The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Mr Christopher Chope 

Burden, Richard (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab) 

Campbell, Mr Gregory (East Londonderry) (DUP) 

Cox, Mr Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con) 

Cunningham, Sir Tony (Workington) (Lab) 

Duncan, Mr Alan (Minister of State, Department for International Development)  

Gummer, Ben (Ipswich) (Con) 

Hilling, Julie (Bolton West) (Lab) 

Hopkins, Kelvin (Luton North) (Lab) 

Lancaster, Mark (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)  

Lefroy, Jeremy (Stafford) (Con) 

Mitchell, Austin (Great Grimsby) (Lab) 

Paice, Sir James (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con) 

Phillips, Stephen (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con) 

Alison Groves, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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European Committee B 

Tuesday 18 December 2012  

[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair] 

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene 

8.55 am 

The Chair:  Does a member of the European Scrutiny Committee wish to make a brief explanatory statement about the decision to refer the relevant documents to this Committee? 

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab):  It is a pleasure, Mr Chope, to serve under your chairmanship this morning. It might be helpful if I explain a little of the background, and why the European Scrutiny Committee recommended this debate. 

The European Court of Auditors carries out audits through which it assesses the collection and spending of EU funds. It also carries out audits via its special reports to assess how well EU funds have been managed so as to ensure economy, efficiency and effectiveness. The first document is a European Court of Auditors special report on the Commission’s management of development assistance for the provision of drinking water and basic sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa. It focused on two questions: were the planned results achieved and sustainable, and did the Commission take appropriate steps to ensure sustainable results? 

The report found that EU support had increased access to drinking water and basic sanitation, and that using standard technology and locally available materials was appropriate, but that implementation had been highly variable and in many cases had failed to ensure sustainability. Results and benefits will be jeopardised in the medium and long term unless non-tariff revenue can be ensured. Local operators do not have the capacity to fulfil their responsibilities because of lack of sufficiently developed technical skills, or failure to build ownership. 

In the separate and related document on WASH, “Meeting the challenge of rapidly increasing humanitarian needs in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene”, the Commission says that its principal objective is to 

“save and preserve life and alleviate the suffering of populations facing severe environmental health risks and/or water insecurity in the context of anticipated, on-going and recent humanitarian crises.” 

It also says that improving resilience is 

“vital to helping meet these needs before they become humanitarian emergencies.” 

The Committee noted that nothing can do more to improve such resilience than projects that work over the medium and long term. However, it was plain from the Court of Auditors report that the Commission still has much to do in this regard. 

When commenting on the latter, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development was rightly concerned that despite having good processes and

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procedures in place, the Commission’s proper use and implementation of them was variable, and that results showed numerous examples of where Commission projects were not sustainable, or had failed to meet beneficiaries’ expectations. In its response, the Commission, rather than outlining its commitment to use its existing systems more effectively, said that it had put in place further processes, but it is clear that it had not focused on the delivery of results, which represents lack of accountability and transparency. 

The Committee found it difficult to be optimistic about the Minister’s ability to persuade the Commission to improve its performance when its auditors had demonstrated the Commission’s continued failings in water and sanitation projects, and when the Commission was so dismissive in its responses to the Court of Auditors analysis and recommendations. The Committee accordingly concluded that the Minister should be given an opportunity to outline her approach more fully, and to demonstrate more conclusively that the Government will be able to improve the Commission’s future management of projects in this vital development area. 

I referred to the Minister as “her”, but obviously the Minister here today is male, and I am very pleased to see him. 

The Chair:  May I ask the Minister to make an opening statement? 

8.58 am 

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan):  As you are aware, Mr Chope, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) is unwell, and to avoid the Committee being infected with the winter vomiting bug, I thought it better to step into the breach, albeit very much at the last minute. I was asked rather late last night to do so, because we thought it best not to insult the Committee by deferring, so I hope it will be lenient with me and appreciate that, in the spirit of the topic, I have been mugging up on it in the bath. 

