Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure the availability, and sustainable management, of water in developing countries.
My Lords, first, I thank all those noble Lords who are taking part, including the Minister, in a debate on what I consider to be a very important issue.
Water is the source of life. The value of water to the developing world is more than that of all its minerals put together—the gold, diamonds, uranium and copper, et cetera. Meanwhile, two-thirds of the world’s population live with water scarcity for at least one month of the year, and 1.8 billion people suffer from water scarcity for at least six months of the year. Probably the most terrifying fact is that 500 million people live in parts of the world where the water abstraction is more than twice the annual recharge rate.
Of the 7 billion-plus people in the world, nearly 6 billion have access to a mobile phone, while only 4.5 billion have access to a working toilet. Lack of access to clean and safe water kills a child every 20 seconds. Additionally, water availability is inextricably linked to food production and a healthy environment. Nothing grows without water. As the population increases, more food is needed, requiring yet more water for agriculture. The growing urban population also needs water for consumption. A complex trade-off is emerging in many countries and regions.
We now have problems, and they can only get worse. We have a demographic time-bomb already exploding. For instance, the population of the Sahel region of Africa has grown by more than 100 million in the last 10 years and is likely to continue to grow at that rate for the next three or four decades. There is less and less rainfall in the region, and already the soil is degrading faster than we can control. Meanwhile, the situation in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where more than 1 billion people live, is not much better. In India alone they are extracting from their aquifers 100 cubic kilometres of water more than the recharge rate. Some agricultural areas of China, and even of the USA, have similar problems. According to a UN study, 50 million people will be forced to leave their homes over the next 10 years because of drought and land degradation.
By 2050, 75% of the world’s population will live in urban areas, and we will have to supply them with enough water and provide suitable sanitation to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases. Again according to the UN, even today, half the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases. In the developing world, more than 80% of waste water is discharged untreated into rivers or the sea, and life is becoming extinct in parts of rivers in many countries. Water of poor quality cannot be used as a resource for wildlife, humans or agriculture. Some rivers are also littered with floating plastic waste that will probably eventually find its way into our oceans or the human food chain.
Meanwhile, hydro power is failing due to water shortages in places as diverse as Venezuela, Italy and California. This can only lead to more coal-fired power stations, which not only damage our climate but—a little-known fact—account for 7% of global water consumption, lost mostly through cooling towers. In other words, coal-fired plants consume enough water to supply 1.2 billion people.
There are many other doom-laded statistics about water problems between now and 2050, and if only half or fewer prove correct, it is likely that humanity, our environment and our planet will face a challenge never seen before. We have 20 years to prevent this looming water crisis, and the World Bank and the World Water Council believe that it will need an investment of some $600 billion per annum.
The World Water Council is clear:
“There is a water crisis today. But the crisis is not about having too little water to satisfy our needs. It is a crisis of managing water so badly that billions of people—and the environment—badly suffer”.
So what can we in the UK do to make a difference? First, we have some of the best hydrological research institutions in the world: the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the British Geological Survey and several universities with world-calibre research facilities. I should at this point declare an interest as chair of the CEH advisory council. Our organisations can do more than most to inform the debate around the world over the best sustainable management of the rivers, lakes and aquifers of the developing world. While their expertise is desperately needed to deal with the already glaring problems throughout India and eastern Asia, I suggest that the greatest long-term gain will come from focusing on the sustainable management of water in sub-Saharan Africa—before the real problems arise.
The people of sub-Saharan Africa use some 3% of their rainfall, 2% being used by agriculture. This is a tiny percentage. In the Middle East and far eastern countries, figures of 40% to 50% are not unusual. Most of Africa’s rainfall washes off and disappears downstream and out to sea. So above all, the UK needs to help with community-based capture and storage—and I stress the community base. Large reservoirs have their place but, quite apart from the social and environmental problems associated with such schemes, the distances in Africa are so great that moving water to where it is needed becomes a problem and a drain on energy. It is worth noting, for instance, that the state of California uses 19% of its total energy budget to transport water over long distances to meet the needs of its people.
The UK also needs to help African agriculture with the practical introduction of drip irrigation, including underground pipes, to ensure minimum wastage. We must never forget that 40% of the world’s food comes from the 20% of its agricultural land that is irrigated. Efficient irrigation is vital to feeding the continent of Africa from its own resources.
We also need to help with the sustainable use of shallow aquifers. We should support village boreholes, where the water is shared by farmers and households alike— always providing that the extraction rate is less than the recharge rate; again, we can help with the facts. It is believed that Africa has an amazing number of underground aquifers that are currently untapped. But we can also now help to recharge these aquifers by pumping surplus clean water underground during the rainy season. As a storage facility, an aquifer is better than a reservoir because it has minimal evaporation.
Above all—and this is the trickiest area—we need to improve the long-term governance of water. Management of water resources needs to be rooted in shared data describing how much water is available in space and time. Again, the UK institutes lead the world in designing hydro-meteorological monitoring networks and the tools required to make full use of the information derived. What is the recharge rate of your local aquifer? On a river such as the Nile, with nine riparian states, what is the optimum sustainable abstraction rate for wildlife and humans in each country?
