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Drinking Water

3. Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): If he will make a statement on the efforts being made in co-operation with the international community to increase the availability of clean water in the developing world. [118379]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Ms Sally Keeble): One in five people currently lacks access to clean water worldwide. My Department is spending £87 million on bilateral programmes, focusing on improving water management and health education. We are also providing at least £40 million for multilateral initiatives to increase access to water.

Mr. Cunningham : Given the Government's commitment to humanitarian aid for Iraq, can the Minister tell me whether there is a time scale for the delivery of fresh water?

Ms Keeble: We have taken substantial steps, which my hon. Friend will be aware of, to ensure that we

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provide aid to Iraq. Extensive work, supported by us, has been undertaken to ensure that the power supplies, which were a real problem, were reconnected so that the people could get water. I believe that the water supplies are now getting back to pre-war levels.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): Given that 6,000 children die every day because of poor water supplies and poor sanitary conditions, and given that this week, reports from Oxfam, Care, and Save the Children have highlighted problems with the water supply to the children of Iraq, what will DFID do to deliver for those children?

Ms Keeble: I have already set out what we have done about the water supplies, and the steps that have been taken to reconnect the power to ensure that such supplies get through. We have also provided aid to several non-governmental organisations, including, I believe, UNICEF, to meet some of the needs of the children in Iraq. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to point out the connection between water and child health—a problem that affects not only children in Iraq but children world wide. Some 2 million children die each year, quite unnecessarily, from diarrhoea-related diseases, which are almost entirely due to poor water supplies. It is not just about the supply and management of water; hygiene and sanitation needs are absolutely crucial. That is one reason why we are putting so much effort into tackling the need to improve sanitation levels, as well as into tackling the worldwide shortage of clean water.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): My hon. Friend will be aware that the World Trade Organisation is currently discussing the liberalisation of services, including water distribution and supply. Does she agree that any negotiations must ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place to protect supplies to the poorest people in the world, and that the WTO should now adopt the millennium development goals?

Ms Keeble: My hon. Friend has set out some important issues in her question. It is entirely for Governments of individual countries to decide how to manage and organise their water supplies. Figures so far show that, by and large, virtually all the investment in water in the developing countries—about 68 per cent.—is in the public sector. Despite fears about the consequence of the liberalisation of water, comparatively little investment by the private sector in the developed world has taken place. When investment has been made, it has tended to be in management rather than infrastructure, about which most people are concerned. The main concern of the Department in increasing access to water is precisely to ensure that the most poor and marginalised people gain access to it. I can give my hon. Friend my complete assurance on that.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Minister will be aware that Malawi has plenty of water, but needs to improve its water management. On the other hand, throughout all sub-Saharan Africa, local villages and small communities need that help. Is it not a fact that DFID is not too happy about supplying funds to some of the non-governmental organisations working in

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those areas, because the sums that they are looking for are too small? I understand, for example, that £2 million to help an education, AIDS and water programme was considered too little.

Ms Keeble: I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If he wants to make specific points, I would be grateful if he would make them afterwards and I shall ensure that they are followed up. The Department's approach to water deals extensively with management and education programmes rather than infrastructure. Our experience would go against what the hon. Gentleman says. I shall ensure that he receives a detailed reply to any specific points that he wants to raise.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): It should come as no surprise to the Minister that hon. Members on both sides of the House are drawing her attention to the chronic problems of securing a clean water supply in Iraq. At the International Development Committee yesterday, non-governmental organisations warned that there are already clear signs that cholera, dysentery and diarrhoea are on the increase. According to the former Secretary of State, the Government ignored the need to keep basic humanitarian services running when they were planning for the war. Will the Department now launch an inquiry into why preparations were so poor?

Ms Keeble: The issue of the Department's preparations has been covered many times. The hon. Lady knows how much finance was provided to NGOs specifically to prepare for the eventualities of war. She also knows that much of the money went into making preparations to deal with refugees and displaced people, though, mercifully, that problem has not arisen. We are aware of several cases of cholera and other diseases on the basis of information supplied by the World Health Organisation and other organisations operating on the ground. We examine such information closely. Without wanting to sound complacent, we are aware of the health problems that can arise at this time of year in Iraq, and we are taking stringent steps to improve services, particularly water. I understand that both power and water supplies are more or less back to the position that obtained before the war.


4. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): If he will make a statement on aid to Cuba. [118380]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Ms Sally Keeble): DFID does not have a bilateral programme in Cuba. There is a £120,000 small grants scheme, administered by the Foreign Office, which supports civil society projects. The EU currently provides $12 million of aid, and the Commission is reconsidering its engagement with Cuba, in the light of the human rights crisis there.

Mr. Ben Chapman : While much progress needs to be made in Cuba, not least in the field of human rights, the island has started on the road to reform. I do not condone recent events, but demonstrable progress has been made in the past 20 years. Would not that be built

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on by facilitating entry to Cotonou and by the development of a bilateral aid programme? Is it an instance in which the broad policy of aid for the poorest prevents us from helping a country that is making progress in development?

Ms Keeble: I acknowledge the work that my hon. Friend has done to promote relations between this country and Cuba. However, the issue—especially in relation to the EU—rests very much with Cuba itself. As he may know, it was Cuba that withdrew its application to join the African, Caribbean and Pacific group. We are currently supporting civil society, and the Cuba initiative deals with non-aid relations. It is for Cuba to deal with the human rights abuses and to reapply, perhaps at some future stage, to join the ACP group.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): Would not the most important thing that we could do to help the people of Cuba be to use our newfound influence with the American Administration to persuade them to drop their trade and diplomatic embargo on that island—an embargo that should now be consigned to the dustbin of history? Would not that be the best way to ensure that the people of Cuba could look forward to the prosperity and stability that they so richly deserve?

Ms Keeble: If we are talking about aid from Europe, it is important that Cuba deals with the human rights abuses. A major project involving EU technical assistance is coming up on 26 June and, at present, the focus is very much on that. It would be a major step towards tackling some of the financial and banking issues on the island. One would hope that once the situation improved, the country could rejoin the international development community.

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is too much noise in the Chamber. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I thank all those who cheered. Perhaps they will now be quiet.

Occupied Territories

5. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore): If he will make a statement on humanitarian needs in the west bank and Gaza. [118381]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Hilary Benn): Two and a half years of violence and closure have caused rapid economic and social decline. Many families have endured long periods without work or income, and many Palestinians now depend on food aid for their daily survival. Humanitarian assistance is helping to alleviate immediate suffering, but only a just political settlement will resolve the situation.

Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the Minister for that answer, but one of the areas that is often overlooked is the issue of the new security fence. A World Bank report has shown that as many as 10,000 people have already been affected by disruption to water supplies and agricultural land. Some 95,000 Palestinians will be affected by the time the wall is completed. Will he please

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turn his attention to the humanitarian needs of those people who, once again, face dispossession in their own land?

Hilary Benn: My hon. Friend is right. The building of the fence is a symptom of the problem. It is estimated that it will leave 290,000 Palestinians on the wrong side and will cut communities in two and separate people from their livelihoods. That reinforces the point that I made earlier: only a political solution will deal with the problems that the Palestinian people are experiencing.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): I welcome the Minister back to this brief, but I wish to place on record the fact that we would have liked the Secretary of State to be a Member of this House. However, I congratulate him on his promotion.

The real progress now being made on the road map for peace in the middle east has taken Ariel Sharon and Abu Mazen to positions that their supporters might never have imagined being achieved. We need to support those who share the common ground of wanting peace against the extremists on both sides who would like to derail it. Does the Minister agree that the Government must do all in their power to buttress that delicate process, and that our aid must strengthen the negotiators' fragile position?

Hilary Benn: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind words—not least because they give me the opportunity to congratulate my noble Friend Baroness Amos on her much-deserved appointment to the post of Secretary of State. We are looking forward to working with her. I agree with the hon. Lady when she talks about the importance of supporting the road map process. As I am sure she will recognise, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has played a very significant role in supporting that work, as has President Bush.

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