Previous Section Index Home Page

1 May 2008 : Column 164WH—continued

We all have examples of the difficulties faced by water projects around the world. I have been to see the township outside Nairobi to which the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk referred. It is one of the worst slums in the world. Liquid sewage flows along the streets and in and out of the very
1 May 2008 : Column 165WH
meagre 1 or 2 sq yd mud huts that are back-to-back against each other. It is just appalling in this modern day and age that people have to live like that. One would have thought that the very least that could be done with a bit of international help is to provide some form of satisfactory sanitation system—even if that is all that could be done.

To illustrate the point that I made to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, when I went to Nigeria with the all-party group, we visited the community in Ido Sarki just outside the town of Kano in northern Nigeria. The international community—I am not quite sure which part of it—had gone to a great deal of trouble to install new wells and water pipes. However, corruption meant that the local contractor who did the job used sub-standard pipes—electricity conduit pipes. They are, of course, a totally different thing from proper water pipes. The contractor put them only 2 or 3 in below the surface so that they were smashed by the first vehicle to drive over them. In a matter of months, we found that that community was not using the brand new wells that had been installed and that it had gone back to using the old standpipe system. DFID’s reputation of revisiting projects where it has funded them and of making sure that they are maintained and still work is vital to the international community.

In dealing with my hon. Friend’s point about multilateral as opposed to unilateral delivery, the Committee has noted that in 2005-06, 37 per cent. of DFID’s budget on water was spent through unilateral agencies. That figure is to be increased—I take that to mean that the multilateral part is to expand. Perhaps the Minister will give us some insight into that, as it is particularly relevant to the Committee’s comments on the reduction of the strategic work force. The Government say:

Forget the English. The Government go on to say:

The Minister knows that I have raised that with him in other DFID debates—for example, in relation to AIDS I have asked whether there are enough central health advisers in DFID. I am concerned that with a rising budget, the number of advisers in London will not be sufficient adequately to supervise these large projects around the world. Inevitably, that will mean that a greater proportion of that larger budget has to be spent on multilateral rather than unilateral agencies.

Malcolm Bruce: Of course, the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. The Committee has also discussed that matter with DFID. Does he also acknowledge that if there is direct budget support, there is an opportunity to provide the expertise to the Government who are on the receiving end? I do not mean that DFID staff should be avoided, but such an approach would not put pressure on them and would provide the expertise where it is needed: in advising the Governments with whom DFID works in partnership in a way that does not add to the headcount for the Department.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman: it is expertise that is often required. If DFID is able to provide that, it would be fantastic.

1 May 2008 : Column 166WH

On good governance, DFID provides money to the Global Opportunities Fund to the tune of £100 million. Better governance is at the heart of delivering proper infrastructure to many of these countries. There is still a huge problem with how we deliver our aid and whether it is effective. Kurt Hoffman of the Shell Foundation told us last year that the international community has delivered $650 billion of aid to Africa in the last 20 years and yet, despite that, the average standard of living of the average African is worse today than it was 20 years ago. I am sure that the root of that is bad governance. It would be interesting to know how the Minister thinks the £100 million of the governance and transparency fund, referred to in the Government’s response, will help to deliver more water and sanitation infrastructure.

It is important to encourage better governance at a local and national level because some countries operate on a centralised basis and others are more devolved. It is particularly important to have transparent systems so that there can be parliamentary scrutiny in more countries. Ghana is a shining light in relation to that and has excellent Committees, like our International Development Committee, through which the Government can be held to account. That is a very important factor.

On a larger scale, the UK has established an £800 million international environmental transformation fund and there is a Global Environment Facility of £140 million over four years. That is an important Government initiative because it relates to climate change and environmental improvement. Surely, water and sanitation must be a big part of that. I would be grateful if the Minister told us how those big initiatives contribute to improved water and sanitation.

The Committee makes it clear, and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone mentioned, that around £90 million this year will rise to £200 million in 2008-09. However, he was right to say that that is a drop in a bucket—I think he said it is like putting farthings in a bucket. That figure is simply not adequate. The report states on pages 26-27, paragraph 71:

A big part of that infrastructure should be water and sanitation provision. Perhaps the Minister can tell us how far we are getting to that.

I should like to say something about a subject that has not yet been covered in the debate: food, MDG 1 and the need by the target year of 2015 to reduce by half the number of people starving. Of course, successful agriculture can play a major part in that. Part of that is effective use of irrigation in agriculture. The report makes the point that more attention should be paid to that issue and higher funding given to it. We in the west know very well—I declare my interest as a farmer—how to irrigate crops and we should use the considerable expertise in this country to help developing countries to develop their irrigation systems properly. Seventy per cent. of all water could be used for agricultural irrigation, and we are a long way short of producing the food that we need to produce.