It is said that the great early civilisations of the world, such as Babylon and Egypt, developed because local tribes got together to discuss the annual management of water, and then went on from there. We need to encourage such long-term planning—and local planning as well—rather than imposing our own solutions, although our researchers should definitely be informing the debate. The Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom called it a “polycentric system of governance” where, from an international perspective, down through a national perspective, to a village perspective, everyone gets involved in the decision-making process to ensure that everyone’s grandchildren will have enough water to live and flourish. It creates just the sort of long-term thinking that Africa really needs.
I will end there. This is an issue of immense importance to the future of our planet and I believe that we in the UK have an important role in finding and promoting the best sustainable solutions.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, for initiating this very important debate. Shortage of water in developing countries gives rise to so many problems. Very briefly, I just want to mention one: the devastating situation in countries such as Nepal. The lack of adequate water and sanitation leads of course to all sorts of diseases, but it also leads to the great risk to the people there of sexual harassment, abuse, violence and even death. There are so few indoor lavatories that people have to use the neighbouring fields, where they are frequently attacked—especially the women—and often raped or killed.
Adequate water supply and indoor lavatories are absolutely essential. This was brought to my attention when I visited Kathmandu in Nepal. I took part in my first street demonstration—I had never done this before—walking round, holding up placards advocating indoor loos, and I was accompanied by 1,000 Nepali ladies. So that was my first demonstration—I must go and repeat it. We desperately need, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, has suggested, a worldwide campaign to tackle this problem and to manage the available resources. There is probably plenty of water but it is just being mismanaged. I again thank the noble Lord for bringing to our attention this important issue.
My Lords, I am also delighted to join my noble friend in this debate on one of the most critical development goals which has an impact on all human existence. I expected him to draw on his wide knowledge of agriculture here and abroad, and indeed he has, including a lot of technical advice, which we should be grateful for.
Clean water is not only fundamental to life, it is the foundation of any sustainable livelihood. It touches every vital human activity. I am surprised it is not designated higher in the batting order than SDG 6. In the drought of 1976, most of us—or some of us—remember the threat posed by one dry season, but it was only one. Millions in sub-Saharan Africa experience drought year after year and have to learn how to contain and save water. In the Sahel, people rely for months on seasonal lakes and are dependent on dry land crops such as millet and sorghum. With luck, they can afford a pump to grow a cash crop such as tomatoes or onions.
On top of this scene has come climate change and rising temperatures. We in the UK and the USA have a surplus of water. Again, we can have hardly an inkling of what higher temperatures can mean to so many people overseas. It is no use saying that people are acclimatised there: with climate change, that is exactly what they are not because it hits hardest those who are already hit. Mitigation in the form of emissions targets, for example, is not primarily their responsibility but ours. There is no doubt that poverty of resources hits sub-Saharan Africa hardest of all. We have already heard a lot of helpful statistics but I ask noble Lords to imagine the following: over a third of schools worldwide have no access to clean water; over half of schools in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to clean water; and 42% of healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to clean water. All this leads to migration out of Africa—a subject which we will need to study very closely in the future.
I have been lucky to travel throughout Africa and Asia on behalf of Christian Aid and other aid agencies. The Churches have had an enormous impact in this sector. Still fresh in my mind are the wells dug by the Catholic Church among the Dogon community in Mali and similar projects of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches elsewhere in Africa.
I noted that Jeremy Lefroy MP recently mentioned a Protestant Church water programme in Tanzania managed by his wife. The beneficial effects of these projects are startling. As an executive committee member of the IPU, I urge other parliamentarians to sign up for these visits to see that for themselves. However, some projects in sub-Saharan Africa do not work. The pumps may break down and there is no maintenance or follow-up. Not long ago, the Minister may remember that I served on an EU sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, which discussed EU-supported water and sanitation projects. The evidence was that only about half of the projects audited were sustainable, or had the potential for sustainability. Does the Minister know what the equivalent figure is for DfID projects?
A country I visit regularly is Nepal, where over half the population still have no access to proper sanitation, as we have heard. Every year, 600 children under five die from diarrhoeal diseases caused by dirty water and poor sanitation. This accounts for a third of all child deaths overall in Nepal, which presents a tremendous challenge for the new Government there.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl, failed to mention that I stood beside him on the memorable women’s march and rally in support of the famous WASH campaign. The campaign was supported by WaterAid, which offers the following two examples of its work in Nepal. In a remote village, 14 year-old Radha crouches and waits for a friend to bring her water. She is not allowed to touch anyone. For the seven days of her menstruation, she is forbidden to collect water as she is seen as “unclean” and some believe that she is possessed by a spirit. Projects that deliver safe water and sanitation to remote communities need to address such taboos through education and the provision of safe, private toilets so that every girl has the chance to grow up and achieve her ambitions. Dambar, aged 67, lives high on a terraced hill. She used to walk long distances four times a day to fetch water for her family. One day she slipped and broke both her hands. Now her daughter-in-law collects the water but is worried that the same thing might happen to her on these perilous journeys. Women and girls can spend up to six hours a day collecting water in these conditions—a task that not only puts them at risk but leaves them with little time to attend school or work. This is an important point: so much of daily life is shortened by such huge domestic burdens.
