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Parliament stinks: a call to improve sanitation worldwide

Parliament stinks: a call to improve sanitation worldwide

Barbara Frost, Chief Executive, WaterAid | WaterAid

4 min read Partner content

WaterAid recreates Victorian London in front of Parliament, urging MPs to increase investment in water and sanitation - 'the foundation to climbing out of poverty'.


More than 100 parliamentarians were taken back in time last week to visit a pop-up Victorian street, set up outside the UK Parliament by WaterAid.

The installation marked 150 years of Britain’s modern sewers and supported our call for clean water and improved sanitation for “everyone, everywhere”.

We recreated the sights and unsavoury smells of the Great Stink of 1858 to show why we think the UK should lead the way in calling for an end to the global water and sanitation crisis. The event formed part of WaterAid’s Big History Project, celebrating the significant impact that the sanitary revolution had on public health in the 1860s and beyond.

As WaterAid’s Chief Executive, I presented the charity’s ‘Make It Happen’ petition, containing an overwhelming 115,056 signatures, to Baroness Verma, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Development. The petition called for the Government to prioritise sanitation, hygiene and water in the new Sustainable Development Goals and in all of the Department’s global work, as essential for overcoming global poverty.

The creation of Britain’s sewerage system in 1865 was a momentous occasion, helping to prevent deadly cholera outbreaks, which had had a devastating impact across the country. This marked the start of Britain’s drive to protect public health through good sanitation, and the economic progress of the UK. Globally, if cities in developing countries are to be engines of economic growth, then the sanitation crisis needs to be urgently addressed.

However, one in ten people across the world still have no choice but to drink unsafe water while one in three lacks access to improved sanitation. Diarrhoea caused by dirty water and poor sanitation is the second biggest killer of under-fives worldwide, claiming the lives of a child every single minute.

In May, WaterAid worked with ComRes to survey 150 MPs and 50 Prospective Parliamentary Candidates about their perceptions on international development. It revealed that they believe most UK foreign aid goes to health programmes, followed closely by aid for clean water, improved sanitation and hygiene.

The survey also found that MPs think the most important sectors we should support through UK aid are water, sanitation and hygiene, followed by health. In a survey of more than 2,000 British adults, this finding was reflected – with health and water, sanitation and hygiene seen as the top priority areas for investment.[i]

In reality though, water, sanitation and hygiene programmes currently make up just a small fraction of UK aid spending – just 2% of bilateral spending, compared to other essential services like health, which receives 20%, and education, which receives 13%.

WaterAid is calling for increased investment in water and sanitation in order to achieve improvements in health, education and other development areas, as having access to these simple services is the foundation to climbing out of poverty.

The UK can get clean water and toilets to “everyone everywhere” by 2030 if we:

  • Increase the proportion of aid spent on water, sanitation and hygiene by at least 1% every year over the next parliament to enable the UK to become a leader by 2020.

  • Maximise the impact of UK Aid investments by making sure that water, sanitation and hygiene services are in all health clinics, schools, maternal, newborn and child health strategies, and plans to tackle gender inequality.

  • End Aid Dependency by working with developing country governments to deliver and sustain water, sanitation and hygiene services as part of sustainable national plans.

  • Support the adoption and implementation of a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation, with targets for universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030.

Only with investment in sanitation can we achieve a safe and secure future for everyone everywhere.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Read WaterAid’s new report, Another Great Stink, to see how this year we can make the most of our unique chance to eradicate poverty through the new Sustainable Development Goals. 

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