1 May 2008 : Column 167WH

I had a very interesting discussion with a representative of Nestlé in my office. This is a different subject, but it is closely related to water. To produce 1 litre of biofuel requires 5,000 litres of water, so the world will have to review its policy on biofuels not only because they are pushing food prices up, but because a great deal of water is required to produce the crops for biofuels, which is adding to the problem.

Where do we go from here? The MDGs are extremely important, but some are in grave danger of being missed and some are in danger of being missed by an extremely long way. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone referred to the fact that the MDG on which we have been focusing will not be reached until 2070. Given that the life expectancy of men in Zimbabwe is only 37, it will take two generations to meet that development goal. That is too long. The world community must get together and see how it can contribute both in funding and in expertise, so that we can achieve in a much shorter time the MDGs and the targets that we have set ourselves.

The more I learn about the international development scene—I was involved in it only peripherally until I took on my current role—the more I see that certain countries, such as the UK, Japan, the Nordic countries and the United States, give very generously of their budgets, but that other countries have greatly expanding GDPs and could give a great deal more. We in the international development community need to engage those countries, some of which are in Asia and some in the middle east.

However, as the Chairman of the Committee said, it is not wish lists or the amount of money that we are devoting to these problems that we want to promote it is real action and real solutions. That is why I hope that the Chairman will encourage his Committee, perhaps as soon as next year, to return to this subject, in a follow-up report perhaps, to see what has been delivered by DFID and the international community in general, so that we can see how we are tackling some of the dreadful problems that are faced by sub-Saharan Africa in particular, but also by other parts of the world.

4.23 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I welcome the opportunity to debate the IDC’s report and to do so under your chairmanship, Mr. Bayley, given that, as the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) said, you have a long-standing interest in Africa and development issues more generally.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) in concluding the debate. I share his view that governance is the central problem that has constrained development in the past. It is why the Government continue to give as much attention as we do to governance in developing countries; why we made it the central feature of the 2006 White Paper, “Eliminating World Poverty: making governance work for the poor”; and why we established a £130 million fund on governance and transparency. I mention that partly because of his comments, but also because the beneficiaries of that fund have just been announced. I am sure that all hon. Members will be pleased to know that WaterAid, which does excellent work in this area alongside a series of
1 May 2008 : Column 168WH
other NGOs, has received from the fund a further £5 million for work on governance in water sectors around the world.

I also very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s comments on climate change. He is right to draw hon. Members’ attention to the crucial impact of climate change on access to water and to refer to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, in setting up an environmental transformation fund worth £800 million. We are seeking to ensure that that fund is aligned closely with funding from a range of other donors, so that there is not a proliferation of different funds to deal with climate change, causing various administrative difficulties for developing countries. We see a combined fund that focuses on clean technology, deforestation and helping countries to adapt to meet the challenges of climate change that they are having to face already. Work on water and sanitation will clearly be part of that.

I welcome the debate not least because it provides an opportunity for us to highlight the extent to which water and sanitation is a defining feature of poverty. I am thinking of the women and children toiling to collect water for their families and the unsanitary conditions in which so many people live, simply because they lack something as simple and basic as a toilet. The situation is truly shocking. At any given time, half the developing world is sick because of a water-related illness and half the hospital beds are taken up with patients who have water-related diseases. Inevitably, that adds up to lives of drudgery, indignity and missed opportunity, directly because of a lack of progress on water and sanitation.

As several hon. Members said, we are at a critical stage, not only for the water and sanitation MDGs, but for the MDGs more generally. That is why the Prime Minister talks of there being an MDG emergency and has sought, through the UN, to make 2008 a year of action on the MDGs. If we are to reach the MDGs on water and sanitation, we need to get water to an extra 300,000 people each day and better sanitation to an extra 450,000 people each day. Those are considerable challenges.

Mr. Cash: Does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea to encourage the World Service, and the BBC more generally, in that regard? We have a tendency in this country and certainly in this Parliament to talk to one another in a village, whether we are talking in this Chamber, on the Floor of the House or wherever. Silence outside gets us nowhere. We need to be able to get these messages out into the media, and I am sure that the Government would have a way of getting themselves on to World Service programmes and perhaps even the “Today” programme, if it would be prepared to listen. The real question is how we get our message outside, and we do not get it outside just by talking to one another in this place.

Mr. Thomas: We should not downplay the importance of Parliament as a vehicle for discussion. However, I suspect that I am expressing a view held by all hon. Members when I say that we would like the media to give even more serious attention to the debates that we have—not only the debates on the Floor of the House, but those in Westminster Hall.

Mr. Cash: What is the betting that this debate will not be recorded? Well, it is being recorded; the question is whether it gets put out.