My noble friend Lord Slim, who served with the Gurkhas for years, points out that an additional cost of providing sanitation in the hills is that of preventing streams contaminating villages further down the valley. I have visited the Gurkha Welfare Trust, which has long supported the hill communities in which the Gurkha veterans live. Its rural water and sanitation programme brings safe drinking water and hygiene to villages throughout Nepal, while its school programme undertakes to build and repair schools as part of its commitment to develop rural educational facilities. The Minister will know that DfID is also behind part of this programme, which I am hoping to visit again this year.
I am pleased that the CDC sent us a briefing for this debate, and especially that it has announced support for feasibility studies for energy and water-saving measures. These studies, it says, are to be followed by low-cost loans to achieve the planned resource efficiency gains. I am absolutely with my noble friend Lord Cameron when he says that community projects are becoming much more of a priority. We will have to see how the considerably larger CDC, now alongside DfID, can adapt its programmes to achieve sustainability and to meet the needs of the very poor, which it has undertaken to do. MPs should also go out and see what they are doing.
I mentioned earlier that water deserves a higher priority among the SDGs. Given the relationship between access to water and sanitation and education, health and gender equality, will the Minister confirm that water and sanitation will be included and fully integrated into the department’s upcoming thematic vision documents on those other SDGs?
Given that less than 2% of the UK’s bilateral ODA is invested in water and sanitation, will the Government make plans to increase their bilateral aid budget on water and sanitation to bring the UK in line with other countries? Some countries have a very much higher percentage.
I am an admirer of the work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. Will the Government be implementing the ICAI’s recommendations, including putting in place the necessary sustainability checks to ensure that water services are still working 10 years down the line?
Finally, as a global leader in this sector, will the Government use their influence to raise what they call their global ambition on the availability of water in multilateral institutions, and in particular at the upcoming high-level political forum in July?
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on securing this important debate. I will take the opportunity to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord McColl, who has shown over many years a real interest in the impoverished and in those suffering illness in countries all over the world. I have travelled with him twice, including to Sierra Leone, and have seen for myself the contribution he makes not only in the visit but in following it up later. So I am very pleased to follow him and I stand, literally, in his stead.
I will speak briefly about an important private trust, the Busoga Trust—Busoga being a province in Uganda. It was formed in 1982, and I pay tribute to those in the Anglican Church in the United Kingdom who founded it to raise money specifically to ameliorate the tremendous hardship that families experience—particularly in Uganda but obviously in sub-Saharan Africa generally—in accessing clean water. It has been a great success over many years. I had the honour of serving as chairman of the trust for 10 years—no longer, but I am very anxious to support it.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the group of clerics and members of the congregation of Saint Michael’s Church, Chester Square, for launching the most excellent initiative of trying to provide clean water supplies in Uganda. I will say a few words about what effect that has had. I pay tribute to Bishop Cyprian, who not only saw the blindingly obvious need but gave religious support and, more importantly, money and help on the ground. It has been a tremendous success.
The first bore-hole for clean water was drilled in 1984—so the charity has been around for some considerable time. Those who have visited sub-Saharan Africa, and in particular Uganda, will know that a bore-hole drilled and then bricked is one of the many ways in which very clean water can be delivered to remote villages in the countryside. It takes technical effort to drill down to create a bore-hole and then to maintain it. Children walk miles to a water hole from remote villages and then carry the water back on either their head or their shoulders. I have seen that happen many times. I appreciate the importance for them of not only this charity and many other charities like it but of clean water. You often see these wells next to a dirty mudhole where cattle have been drinking, so it is heartening to see for the first time a well with clean water, which is then carried back perhaps many miles to families who will not suffer irreparable damage from illness. So the impact on local life in sub-Saharan Africa—not just in Uganda—of providing clean water is extremely important.
I pay tribute and put on record my thanks and, I know, the thanks of the other trustees, particularly the director, to Johnson and Josephine. Incidentally, I say to my noble friend the Minister, who is a great champion of trying to bring relief to Africa in particular but also to many other countries—he has travelled widely—that I hope he will find time to drop in on a reception that I am hosting in the House of Lords. I have asked Johnson, our Africa manager, to come, and I am sure that he would appreciate just a few minutes of the Minister’s time in order to explain what he is doing.
In 2000, 100 wells were dug by the Busoga Trust. There are now 2,500 wells—90% of them working, I am glad to say—and 50 locally recruited staff. However, a change came about a number of years ago when DfID decided to make grants directly to the Government of Uganda, rather than make specific grants to charities. I make no complaint about that; I just note that now the Government are directly responsible for commissioning wells, and the role of trusts such as the Busoga Trust and other charities is to maintain them.
Maintaining these wells is as important as the original construction. If you do not maintain them, the water does not remain purified and can create and prolong illnesses. Therefore, although DfID no longer provides grants directly to charities such as the Busoga Trust and the Government in Uganda are paying for the construction of the wells, their maintenance to guarantee the provision of fresh water is just as important as the original construction. Our charity continues to pay staff to travel round on motorbikes to the 2,000-odd wells that it has been responsible for creating over many years. That maintenance is so important because, if the wells are not maintained, illness inevitably follows.
Therefore, I hope very much that the Minister will take up my invitation to meet the member of staff who is coming over from Uganda so that he can pass on fresh information about the work of this trust in what is still, in many ways, a very distressed part of sub-Saharan Africa.