I thank the Committee for holding this discussion on European Union water, sanitation and hygiene—WASH—programming. Today, we are looking at two recently released reports: a European Court of Auditors special report on assistance for drinking Water supply and basic sanitation in sub-Saharan countries, and a Commission staff working document on humanitarian WASH policy. The two documents tackle distinct but related issues of importance. 

The Court of Auditors report is the outcome of an evaluation of programmes in 23 countries. It provides evidence on the performance of European Union development assistance in the delivery of WASH programmes. The humanitarian policy paper sets out the principles and practices that guide the Commission in its humanitarian programmes, but offers no analysis of current performance. 

Before I discuss the reports, let me start with some more general comments. I am encouraged that the millennium development goal target for water was met five years early. That does not mean, however, that our work is done. Some 800 million people lack access to an improved water supply. We are all appalled that, in 2010,

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2.5 billion people did not have access to improved sanitation. It is unacceptable that over 1 billion people have no toilet at all and must defecate in the open. That is why the UK Government give WASH a high priority. In April, we announced that the UK would support reaching 60 million people with sustainable access to WASH over the next few years. Our investment in WASH will help reduce the 2.4 million deaths, mainly of children under five, which the World Health Organisation estimates could be avoided each year simply by providing good WASH services. It will also bring economic benefits. The WHO estimates that for every dollar spent on sanitation and water, there is a return of up to $8. 

Poor sanitation and lack of water particularly affects women. Without a decent toilet, women and girls cannot manage their personal hygiene privately and with dignity. Having nowhere to wash safely causes distress, discomfort and reproductive tract infections. Women are also at higher risk of sexual and other violence as they try to find secluded and private places in which to wash. That is unacceptable and is an issue that the Under-Secretary will continue to raise in her role as the international champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas. 

The European Commission is the largest funder of humanitarian WASH services. Such services are critical to prevent devastating epidemics. They also help people to recover more quickly from disasters, as work that the Department for International Development has funded in Pakistan has shown. 

Let me now turn to the specific reports and how we plan to respond to the issues raised. The Court of Auditors report on WASH makes for mixed reading. We welcome the findings that European Union-funded projects have increased access to water and sanitation. I am, however, concerned about the reported weaknesses in many of the EU-funded projects. In too many cases, projects failed to secure sustainable long-term finance for the WASH services provided. Over half the projects assessed had not met the needs of the people who they were intended to benefit. There is not much point in building a village tap if the means are not there to keep it working thereafter. The report acknowledges that the Commission has put in place good processes, but highlights some basic failures in projects following those processes. That is not good enough, and the Commission needs to tackle it. 

In our response to this report, we are looking for the Commission to demonstrate four things. First, it must show a greater commitment to results and transparency in reporting. Secondly, it must conduct better consultation with the people who will benefit from WASH projects about their needs and expectations. Thirdly, more action should be taken before projects start to secure the long-term finance needed to sustain benefits beyond the lifetime of the project itself. Fourthly, Commission-funded projects providing WASH services must make use of the best technologies in order to achieve the highest value for money in each project. 

Improving the impact of EU aid is a top priority for the coalition Government. DFID contributes more to the EU than to any other multilateral aid organisation and the aid provided does a huge amount of good, but we must ensure that it gets to where it is needed most and has a lasting impact. DFID’s multilateral aid review in 2011 assessed the European development fund as

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representing good value for money, but also highlighted areas for reform and called for the EU to be more poverty and results focused. Last week’s report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact highlighted similar concerns. We are currently reviewing its recommendations in detail. 

We believe that the best way to get EU aid aligned with our priorities is to influence it at the highest levels. That is why the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are pressing EU institutions, MEPs and other member states to deliver better outcomes; it is all about getting them to focus on poverty. 

As a result, the EU is making progress through its “Agenda for Change” programme. For example, it is putting in place a new results framework. The Department has fed in lessons from our own experience and is participating in a water expert group that will help monitor the performance of Commission projects. The EU is also cutting funding to countries that do not need it and is ensuring greater transparency, value for money and accountability, as the UK has done. 