1 May 2008 : Column 169WH

Mr. Thomas: No doubt BBC Parliament will have the opportunity to look at our proceedings in due course, which is helpful. The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that there will be a focus on the MDGs at a UN summit on 25 September this year, so there will be an opportunity for the world’s media, not just the BBC, to focus on progress that is being made towards meeting all the MDGs. The G8 meeting in July will provide a further opportunity for attention to be focused on the issues.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk made the appropriate point that we cannot make progress on a range of other millennium development goals if we do not make progress on water and sanitation. It is worth noting that, if we do not make that progress, not only are we not going to make progress on infant and child mortality, primary education and the empowerment of women, but we will not see the levels of economic growth that all of us recognise are essential if countries are to lift themselves out of poverty. For example, research suggests that Ethiopia’s growth is one third less than it could be because of its inability to manage its water resources appropriately. Climate change is likely to make that situation even worse.

My interest in the subject was first stimulated by my visiting Nepal in 2004, when I saw a village irrigation project in western Terai funded by the Department. That small-scale programme had irrigated some 33 hectares, but it helped to improve the livelihoods of the 550 people living in that village, many of whom had migrated to elsewhere in Nepal or into India to earn a living to sustain their families. That irrigation project was helping to raise agricultural production in the village—a key issue, given the current debate about food prices, which the hon. Member for Cotswold mentioned—and to enable those people who had migrated to spend more time in their community, much to their satisfaction.

In the context of the questions about corruption, which hon. Members are rightly interested in, at the entrance to that village was a board setting out where the funding for that irrigation project had come from and charting how much money had been put in by donors, such as ourselves. It said what that money had bought and showed the contribution of individual villagers to the work. Each investment by donors, individuals in the village and the Nepalese Government could be accounted for, helping to prevent corruption.

The IDC’s focus on water and sanitation was important and I have no doubt that it will return to the subject. We have published an update on our progress to date in implementing our policy on water. We have been reviewing that policy and are due to publish shortly a revised policy to help to influence us as we proceed.

Key to the IDC’s report and to ongoing policy will be the commitments that we made as part of the call to action on water and sanitation issued by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the former Secretary of State for International Development, which urged Governments and donors, including developing country Governments and developing country donors, to spend more money on this sector, make sure that those funds are wisely spent and, crucially, ensure that the right international systems are in place to help us make progress.

I acknowledge the criticisms made by the IDC, particularly in respect of sanitation. As the Government indicated in their response, it was right to say that the international community needed to give that matter
1 May 2008 : Column 170WH
more attention. As the hon. Member for Cotswold said, this is the year of sanitation and it provides an opportunity for all the donors to review what they have been doing.

The hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk asked whether we were on track to meet the commitment to double our spending on water in Africa, made in 2005 by my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State. I cannot give him the definitive answer on the sums that we have spent, but we are on track to meet that commitment.

Hon. Members throughout the House continue to call, quite rightly, for us to demonstrate what results our money has produced. I shall give two examples that are contained in the water action plan update. In Bangladesh, our funding for water and sanitation has helped 1 million people gain access to improved sanitation and helped nearly 400,000 gain access to safe water. In Nigeria, we provided latrines in schools for some 40,000 pupils and improved the water supply to some 650,000 people. We are committed to doubling our expenditure again by 2010-11 to some £200 million.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is one of my favourite members of the official Opposition. I am the last person to call him curmudgeonly, but his comment about £200 million being just a few farthings in a bucket did not do him justice. That sum is a significant contribution. We are contributing substantial sums, as other hon. Members have mentioned, to the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The World Bank spends approximately 9 per cent. of its expenditure in developing countries on helping to address issues to do with water and sanitation and the African Development Bank spends around 6 per cent. of its expenditure on that. We provide support to help to build the capacity of the ADB to do even more effective work in that area.

Mr. Cash: I was not being curmudgeonly; I was just taking a perspective view. We understand that it would cost some £10 billion to make a significant dent in the problem, although I am sure that even that figure will not be accurate. The international community—not specifically our country and our Government—is not stepping up to the plate.

I do not expect the Minister to answer every question that I ask, because I have asked quite a few, but perhaps he will be kind enough to ensure that his officials look at them and let me have a note in writing on the answers that I requested.

Mr. Thomas: I did not call the hon. Gentleman curmudgeonly—I would not dream of doing so. I just thought that he was in danger of allowing others to interpret his remarks as such. I genuinely encourage him, as chair of the all-party group on water and sanitation in the third world, which I commend, to visit developing countries to see some of the issues that he has raised. If he lets me know in advance, I will ensure that he has the chance to see programmes funded by multilateral organisations and, in particular, to see programmes funded by the European Commission, perhaps through the EU water facility, in the vain hope that his attitude to things European and, indeed, things multilateral may begin to change just a smidgeon.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister’s Department rightly takes credit when it says:

Next Section Index Home Page