I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for introducing this vital issue. The timeframe is pressing and getting shorter. It is wonderful to hear the testimony of colleagues about Nepal and the inspiring story of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, on what can be done with commitment. However, it is the scale of the problem that we have to mark.
Clearly, water is basic not only to life but to health. Many of us now carry bottles of water because we know it is good for our health. Lack of water causes droughts, which cause death; too much water causes devastating floods; and untreated water causes death and disease on a vast scale across the world. So how we talk about water, and how as a country we contribute to the global management of water, is a mark of how civilised our world can be and the role we can play in a civilisation that takes seriously how basic good water is for human life.
I shall talk briefly about two areas. The first obvious area is how we can intervene when there is a crisis and a shortage of water. In doing research for this debate I was delighted to find that, within a few miles of where I live in Derbyshire, in the small town of Wirksworth the rotary club set up a scheme called Aquabox, which has sent to disaster areas over 100,000 boxes containing hydration units, education materials and cooking utensils. It is an amazing local charity, which received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2016. This shows, as in the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that we can make interventions. My question to the Minister is: how can all those small, passionate efforts be gathered up strategically to contribute not only to staving off disasters but to building creative steps to put things right in the long term and not just plugging the gaps, if I can use that terrible metaphor in a debate about water?
In addition to responding to disasters, the second area concerns the lack of an infrastructure to provide proper water for so many of our brothers and sisters. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and others have said, the statistics of the number of people who lack access to proper water and sanitation, who suffer from the results of contamination and who have to go miles and spend many hours to collect water are horrific, as is the sheer vulnerability of the women and girls who carry the water.
I want to ask a number of questions about big players such as DfID. In terms of DfID’s strategic operation, to what extent can the long-term provision of a proper infrastructure to provide good water be built in to the grants given to areas for development? All the evidence shows that if we do not do that, however much money we put into education, other forms of healthcare, malaria control and so on, if the basic infrastructure for water to provide a quality of life is not there, it is a dubious investment. There will be short-term gains but, in the long term, disease will keep coming and people will struggle.
What leverage do DfID and people like the Minister have, when we are negotiating to give aid and to join in partnerships with aid agencies, to make the provision of long-term infrastructure for good water a part of the deal? Otherwise a great deal of our investment will be far more short term than we hope.
On a similar track, I should say that I am proud of our amazing aid budget and I congratulate the Government on maintaining the percentage. As we decide on how to invest that budget, how can we build into our aid programmes a challenge to the kind of culture that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about, where people are expected to sort this out locally and get by? One of the problems with water supplies is that we expect the local people to sort them out and get by. They do that by travelling to fetch water and by losing many of their children at young ages to disease. But that is getting by in an uncivilised way. If we can make targeted and strategic investments into a culture that would allow this kind of development to happen locally through investment in infrastructure, we might begin to make some progress. I turn to the third area: DfID often carries out development in partnership with business enterprises. To what extent can they be challenged to push this issue up the agenda through how we work on development as a Government?
I want to make two more brief points. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that what is key is the development of appropriate technologies. We have some marvellous research and technological wisdom in this country and through other countries we partner with. That needs to be part of the planning equation and the crafting of the strategy equation. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that for us. Lastly, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, we have a number of levers in terms of international co-operation. Water knows no borders and so it has to be managed politically as well as practically. It would be interesting if the Minister could share with us the role of the Government, especially through DfID but also in terms of other foreign policy relations, in how they approach the political importance of the management of water and what kind of aspirations DfID may have to see that within its portfolio?
My Lords, I would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for raising this important debate, and I welcome his opening remarks.
It is not set out in my register of interests as there is no need for me to do so, but I would like to bring to your Lordships’ attention that I work with WaterAid, mainly fundraising, and have arranged a number of events with the organisation, of which more in a minute or two. This debate is perfectly timed to assist me in that regard. I will not take your Lordships’ time in overpraising WaterAid as I believe that anyone interested in this area will be aware of the amazing and wonderful work it does, largely funded by the great generosity of the UK public, corporations and government.
Clean water is absolutely vital for people to break free from poverty, unlock their potential and change their lives for good. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, gave us some helpful statistics on that. We live in a world where one in 10 people are still without access to this basic essential.
The daily task of collecting water dominates the lives of millions, especially those of young girls, who are often responsible for collecting water—in fact, in nearly three-quarters of households in developing countries. Often walking long distances, girls can spend up to six hours a day collecting water, leaving little or no time to go to school, and they often miss out on their education completely. Carried on their heads, the UN Development Programme estimates that the weight of this water to be around 20 kilograms, which is about as heavy as a suitcase.
The lack of access to clean water also has a devastating impact on children’s health. Every year, 289,000 children under the age of five die due to diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and sanitation, which is more than one child every two minutes.
This is not to say that progress has not been made, because it has. The UK Government have done some incredible work, reaching 63 million people with access to water and sanitation between 2010 and 2015. However, more can always be achieved. I was very pleased to see within DfID’s single departmental plan the specific objective at point 4.2 to:
“Support poor people get sustainable access to clean water and sanitation”.