The second report is a Commission staff working paper on humanitarian WASH policy. It sets out a number of principles that the EC follows for WASH delivery in humanitarian situations. They are sensible principles with which we agree. I welcome the fact that the Commission has identified the importance of linking humanitarian with longer term development programmes wherever that makes sense and does not undermine the objective of meeting immediate humanitarian needs. Through the water expert group, the Department will monitor how the Commission strengthens that link and applies it in its humanitarian programmes. 

We will continue to ensure that we work to improve the performance of EU programmes in WASH in both development and humanitarian situations, to ensure that they offer good value for money for the UK. I look forward to questions from hon. Members, bearing in mind, as I hope they will, my recent introduction to such an important topic, and the fact that I do not lead on sub-Saharan Africa, but have done my best to learn all I can within 12 hours. 

The Chair:  We now have up to 9.55 am for questions, which should be brief. 

Sir Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab):  It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Chope. With your permission, I will ask questions in small groups. If, because of the circumstances in which he finds himself, the Minister wants to write to me with answers, that will be fine. 

The draft European Union Court of Auditors special report made clear criticisms regarding the sustainability of EU-funded projects. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that the long-term sustainability of projects is given sufficient consideration early on, at the planning stages? 

The Commission staff working document clearly stated that humanitarian aid alone will not be enough to address growing water sanitation and hygiene needs and that a co-ordinated approach is necessary. What plans are in place to improve the link between relief, rehabilitation and development? 

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Although funding has increased thirtyfold, WASH needs are increasing more rapidly than the available funding. As the Minister has said, the EU is the biggest donor, so what plans does he have to increase its capacity to deal with the issue? 

Mr Duncan:  The Court of Auditors report is clear that the major concerns identified with the projects supported by the EU relate to four key issues: long-term financing to support sustained operation of water and sanitation was not secured, and it needs to be; operators lack the appropriate skills to maintain the systems provided, which reflects inadequate training provided by EU-funded projects; the beneficiaries of projects do not have a full sense of ownership of the systems provided, reflecting the fact that the needs and expectations of the beneficiaries were not built into the original design of the project, and they should be; and the technology chosen was not always appropriate for the conditions in the communities receiving support. 

During my two and a half years as a Minister, I have become renown in the Department for becoming an expert on the design of third-world latrines. I can recommend to every member of the Committee a UNICEF document that lists about 50 different possible designs, including one called—for a reason that I have never quite understood—the Blair high drop. 

Sir Tony Cunningham:  The Minister can write to me on that one. 

Mr Duncan:  I insist that I will write to the hon. Gentleman in great detail on that particular matter. 

What we have seen from the EU is that a lot of its work reflects poor planning and a failure to construct good processes. That is why we will press the EU to ensure that it applies all its processes effectively and that it places greater emphasis on projects that identify and meet the demands of the beneficiaries. We will also press the EU to ensure that the monitoring and reporting of performance are improved so that issues can be addressed before a project ends. 

On the link between humanitarian and development needs, the two need to join seamlessly. Humanitarian needs are immediate, and development needs tend to be longer term. The humanitarian side is essential for preventing the spread of disease. Clean water and good sanitation can ensure that people facing a sudden emergency do not have their woes added to by disease and lack of clean water, which can cause so much disaster. 

On our general development priorities and those of the EU, ensuring that the simplest needs of a village, such as clean water and basic sanitation, are met is a longer-term but essential part of all our development programmes. With greater focus, we intend to enhance that aspect of our work over the next few years. 

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con):  Having returned recently from a visit to Pakistan with the Select Committee on International Development, I commend the work of the Department for International Development in the emergency situations that Pakistan faces almost every

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year due to flooding and its impact on water supplies and sanitation. I have questions on two matters from my personal experience. 

First, on small projects in villages to provide water and sanitation, many non-governmental organisations have great experience of providing such things through user participation, which means they are effective for many years because there are affordable user fees and the whole project is developed with the involvement of the local village. What is the European Union doing to ensure that it uses such expertise, which has been around for decades, to design the programmes that are the subject of the report? 

