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Will the Minister say something about that initiative and whether it has been possible to encourage other donors in Europe to take a bigger part in the whole water and sanitation issue?

Mr. Thomas: There were concerns at the outset about how effective the EU water initiative and water facility would be. As a result of some concerns raised by NGOs, we funded a review of its work, alongside the Germans. Recommendations have been made and are being implemented to improve the next tranche of the water initiative’s impact. One of the changes is to ensure that we incentivise developing countries to do more themselves on tackling sanitation. Those recommendations have been discussed at official-level meetings in Brussels with other European partners to encourage the Commission to continue to make progress in getting how that initiative and facility works right, and to stimulate further interest in water and sanitation among other member states.

The right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) asked what progress we are making in Ethiopia. I cannot remember whether his visit was prior to the Government’s recent launch of a £75 million programme to increase access to water and sanitation, but that money will help the Department to work with local communities, for example, to train health workers to teach people about hygiene and to build the capacity to train health workers to do more. We are also building the capacity for Ethiopians to train their own hydrologists to manage water resources more generally. We are supporting at a strategic level the Ethiopian Government in developing their own universal access plan for getting water and sanitation to all their citizens. Joint memorandums of understanding have been established across the Ethiopian Government—for example, between Finance and Environment Ministries and, crucially, stakeholders outside Government in civil society and the private sector. Given that we have only just made the announcement, it is a little early to say how that is progressing, but the commitments in the response of the Ethiopian Government give us confidence that we will continue to make progress.

Malcolm Bruce: I am grateful for that helpful and up-to-date information. Are the Ethiopian Government maintaining their commitment to their original targets? We saw the capacity for extra resources to help to hit the targets, but they were to a tough schedule. Do the Ethiopian Government still have those tough targets?

Mr. Thomas: If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall have to write to him to answer that question. I should take this opportunity to confirm that the Government are committed, through the £75 million over five years, to supporting the Ethiopian Government in delivering water and sanitation to some 3 million people in 7,000 rural communities and 37 small towns. That gives some sense of the results that we are hoping
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to achieve with our resource. However, that is not the whole answer to his question, and I will try to get further information to him.

Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Cotswold, focused on the need for donors to do more on sanitation. The Government recently announced a £1.5 million contribution to the global sanitation fund. The fund, which was only recently established, is housed in the World Health Organisation. It is designed to look at what works best in promoting the use of toilets and hand washing. We want to use it to showcase best practice in-country, and then to build the lessons that it helps us to learn into the work that more generous and wide-ranging funding supports in water and sanitation programmes.

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Thomas: That may seem a small amount, but I should indicate that a number of other donors have contributed significantly more funding, and we expect the initial aspirations of those running the fund to be met. At the moment, we do not think that we need to put additional resources in. The fund is new and we need to watch it operate in practice, but we intend to engage those who manage the fund.

Mr. Cash: The Minister anticipated my point. The amount of finance did not seem like very much, but it might expand—let us hope that it does so rapidly. Will he be kind enough to consider my request—I hope that the Bathroom Manufacturers Association wants to take it up—to enter into discussions on how lavatories and other equipment could be provided at a cost that could be easily met in the countries concerned? There are practical questions; it is not simply a matter of putting money in to work out management schemes. The Government cannot provide lavatories if they do not have lavatories of the right kind and design at the right price.

Mr. Thomas: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s last point, but we need to do both things. We need to have systems in place, but we also need the equipment that the systems will provide.

Mr. Cash rose—

Mr. Thomas: Let me finish my response to the first intervention. I would be happy for the hon. Gentleman to bring in the organisation to which he referred to discuss the matter further.

On the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the fund, I can give him some further information. The Netherlands has given some $40 million, Sweden $7 million and Switzerland $1 million, so there is substantially more funding beyond our contribution. As I said, we are going to watch to see how effective the fund is. It is designed to generate lessons that can be incorporated into much bigger funded programmes by donors such as ourselves in Ethiopia, as I described, or by multilaterals.

I should like to say something on the progress on the “five ones”. On international reports, we are funding UN-Water to produce the first ever global monitoring report. It is working closely with the WHO and we expect the report to be published later in the summer. Secondly, we said that we wanted to see one high-level meeting each year, and the first will take place either at Accra in early September or at the margins of the UN Secretary-General’s meeting towards the end of September.
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We expect that to be resolved shortly. The three other “Ones” are country-specific and refer to the need for one plan, one sector co-ordinating group and one UN agency to be the lead. We are working closely with other donors to, and developing country Governments in, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh to establish one lead UN agency, and to ensure that donors work collectively behind one plan that the Governments are putting together. As I indicated, such a plan is in place in Ethiopia, and we are trying to galvanise donors to get behind it.