According to the World Health Organization, 844 million people still lack even a basic drinking water service and 263 million people spend more than 30 minutes per round trip to get to water. Despite the UK Government’s commitments, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned, only 2% of the UK’s bilateral aid budget is invested in water and sanitation. In my opinion, this is not nearly enough. Ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water in developing countries is absolutely essential, and the UK Government should commit more resources to this. Investing in access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene is one of the most cost-effective uses of the UK’s aid budget, with every £1 spent returning an average of £4 in productivity improvements. That is an impressive statistic.
To be clear, I believe the UK’s aid budget is by any standard very generous. At 0.7% of the UK’s GDP—some £13 billion—no one could say we are not doing our bit. To put this in perspective, it is more than 10% of the entire budget that we spend on the NHS in England. We want to see this aid spent carefully—hence the suggestion to focus on water, which is something that both the public and Parliament could get behind.
One small point: communities often struggle to keep services working on their own. As a result, water services often stop later down the line. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact has called on DfID to adopt sustainability checks, like USAID and the Dutch development agency do, so that water services installed will still be working even 10 years down the line.
On another matter, I understand that DfID is now working much more closely with the Foreign Office, even sharing Ministers, such as Alistair Burt. Our work helping others should receive greater recognition and we should not be in any way embarrassed about tying it into generating good will towards our country from developing countries so that they can see that flourishing capitalist market economies such as ours can be, should be and are a force for good in the world.
I also want to mention some global political aspects of water sustainability and how HM Government might help. I have been very impressed with the work of EcoPeace Middle East for some time now. Its focal programme, the Good Water Neighbors project, engages 25 communities throughout Israel, Palestine and Jordan in a united effort to rehabilitate the region’s shared water resources and to ensure that all benefit from the amazing new Israeli technologies—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said, UK technologies—in water desalination.
Yesterday in this Chamber, the Minister assured us that there is no question of any funds from the UK taxpayer going to support terrorists in prison, but rather that in Gaza,
“We also work through UNICEF on the ground, providing water and sanitation”.—[Official Report, 23/1/18; col. 941.]
May I encourage direct action in this area by HM Government? A recent UN report concluded that the Gaza Strip, in just five more years of further under- development, will be uninhabitable, with water, sanitation and energy issues of prime concern. This has dire implications not only for the Palestinian population of Gaza but for the region as a whole. As Lara Krasnostein, the science and innovation co-ordinator at the British embassy in Israel, has written, there are viable desalination solutions to this. I hope DfID might investigate how it might assist, using the best of UK expertise, to avoid a human and environmental tragedy.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Will he set out whether water and sanitation will be included and fully integrated into the Department for International Development’s upcoming thematic vision documents on gender and education? I share the concern of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that only 2% of the UK’s bilateral aid is spent on water. Will the Government implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, as I mentioned?
Finally, I mentioned that this debate is timely due to my connection with WaterAid. For a number of years, I have run a half-marathon for WaterAid, until last year when I needed a steroid injection in my discs. I had sworn to my family and friends—and doctor—not to do a half-marathon again, but DfID has forced me to change my mind. The offer of matched funding up to £5 million for WaterAid’s Untapped campaign to support its work in Sierra Leone and Mozambique, changing lives forever, has compelled me to reach for my trainers. I am now scheduled to do another half-marathon this very Sunday, with a target of some £50,000. My noble friend the Minister, who is one of the greatest fundraisers in this House for good causes—although over much tougher endurance tests—will be pleased to know that his department’s incentives for people to raise money do work.
My Lords, it has been a fascinating debate on a substance without which life on planet Earth would not be possible. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for bringing it to your Lordships’ House and for the informative way in which he introduced it—I certainly learned a lot not just from him but from contributions from other noble Lords. I am proud to associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, with respect to Gaza. I hope that the Minister will take up some of the suggestions made.
We have heard from across your Lordships’ House how access to clean water and hygienic disposal of human waste permeate every aspect of human health, affecting education, economies and livelihoods. We have also heard how competition for this increasingly scarce resource is affecting the environmental integrity and biodiversity of our world.
Without sound and sustainable management of water availability in developing countries, we cannot hope to achieve the global goals set out in the 17 SDGs. The World Wide Fund for Nature has sent a useful infographic showing how clean freshwater is linked to every one of the 17 SDG. It makes a powerful case for paying attention to the Chinese proverb: when you drink the water, remember the spring. The undeniable fact is that freshwater ecosystems are the source of almost all the water we use in cities and industry and about half the water we use to grow crops. Given that from an international development view there are profound implications of rivers and aquifers running dry, what is DfID doing to support improved water policy in countries where the need is greatest? I too was encouraged to receive a briefing from the CDC stating that over the next five years it has committed to reducing water consumption across its portfolio of companies, which is to be welcomed.
Water is indeed life, but for many of us in developed countries good water is so plentiful and readily available that we rarely pause to consider what life would be like without it. However, we know that for many of the world’s poorest, clean water, on tap, is a dream.
The challenges faced by developing countries have been spelled out by noble Lords, and they are many. I cannot hope to cover them all in the time available, so I shall focus the remainder of my remarks on three aspects of water, sanitation and hygiene—commonly known as WASH programmes—where I think DfID can make a real difference.