Secondly, on bigger-scale water projects, Germany and the German Government have great experience of developing large-scale water programmes supplying many hundreds of thousands of people. Those programmes are well planned, have excellent user participation and are sustainable because user fees are built in from the beginning. What use is the European Union making of its member Governments’ expertise of implementing such programmes on a bilateral basis? 

Mr Duncan:  I thank my hon. Friend for those questions, both of which go to the heart of the simple question “What works?” We are not ideological in any way in saying whether we are either for or against user fees. We like to see what works and try to make the best of all opportunities that we see. 

User participation can have a number of benefits. First, it can help in the original design so that a village gets what it wants. Villagers tend to know where the safe and vulnerable parts of the village are, so the simple location of a latrine or facility is important. Basic fees can also add to a sense of ownership so that a facility’s utility and condition are protected, and they can also assist in setting aside a little fund for maintenance. A washer may not cost very much but it is critical to whether a pump works, and if it goes, a little fund ensures that it can be replaced. That goes back to the maintenance problem and the long-term sustainability of what we in this country would regard as the most elementary and simple facilities. We are not in way against user fees, but obviously they need to be affordable, and they must not drive people away from the facility we are trying to provide to people who have little or no money. 

The German experience illustrates that WASH is, if I can put this in a way that can be understood, a crowded field. Many people are doing it, some on a large scale and some on a small scale, so part of our evaluation of what we think we will achieve from a project takes stock of how many people are operating in any one area in this particular field so that we can optimise the added value of our spending. 

My hon. Friend is right that the Germans tend to go for bigger projects. We tend to go for much smaller ones, and we do not tend to get involved in heavy concrete and big infrastructure. That is exactly why, when looking at other participants, we can balance the efficacy of the larger-scale German work with the efficacy of our smaller-scale, village-focused work. 

The whole family of participants in this field needs to be well co-ordinated to ensure that there are no blank spots where no work is taking place, or intensively

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active spots where everyone is falling over each other to do the same thing. My hon. Friend is right. It is something that we will continue to look at in the Department to ensure that we get the best value for money and the best long-term sustainable outcomes. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  This is not the first time that there have been criticisms about the way in which aid is delivered by the European Union. The case has been made that aid is delivered more efficiently and effectively and at cost through DFID than through the European Union. The hon. Member for Stafford mentioned the case of Germany. Is not there a case for looking at whether the European Union is the best organisation for delivering this kind of aid? 

Mr Duncan:  That illustrates the fact that there are many participants in the field. The European Union does have the advantage of scale. It is the largest funder of WASH in humanitarian programmes, and the second largest funder of all humanitarian interventions. It spends €200 million a year on humanitarian and WASH projects. Between 2001 and 2010, it spent more than €1 billion on WASH in development projects. The European Development Fund was rated as very good value for money in the DFID multilateral aid review. Where we are more critical of it is in its focus. We would like to slew the focus of the EDF much more towards poverty. Some of its focus is on accession and middle-income countries. If it is really to be a development-focused budget, it should be focused on those who are most poverty stricken. 

On the efficacy of the European Union’s activities in this field, the Court of Auditors report is a valuable tool for trying to improve administrative quality. What the EU does is good; its projects bring enormous benefits to poor communities. However, it is in the value of that report, that we now have some clear analysis and arguments with which we can go to the EU and say, “You can do it better, this is how you can do it better and you must do it better.” I assure this Committee that that is exactly what the intellectual and reputational power of DFID will be used for in the time ahead. 

Kelvin Hopkins:  I thank the Minister for his answer. The lines of democratic accountability are much longer through the European Union than through, say, DFID, on a country-to-country basis. Is not accountability, especially to elected Parliaments such as our own, important in these matters so that we ensure that, if anything goes wrong, questions can be raised in Parliament and Ministers can take action? 

Mr Duncan:  As the hon. Gentleman will understand, I have enormous sympathy for his basic philosophy, which touches at the heart of the question of sovereignty, accountability and democracy. When there are so many layers, the line of accountability is diluted, which is why Ministers such as me in Committees such as this have to be ardent in their scrutiny, as should be our Members of the European Parliament who are sitting in Brussels and able to question the institutions there. I fully accept what he says. In government, we are having an assessment of competencies, which will cover areas such as this. As we have these lines of accountability, we do not give any specific extra money to the EC for such a purpose; we choose to do it ourselves directly where we can. Effectively,

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we have paid our subscription to the EU, but nothing on top of it, because we would rather keep the directness of control that the hon. Gentleman calls for. 