A number of Members referred to water resources management, as did the Committee’s report. The Government accept absolutely that we need to do more on the issue. We have stepped up our engagement on trans-boundary water management because, as a number of Members mentioned, there is considerable potential for water to be a force for co-operation at international level, but if we are not careful, it could exacerbate conflicts in a number of regions. We are supporting a number of regional initiatives to help those water resources to be managed effectively. Working, for example, with the World Bank, we have provided some £14 million to improve the management of the River Nile, working with the 10 countries in the area. That has helped to step up co-operation among the countries concerned to promote economic growth in such a way as to manage water resources. Crucially, a new legal agreement on the management of the River Nile is in the latter stages of finalisation.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister is being extremely generous in giving way. He may well be coming to the answer to this question. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) and I mentioned the UN convention on watercourses. I suspect that there are difficulties, which is why the Government have not ratified it. If he cannot answer today—I do not anticipate that he will necessarily be able to—will he send us a note about what the problems are with the treaty and why the UK has not ratified it?

Mr. Thomas: I intend to answer that question, but if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall first add one or two comments about other regional initiatives that we are supporting, in response to Members’ concerns.

We just agreed funding to support an initiative in south Asia, similar to the one in the Nile basin, to promote better dialogue and collaboration among the seven countries concerned on the use of the waters of the greater Himalayas. I was struck by a figure given to me by our staff in China when I visited Beijing recently. They said that some 47 per cent. of the world’s population depends in some way on the waters of the Himalayas. Given recent information from the world’s scientific community about the increased pace of glacier melt in the Himalayas, I think that the importance of the south Asia water initiative will become even clearer to Members.

Reference was made to the middle east, and the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk asked about Gaza. I shall have to come back to him on his specific questions, but let me say more generally that in the middle east, as part of the multilateral track in the peace process, a programme called EXACT works on regional water resource management among Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel, for the reasons
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that have been discussed. We continue to contribute to the strategic concerns of water resource management that have been referred to. I shall get back to the hon. Gentleman on the specifics.

We considered the issue of the UN convention carefully following representations from WWF and other NGOs. Our judgment is that there is little evidence that accession on its own would deliver significant benefits for development. The convention is also unlikely to enter into force as an agreement any time soon. The principles in it are widely used; they are fundamental to the regional initiatives that we fund. However, as a result of our discussions on the convention with a number of NGOs, we plan to work on how the international architecture for the management of water resources can be improved. It is by no means certain that it is as effective as it might be, so we will do some work on the matter.

Ann McKechin: The Minister is being unduly modest. By ratifying the convention, the United Kingdom, as one of the major bilateral donors of aid and one of the P5—the permanent members of the UN Security Council—would send an important signal to the international community about the need for a binding international legal framework within which to work. I appreciate his reservations—that it is not likely to have any immediate or even medium-term impact—but the issue is nevertheless ongoing and likely to increase in significance and effect. It is important that the international community, particularly through the United Nations, seriously address the issue, rather than simply relying on piecemeal initiatives. In areas of high conflict, it may be difficult to persuade people to agree unless we can point to an international convention that significant numbers of countries have ratified.

Mr. Thomas: I agree with my hon. Friend that the principles in the convention are fundamental to ensuring that further conflict over water resources does not develop, but we must focus on the different regional initiatives in place to manage water resources in areas of tension. I do not think that making a particular effort to sign the UN convention now will have any impact on implementing solutions to particular regional issues. We support the convention and the principles in it, but given that it takes resources and staff time to consider implementing conventions, it is right that we concentrate our resources, effort and funding at this stage on ensuring that the regional initiatives to tackle water resource management move in the right direction. The success of the Nile Basin initiative points to the success of our approach to date. We will nevertheless keep under review the question of accession to the UN convention. I hope that Members understand why we have focused particularly on regional water resource management initiatives, rather than going for accession to the convention at this stage.

This has been a good debate. I believe that I have answered most of Members’ questions, and I have given commitments to write regarding two or three specific issues. I recognise that I need to ensure that at least two Members receive the water action update that we published, and I will also endeavour to ensure that when we publish the new policy on water and sanitation that we are working on, all Members who have taken part in this debate receive copies.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Five o’clock.

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