First, I want to talk about data, because the old adage that if you cannot measure it you cannot manage it holds firm in the context of WASH programmes. The primary recommendation to DfID in ICAI’s report of May 2016, entitled Assessing DFID’s Results in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, was to improve the measurement and reporting of the development impact of WASH programmes. While I wholeheartedly congratulate DfID on reaching 62.9 million people with vital WASH support between 2011 and 2015, I nevertheless put it to the Minister that the consequence of not collecting better data is that DfID does not have what it needs to assess whether WASH programming is maximising impact, particularly for vulnerable groups.
Secondly, I want to talk about the longer-term sustainability of WASH programmes, about which the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, spoke eloquently. The ICAI report was also critical of the fact that DfID measures only initial and not sustained access to its WASH programmes. We have no way of knowing how many of the 62.9 million people whom DfID had reached are still being reached today. This is a real weakness in the programme design. The situation has changed little since the National Audit Office report of 2003, which made a similar recommendation. Has DfID moved away from programmes designed to maximise reach to focus rather on longevity?
Thirdly, I want to talk about the impact of SDG 5 on women and girls, and the wider commitment to leave no one behind. When I managed to glean some evidence on human well-being, it showed that DfID’s WASH programmes have an enviable knock-on effect on the wider development goals. Here is a really good example. In Bangladesh, DfID spent £48.5m on the sanitation, hygiene and water supply project between 2007 and 2013, providing the poorest regions with arsenic-safe water, improved sanitation facilities and hygiene messages. A programme evaluation found that the project led to increases in school enrolment and reductions in dropout rates, particularly for girls. Because the fact is that without sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools, girls stop going to school when they start menstruation. Also, of course, the burden of collecting water is removed from them. It also showed that improvement in sanitation facilities led to a reduction in water-borne diseases: the diarrhoea rate for children under five fell from 11% to 5.1%. In other words, it more than halved in the target area, alongside reductions in parasitic worms, malaria and skin infections.
What a story—this is something to be really proud of. The ICAI report gives other examples where WASH programmes have shown impressive wider development impacts. So it is not surprising that ICAI lamented the fact that the data is not routinely collected at programme level, even when it is readily available. This is a real shame, because collecting this data would enable DfID to fine-tune its programmes in real time and better target investment towards the most vulnerable, such as women and girls, the elderly and people with disabilities. This is very important because of the SDGs’ commitment to leave no one behind.
There is growing recognition of the importance the WASH sector plays in tackling issues of gender violence. A DfID research programme, “Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity”—SHARE—has produced a toolkit on how to design WASH facilities so as to reduce vulnerability to violence. I hope that the Minister will confirm that this programme will be accompanied by robust monitoring arrangements to determine its effectiveness. While I welcome the difference DfID WASH programmes are making, I want to emphasise how much support the department would receive if it did more of it. The fact is that WASH programmes have a great deal of support among the public and they do not come under attack from the tabloids. It is a no-brainer. We do not need the World Health Organization to tell us that for every pound spent on WASH, an estimated £4 is returned in productivity. However, currently only 1.6% of DfID’s bilateral aid is invested in WASH programmes. The UN has identified this SDG as a key area facing funding shortfalls. I hope that DfID will consider increasing the amount that it gives to WASH programmes.
We have seen the positive knock-on effects of WASH programmes on other development goals—in other words, its prevention potential. There is a real case for not only increasing our contribution but encouraging others to do likewise.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for initiating this debate. Availability of clean water underpins human health, economies, livelihoods and cultures. We have heard about SDG 6, on managing water resources, but water management is vital for achieving other goals, especially those on hunger, energy, cities and peace. As we have heard, one in 10 people still live without access to clean water. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, more than half of schools and 42% of healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to clean water.
The availability and sustainable management of water in developing countries is essential to ending extreme poverty and building a healthier and more prosperous world. The high-level panel on water, convened by the UN Secretary-General and the president of the World Bank, has met four times. Its next report will focus on the UN General Assembly resolution on the international decade for action—from 2018 to 2028—on water for sustainable development. They see that resolution as a major vehicle for achieving SDG 6. I would be grateful if the Minister can tell us what steps the Government are taking to use their significant influence to raise the global ambition on the availability of water in multilateral institutions—especially the high-level panel. How are we going to get involved?
As we have heard, according to the UN, in 2015 ODA disbursements in the water sector totalled $8.6 billion, which represents an increase of 67% in real terms since 2005. However, since then it has remained relatively constant as a proportion of total ODA disbursements, at approximately 5%. It is clear that current rates of progress and levels of financing, including by the UK, will be insufficient to achieve universal access to water and sanitation by 2030, which is the target. As we have heard, the UK Government have done extremely positive work, reaching 60 million people with clean water and sanitation between 2010 and 2015. However, currently only 1.6% of the UK’s bilateral aid budget is spent on water and sanitation, compared with 10% by Japan and Korea. Are there plans to invest more than 2% of the UK’s bilateral aid budget on water? Are we determined to ensure that we do not fall behind others in this area? Given the relationship between access to water and sanitation and education, health and gender equality, will the Minister set out whether water and sanitation will be included in and fully integrated into DfID’s upcoming thematic vision documents on gender and education?