Sir Tony Cunningham:  Going back to the link between relief, rehabilitation and development, I hope that the Minister agrees that, when there is a humanitarian disaster, there can be so much emphasis on dealing with the immediate disaster, that the medium and longer-term provision of water is put back. When the disaster hits, it is important to deal with the immediate relief operation, but also to plan at a very early stage for safe and secure water for the intermediate and long-term future. 

Mr Duncan:  I agree. It is important that, where possible, we, the Commission and, indeed, any participant make stronger links between humanitarian and development WASH projects. That is best done by making clear assessments from the outset of the humanitarian crisis of how long the services provided through humanitarian support are expected to be required. It is not always possible, and it may be complex, but humanitarian support should not be delayed simply because longer-term development approaches are not clear. In some cases, it becomes apparent only after some time that the services provided under humanitarian relief may need to support longer-term development. In such instances, it is important to look beyond the priority of reaching people in need, to ensure that sustainability and beneficiary participation are built in to the longer-term development programmes. For the Commission, that will mean applying the clear lessons that we have heard about this morning in discussing the report. 

Sir Tony Cunningham:  Has any progress been made on recommendations in the Court of Auditors report that there needs to be a clear identification of the expected course of funding for specific future projects? The report raises concerns that, despite good managerial procedures and processes, implementation has not been successful. It makes several recommendations, including that procedures are properly applied in the definition of project objectives; that justification is given for the technological solutions proposed; and that progress indicators are established. What assurances can the Minster give that the implementation of the current processes will be given priority before any attempt to implement new procedures? 

Mr Duncan:  If I do not cover the exact details, I will of course write to the hon. Gentleman. He will appreciate that I am happy to think on my feet a little this morning, but let me do my best to answer what I understand his questions to be. 

The Court of Auditors report showed that the EU has good processes, but the major problem was that projects simply did not use them. We will work with the EU to improve performance in two ways. We will ensure that the WASH sector features prominently in our push to improve overall transparency and accountability. We will also continue to participate in the EU water expert group and use that participation to press the EU to improve its performance on sustainability and fund projects that meet beneficiaries’ expectations. We will also use the group to share our experiences from UK-funded programmes and highlight new evidence on ways to

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improve sustainability and value for money. I sense that I may not have caught the exact purpose of the hon. Gentleman’s second question, but if he wishes to fire it at me again, I will do my best to improve on what I have said. 

Sir Tony Cunningham:  I am happy for the Minister to provide me with a written answer. 

Mr Duncan:  I am grateful. 

Sir Tony Cunningham:  The report showed that, in 10 out of 18 projects, water-supply equipment was maintained in a good and clean condition, but only half of the 10 projects with a sanitation component were successful. What information can the Minister provide to demonstrate that measures will be taken to address those concerns? 

Mr Duncan:  There is a general context to this: neither the drinking water supply nor the sanitation MDG targets will be met in sub-Saharan Africa. Water and sanitation present particular challenges in cities where population density and high costs provide massive challenges for delivery. 

The hon. Gentleman is right that the report showed that in 10 out of 18 projects water-supply equipment was maintained in a good condition, but only half of the projects with a sanitation component were successful. I can but echo what I said earlier about the pressure we will put on the EU to meet the exact challenges outlined in the report. I have listed the four weaknesses and the objectives we want to press for. 

Sanitation is separate from water. A lot of sanitation does not have water in itself—dry latrines, for example—but will need water for cleanliness and hygiene, so they need to be together. The primitiveness of some of the designs creates problems with sustaining them when they are full and moving them to make new ones. Those are pretty basic concepts, and not always easy to describe in polite company, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we understand the deficiencies that he has outlined and will continue to put pressure on the EU to improve the standards that it maintains through the money that it spends. 

