation of the relaxation of access restrictions for Gaza, which Israel announced in June 2010, with robust monitoring for the entry of essential items on the dual-use list to allow for rehabilitation of the water network.

My noble friend Lord Roberts of Llandudno referred to 14,000 water purification units that were used some years ago. I do not have any specific information on data of that kind but NGOs, rather than the Government, would normally be the lead providers of water purification. While my noble friend is right to say that during the Kosovo crisis, NATO forces provided reverse osmosis equipment for local water purification use, at this time we would look to the NGOs to take the lead on this.

I say to my noble friend Lady Jenkin that we were not aware of the moringa tree but I will make sure that it is brought to the attention of my colleagues.

The Government are doing a great deal to improve access to water and sanitation. However, it is essential that we evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts and question whether more can and should be done—a specific point made by the right reverend Prelate. To that end and as part of our commitment to increasing accountability to all UK taxpayers, who have a right to know that we are achieving results from spending their money, we have recently conducted a full review of the UK Government’s portfolio of work in water, sanitation and hygiene promotion. We will publish the details of the review later this week to coincide with World Water Day, but I can inform your Lordships tonight that the review shows that our portfolio of programmes provides good value for money and is delivering positive results. Importantly, the review shows that our programmes are reaching the people who need them most. Last year, three-quarters of the money we spent through our country programmes was spent on basic systems such as rural water supply schemes, hand pumps and latrines, which are most likely to reach the poorest. This is a higher proportion than that achieved by almost any other donor. We are doing this in the countries with the greatest need. It goes without saying that the detailed evidence from the review will inform the Secretary of State and my other ministerial colleagues when they consider whether and how the UK Government could do more.

The right reverend Prelate made a specific point on this and asked whether we should increase our investment in water and sanitation. The UK Government are currently considering how we can scale up our results in water and sanitation on the basis of the evidence presented in the portfolio review. Any scaled-up finance can be only part of the answer. The latest Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-Water report shows that many countries are struggling to spend the allocated funding that they already receive. Strengthening government systems is also important. This is not just about more money going in but about making sure that the Governments in receipt of that money are in a position to use it.

As to the points made by other noble Lords, it is worth saying that although we have talked specifically about water and sanitation, through our commitment to projects under the headings of education, health or assisting other Governments, we do a lot to make an impact on the effects of lack of water and sanitation, and they have been referred to. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to what we were doing in Bihar, and my noble friend Lord Ahmad specifically asked about the disease trachoma. Projects in all such areas are being tackled, but through other programmes rather than in the safe water programme.

I am running out of time, but I conclude by saying that just as importantly as reviewing our own investments the Secretary of State will share the evidence from our portfolio review with other donor countries and Finance Ministers from developing countries when he attends the Sanitation and Water for All high-level meeting in Washington next month. As noble Lords will know, the UK and Dutch Governments were behind the Sanitation and Water for All initiative, and again I pay tribute to the previous Government because this initiative was started during their time in power. Through it, DfID has been seeking to secure better targeting of aid to the sanitation and water sectors as well as improved transparency and accountability from other donors and national Governments. The meeting next month will assess progress against past commitments and we expect that new commitments will be made. However, we do not want just new commitments to do more. If we are to ensure an equitable spread of access to safe water and to make much better progress in improving sanitation, we need better targeting of aid.

To conclude, it is an injustice that the lack of something as basic as clean water and sanitation should adversely affect the lives of millions. This Government remain committed to addressing this injustice that has the potential to undermine the achievement of a whole range of millennium development goals. To that end, we will make sure that what we do achieves the greatest impact, that we keep learning and refining our aid programmes, and that we share our knowledge and evidence with our partners, whereby together we can all do more.

My Lords, perhaps I may request that the Minister responds in writing to the points I raised in my presentation.

Of course—my apologies for not making it clear to the noble Baroness that I will follow up in writing. I regret that time was not available for me to respond orally this evening.

House adjourned at 9.56 pm.