A lack of access to clean water has a devastating impact on people’s health, in particular that of children. One of the biggest killers of children under five is a lack of clean water, with a child dying every two minutes due to diarrhoea caused by poor water sanitation and hygiene. As the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, said, investment in access to safe drinking water and sanitation is extremely cost effective. Every £1 spent on improving access to water and sanitation has an estimated £4 return in productivity. It is also estimated that total global economic losses due to inadequate water supply and sanitation services is approximately $260 billion a year. To pick up the point that was made in the debate, ICAI has recommended that DfID adopt sustainability checks to ensure that water services installed are still working 10 years down the line, similar to USAID and the Dutch development agency. Sustainability is critical. What are the Government doing about implementing these recommendations?
As picked up by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, very low levels of irrigation in sub-Saharan Africa—about 4% of arable land—means that the vast majority of farmers depend on rainfall to water their crops. With climate change making weather patterns in Africa more erratic, this puts them in an increasingly vulnerable position. If rain arrives too early, late or not at all, entire growing seasons can be lost. For many of the poorest smallholders not already irrigating, the first step in developing the productive use of water is improving rainwater harvesting and storage. We heard from the report of the APPG chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, how on-farm ponds and other irrigation methods, such as shallow wells and using pumps, can make a real and substantial difference.
This morning I met Save the Children, which described the rapidly deteriorating situation in Somalia, with an unprecedented fourth failed rainy season in succession. Around $1.8 billion is needed in 2018 to provide support to 5.4 million people. Around 388,000 children are already acutely malnourished. This situation calls for immediate action. Last year we narrowly avoided what could have been a full-scale famine, if it had not been for DfID’s intervention and prompt action.
As we have heard in this debate, we need to build on the humanitarian infrastructure that has been put in place across health, nutrition, water and sanitation. The grim reality is that the cycle of drought, famine and poverty will continue to plague Somalia’s path to stability until we change the arcane rules governing historic debt. Humanitarian financing cannot exclusively be the answer. Ensuring the well-being of Somalia’s children requires long-term planning, institution building and critical investments in health, nutrition and education. I know the Minister is sympathetic to this cause. I urge him and the Government to use their influence to ensure that the World Bank exercises discretion in overlooking the country’s historic, unpayable, and now irrelevant, debt. I, too, welcome the CDC’s briefing for this debate. It is extremely welcome that it is now focusing on means to ensure that enterprise and farming can develop by the use of proper, sustainable support for water.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch recently visited Aponic Ltd, which has developed a vertical soil-less growing system that uses 90% less water than traditional agriculture, runs on rain water and solar power and does not emit harmful run-off into the environment. We should be spreading these innovations across the world and helping to install them in Africa to ensure that they change things and that we have a sustainable agricultural system throughout the world. I urge the Government to support such innovation.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for the way in which he introduced this fascinating and compelling debate, which has been full of insight. Many of the insights were drawn from noble Lords’ experience of seeing activities and projects on the ground.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, reminded us of what a precious commodity water is and about the importance of managing it carefully and of community-based solutions. My noble friend Lord McColl stressed the importance of safe sanitation, especially for girls. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about SDG 6 and climate change. My noble friend Lord Freeman spoke about faith organisations, particularly the Busoga Trust, and about the importance of maintaining things. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby spoke about the consideration which is given in wider infra- structure projects to the importance of the sustainability of water and of how we should engage more with small, passionate local organisations such as the one in his diocese.
My noble friend Lord Leigh spoke about the impact of water scarcity on education, particularly that of young girls. We all pay tribute to him and wish him well this Sunday as he embarks upon his half-marathon in support of WaterAid. He paid tribute to my fundraising efforts, but they were so good because he was such a good supporter. That was a very good plug to remind me that I can support him on his website, but it is also of course a great investment, because DfID will aid match the money given. We wish him well with that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, quoted that very poignant proverb—when we drink water, we must remember the spring—and talked about sustainability. She also stressed the importance of data. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, wound up the debate by reminding us of the importance of working at a high level within international, multilateral organisations and of the work of the high-level panel.
Ensuring that everyone has safe water and sanitation is one of the most important functions of all Governments. Every day, the lack of safe water and toilets means that nearly 1,000 children aged under five die from diarrhoea, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. Poor water and sanitation contribute to many neglected tropical diseases. It is women and girls who suffer most, as they must bear the burden of collecting water and place themselves at risk while having to find safe sanitation.
We were of course given an insight here about the passion of my noble friend Lord McColl not only in taking up the issue and supporting so many good causes but also in getting involved in direct action in Nepal and actually demanding change on the streets. The fact that he was joined by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, just shows that they have a better class of public demo in Nepal, with two Peers, including an Earl, among their number. It demonstrates the importance of the issue and their personal passion for it.
Investing in water and sanitation is good value for money, as so many noble Lords referenced. With each £1 of investment, there is a return of over £4. In many countries, the returns are even higher.
The world has made huge progress providing water and sanitation services. Between 1990 and 2015, 2.6 billion people gained access to improved water supplies, and 2.1 billion to improved sanitation. The UK played an important role in this by helping 64.5 million people gain access to these services between 2011 and 2015, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred to. Since 2015, we have helped nearly 30 million more people get access.