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab):  The Minister is doing a sterling job, having been dropped in this last night—that is probably a bad way of putting it, given the subject that we are discussing. Can I take him back to some of the criticisms in the European Court of Auditors report? As he said, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact recently held an inquiry into EU aid. One thing that came out of it goes back to the question of transparency. The Select Committee on International Development had a preliminary look at the ICAI report, and it was not always absolutely clear when the ICAI’s comments and criticisms were being directed at the Commission and the European Union and when they were being directed at DFID and its engagement with the European Union. 

That is where transparency comes in. The Minister has made various comments today about things that will be followed up by DFID in terms of the auditors’ reports and criticisms, and what might be done. When

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he writes to give more detail, will he explain who will do those things, where they will be done and at what level they will happen? 

Will the Minister also comment on one issue; if he cannot do so today, will he come back to us in writing? One point that came out of the ICAI report on the effectiveness of EU aid is that a lot more could be done to co-ordinate in-country as well as in Europe. Does he think that there is some validity in that? If so, what can DFID do to take that forward? 

Mr Duncan:  I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question, because disentangling the lines of influence between DFID and the EU is an important and burning topic. Apportioning blame and credit between the two is not easy, although I like to think that DFID is the standard-setter and that where we go, the EU should follow. 

On the accountability and efficacy of what we do, I will outline to the Committee how we try to exert influence over the EU. It goes back to the point about lines of accountability. We maintain oversight via the management committee in Brussels of the various EU development instruments, which bring together 27 member states and the European Commission. The committee meets regularly in Brussels to discuss and approve strategies and programming. 

There is also well-established structured dialogue between the EU delegations and member states to consult on EC programming documents. The management committee meetings are supplemented by technical expert meetings on specific issues. Mid-term and end-term reviews take place at the mid and endpoints of the programming cycle and are an opportunity to take stock and adjust programmes and funding to take into account progress and development in any country. 

We have expressed our concern and dissatisfaction to the Commission about the latest revisions to EDF forecasting, which have caused significant EDF underspending. We are following up closely with the Commission to ensure that the EDF forecasting process is improved and that financial accountability and management are increased. It is a continuing process through which we will exert as much influence as we can. Recent publicity in the UK will have ensured that people at that end are on their toes and understand better the pressures that we face in our domestic politics for ensuring that we get the value for money that we want. 

Richard Burden:  That is helpful. The Minister has described some of the mechanisms by which the UK can exercise influence or try to shift Commission spending in particular directions, whether in-country or elsewhere. In relation to the reports and recommendations of the Court of Auditors, and the Commission’s replies about what it will follow through on, would it be possible after today’s debate to write to us to tell us what is being followed up, and how that relates to the management committee, actions in-country or whatever it may be, so that we can have a clear idea of how matters will be followed through? 

Mr Duncan:  Yes, I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. As he will appreciate, the letter would probably come from the Under-Secretary of State, who will resume responsibility for the issue in question in the region of sub-Saharan Africa in particular. I welcome

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the hon. Gentleman’s request, which assists us in putting pressure on the EU. Through the transparency and openness that he asks for, we will ensure that we follow up properly in doing what we say we will do. 

Sir Tony Cunningham:  The Under-Secretary has said that 

“in certain contexts, in-kind contributions of specialised WASH equipment may be provided through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, while in others ‘standby arrangements’ between the Commission implementing partners and private foundations (such as international water utilities) may be used to mobilize specialised WASH expertise and equipment to disaster areas. This may be of interest to UK utilities and WASH product providers.” 

Is that pointing towards an increased use of private firms in providing development assistance? 

Mr Duncan:  I want to go back to what I said earlier about the fact that we are not working in a tight ideological box and that we support, once again, what proves to work on the ground. There is a particular challenge in urban and city areas, which is where some of the private sector utility companies may be able to advise far better than officials in the Department for International Development on what can really assist particularly with the supply of clean water but also with dealing with sewage in an intense, dense urban environment. 

We are not averse to the private sector assisting, and in many respects we would encourage it. If companies with great experience wanted to step in and advise on how better to improve water supply and sanitation we would welcome that. The things that would matter would be the financial basis on which that was done, where the burden of cost would lie, and so on. However, we have no ideological or in-principle objection, and wherever such involvement would work we would positively encourage it. 

Sir Tony Cunningham:  I understand how difficult such work is in urban environments, because I was in Kibera, the huge slum in Nairobi, where 1 million people live with no water or proper sanitation. 

The Under-Secretary has said that that the UK 

“are currently assessing the potential to expand our existing programmes and have already identified additional results to be achieved in Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.” 

Will the Minister elaborate on what those additional results might be? The Under-Secretary suggested the possibility of 

“exploring the potential to do more in a number of other countries”. —[Official Report, 20 November 2012; Vol. 553, c. 477W.] 

Can the Minister provide us with further information about those plans? 

I am pleased to note that the Commission staff working document highlights the significant impact of climate change. What processes are to be implemented to mitigate the effect of climate change on areas of WASH vulnerability? 

Mr Duncan:  First, reverting to the earlier question about the private sector, I can inform the Committee that 160 million people in developing countries are now being served by private providers from formal public-private partnerships, and many millions more receive their services from small local firms. As an example of a larger

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company doing something, Unilever has set ambitious targets to help more than 1 billion people to improve their hygiene habits and to bring safe drinking water to 500 million by 2020. I believe that the Committee would applaud such participation. 

The expansion of our activities goes to the heart of what we are doing to meet our new target of providing 60 million people with sustainable access to WASH by 2015. We are currently assessing the potential to expand our existing programmes and have already identified additional results to be achieved in Ethiopia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. We are also exploring the potential to do more in a number of other countries. 

The Department is exploring a number of possible further options to contribute to meeting our target but at this stage it is not possible to provide more details as the programmes are in their design stage and will need to pass through internal approval processes, including approval by Ministers. Needless to say, we will be happy to advise the hon. Gentleman and the Committee and will indeed, for transparency, probably stick it on our website for the world to see once we know where we are. The options that are being considered include new programmes with the UN, with non-governmental organisations and the private sector. We hope to be able to provide more detailed plans within the first half of next year. 

The hon. Gentleman asked me about climate change. This is a slightly broader topic than the specific contents of the two reports we are discussing this morning, but in general terms, it is essential to appreciate that WASH cannot be detached entirely from the whole concept of climate change. The climate danger, or the danger to people caused by climate change, is such that it can suddenly cause things to dry up and people have no water. The two are inextricably linked. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have many climate change programmes, working closely with the Department of Energy and Climate Change in some broader funds. It is imbedded in all of our programmes to make sure that we can reduce the adverse effects of climate change in all its forms on poor people. 

Richard Burden:  Looking at the use of funds in other countries, the Minister talked earlier about the numbers of people around the world who still defecate in the open. One of the big areas where that happens is India and the Department’s relationship with the aid programme to India is changing. Again, the International Development Committee has been questioning the Secretary of State on what exactly that change is supposed to be. It is important that what we do is co-ordinated with the work of others: what the European Union does in one area needs to be supplemented by what we do in another. 

Again, if the Minister cannot answer this question today, a reply in writing would be perfectly acceptable. As I understand what the Secretary of State has said about aid to India, the aid relationship is changing, something that all of us accept and which our Committee called for some time ago. There appeared to be a suggestion, however, that as the aid programme winds down, the one thing that would be out of the question would be grant aid. Again, a number of us would say that the trend away from grant aid is right, but in relation to water and sanitation, if it turned out that

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grant aid might be the appropriate action in a particular situation, would a pragmatic approach still be possible even when the development relationship with India changes? 

Mr Duncan:  I commend the hon. Gentleman for the ingenious way in which he has asked the question, covering both the broader question of our policy on India and our policy on grant aid to a country with which we do not have, or will not have, a bilateral relationship. Within a few weeks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State making her statement in the House, I will not put into reverse gear the policy she has just announced. As I think the hon. Gentleman well appreciates, we have announced that we will honour our existing commitments in India, but wind down and convert our policy to that of what we call returnable capital, such as investments in programmes run through the CDC. However, we will not have a one-off grant aid programme in India. 