The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, spoke about the challenges the world faces in securing sufficient water to meet the needs of people, economies and the environment. The Water Resources Group in the International Finance Corporation estimates that water insecurity costs the global economy over £350 billion a year. But there is not enough investment in improving water governance and infrastructure. Indeed, it is estimated there is a shortfall of some £142 billion a year that we must address.
Through the water security programme, the UK Government are investing £51 million over six years to support improved management of water resources and are working with business to invest more to make water available for agriculture, industry and energy. The UK is also supporting a number of regional programmes to support better management of rivers that are shared by countries in Africa and Asia. For example, we are investing in the transboundary water management programme of the Southern African Development Community to help 3 million of the poorest people do more to cope with floods and drought.
Through research programmes funded by the Department for International Development and the Global Challenges Research Fund managed by the UK research councils, we are supporting ground-breaking research to improve knowledge on water resources and to improve their management. We are ensuring that our world-leading institutions such as the British Geological Survey, which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, referred to, are providing the answers African countries need so badly. They are helping to build the capacity of those countries to address these problems in the long term.
At this point, I also pay tribute to the work of the small charities we heard of, particularly of the Busoga Trust, which my noble friend Lord Freeman referred to. As a former member of the congregation of St Michael’s, Chester Square, I of course know of its work and am very impressed by it. I should say immediately that I am very happy to meet with it, not just at its reception but at any time with my noble friend in order to discuss how we can work with it more.
But more needs to be done. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was right to remind us of the call in the sustainable development goals for universal access to water and sanitation by 2030. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, was right to remind us of the knock-on effect that supporting that SDG has on other SDGs, be they on gender equality or education. Achieving this goal will require countries to invest much more of their own resources in water and sanitation. The UK Government will continue to work with countries to help to allocate and spend more money from their public budgets and attract finance from private investors.
My noble friend Lord Leigh asked about the allocation of the UK’s aid budget to water and sanitation. DfID supports water and sanitation projects in 29 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, spending nearly £185 million in the year 2015-16. We allocate the resources that are required to meet the results that we aim to achieve. As we know, many of these countries, such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are suffering from ongoing conflict. Our support will help to ensure sustained access to services by building the capability of Governments, businesses and charities, including faith-based organisations, to ensure that services can be sustained.
Several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Leigh, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked how DfID will implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Aid Impact’s review. I am pleased to say that DfID is fully addressing the recommendations of the ICAI review of DfID’s results in water and sanitation, and we will be responding to that fully.
On a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, we are collecting more data on the sustainability of services, and we will be commissioning an analysis to determine how many of the 64.5 million people whom we helped to get access have maintained it since 2015. We are collecting more data on the value for money of our programmes, working closely with all our partners to get better and more comprehensive figures. The UK Government also support programmes to improve the management of water services for agriculture, industry and cities. Our support is helping countries to make good decisions about developing and protecting their water resources, including ensuring that water services are resilient to climate change, which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to.
We know that new challenges are emerging. As the climate changes, so services are at greater risk of disruption and damage from floods and droughts. DfID has recently started a new £27 million programme to support the development of more resilient water and sanitation services in Africa and Asia, including through better catchment management and upgrading infrastructure—a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, referred us.
I shall address some of the specific questions that were put to me. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby asked about the long-term provision of functional infrastructure. DfID is working with partners and the private sector on strategies such as smart hand pumps and solar pumping stations to maximise the functionality of water points. DfID supports community-led total sanitation to ensure that the toilets that are built will last, with support from private sector improvements—for example, the Toilet Board Coalition. Community ownerships ensure that project management reflects cultural priorities.
The noble Earl asked about the involvement of church organisations and faith groups, and we heard of many examples during the debate. Faith groups make a very important contribution not just in raising funds but in delivering on the ground. DfID supports more than 25 faith groups, including more than 20 Christian-based faith groups. I have referred to the Busoga Trust, which I am happy to meet. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked about CDC. It is working on a new water and sanitation strategy, and DfID is engaging with it on this. The noble Baroness referred to leaving no one behind, and the data results methodology sets out clear requirements for DfID programmes to disaggregate on the people’s groups that are served by it, including by disability and gender.
The noble Lord, Lord McColl, asked about sanitation in Nepal. DfID’s programme in Nepal includes £19 million for rural and water sanitation for the poor, and it has funded work on reducing the risks of violence against women and girls related to poor sanitation and water access. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby asked about partnerships with business, and DfID considers the diverse range of business from individual entrepreneurs to multinationals. For example, as I have mentioned already, we engaged closely with the Toilet Board Coalition—a global business-like coalition to accelerate the scale-up of innovative solutions to sanitation.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked of the importance of promoting water in multinationals and internationally. DfID supports the sanitation and water for all initiative, which aims to improve the targeting of financial aid and human resources for water and sanitation provided by donors and developing countries. Being able to drink water and have a private and sanitary toilet are surely among some of the most basic needs that we take for granted.
I hope that the debate will demonstrate not only the importance of the issue but that Her Majesty’s Government, DfID and the UK taxpayer are working hard with our international partners in this area to ensure that we meet our international obligations through the SDGs to which we have referred, and continue to provide leadership and, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, ambition on an international stage to ensure that we get greater access and greater investments, and by doing so, we help to save lives and build livelihoods.