As the hon. Gentleman appreciates, there is always a paradox in development aid between going for a country that is exclusively poverty stricken and one that is heading towards middle-income status but has a lot of poor people within it. India is in that latter category and is growing fast. For all the reasons he well understands—diplomatic, economic and everything else—the decision has been taken, and it is fair to say that the decision to change the nature of our relationship with India is well understood and supported both there and here. 

The Chair:  If no more Members wish to ask questions, we will now move to the debate on the motion. 

Motion made, and Question proposed,  

That the Committee takes note of European Union Documents No. 14531/12, European Court of Auditors’ Special Report No. 13/2012: European Union Development Assistance for Drinking Water Supply and Basic Sanitation in Sub-Saharan Countries, and No. 14028/12, Commission Staff Working Document on Humanitarian WASH Policy: Meeting the challenge of rapidly increasing humanitarian needs in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH); and welcomes the Government's approach to developing WASH policy within the European Union.—(Mr Duncan.)  

9.40 am 

Sir Tony Cunningham:  I would like to start by reiterating why this is such an important issue for our consideration. The WHO estimates that 2.4 million deaths could be avoided each year by the proper provision of safe water, good sanitation and basic hygiene. In common with the Minister, I therefore welcome the finding that the millennium development goal for water was achieved a number of years ahead of schedule, in 2010. That shows the real difference that well-planned and well-delivered development programming can make, and it illustrates just how much we can achieve when there is the right political will. 

It is therefore with regret and some sadness that I note that although aid for water and sanitation has increased of the last few decades, growth has been much lower than in other areas such as health, education and governance sectors and major challenges still remain. Despite the excellent progress on the development goal

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for water provision, progress on the sanitation target for 2015 is significantly behind schedule. Over a third of the world’s population is still without access to basic sanitation. In my view, water, sanitation and health needs to be a higher priority for global leaders. When there is a lack of adequate sanitation, people are forced to put themselves at risk, as the Minister rightly pointed out. The lack of those indisputable necessities has severe knock-on effects on almost all elements of human development, not least economic development. 

There are significant regional inequalities in terms of both water and sanitation. I accept the importance and significance of urban areas, but of the 2.5 billion people without access to an improved source of sanitation, 1.8 billion—72% of the total—reside in rural areas. As the Minister also said, gender inequality is another significant factor, as the burden of inadequate water supply and sanitation falls most heavily on girls and women. It is of great concern that we see progress stopping or even being reversed in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the adverse impacts of climate change only add to the difficulties ahead. 

The Commission’s work is vital because sub-Saharan Africa, alongside Oceania, are the regions most off-track in achieving the millennium development goal for sanitation. The Commission’s work should be encouraged and all necessary recommendations implemented as soon as possible to help us reach such an important target. We owe that to some of the most desperately poor people in the world. 

9.43 am 

Mr Duncan:  I am grateful to members of the Committee for their questions and the enlightened manner in which they approached this topic. I sense that, across the House, we are in broad agreement that, first, there is significant need, and we should acknowledge, recognise and address the scale of that global need. Secondly, by and large, we know what works. A lot of what needs to be done is relatively simple but, despite that, it can be done well or badly. We need to ensure that work is done well across the spectrum of WASH—water, sanitation and hygiene. 

I say to the Committee—I think that members understand—that we, the UK Government, through DFID, are increasing our commitment in this field, and we have set ambitious targets for being more effective across the board. As is evidenced by what we heard this morning, we need to use our authority and reputation to improve the EU’s focus and performance, and that needs political pressure, but, at the same time, we should acknowledge, recognise and, indeed, applaud the sheer scale of the EU’s activities in this field. 

I commend members of Committee on their constructive and enthusiastic involvement, and I urge them to sustain that. I assure the Committee that we, in the Government, will use every possible influence to improve the EU’s performance in this field. In that tone and spirit, I commend the motion to the Committee. 

Question put and agreed to.  

9.45 am 

Committee rose.  

Prepared 19th December 2012