Baroness Chalker: The UK must play a bigger role in building a sustainable and prosperous future for everyone, everywhere

Posted On: 
15th November 2019

Baroness Chalker, Vice President of WaterAid, writes that all parties should head into this election considering how they will bring clean water, toilets and good hygiene to everyone everywhere by 2030.

Ifaliana, 11 (first from right), enjoying the water with her friends at the tap in Amberomena village, Belavabary commune, Alaotra Mangoro, Madagascar, May 2019
Credit: 
WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

Much of the focus on next month’s general election in on Britain’s future position in the world, namely how we will leave the European Union and how our focus can change to new national partners or draw closer to established links.

Whilst Brexit is dominating the headlines and public discourse, it is only one element of the image that Britain projects to the wider world.

Another area, often misunderstood and misrepresented, is the overseas development work in which Britain’s Department for International Development leads the world. It is an area close to my heart, having served as Minister for Overseas Development for eleven years until 1997 and one in which Britain can show clear vision and strong leadership in a changing world.

During and since my time in office, there has been huge progress towards eradicating poverty and helping people in low and middle-income countries have a better, more fulfilling future. For instance, since 1990 over two billion people have gained access to clean water. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has reduced from just under half to around one in ten. This is change that has transformed lives, futures, communities and countries. Change that creates hope and helps to avoid fear.

We should be proud of the role that Britain and in particular DfID has played in progress made to date but also challenge ourselves as to what role we can play going forward. As we look beyond Europe, we should bring greater focus to how we can use our influence and resources to help build the future for developing countries. Not just to create economies that flourish and create new markets with whom we can trade, but to help families and communities escape the daily grind of poverty.

As Vice President of WaterAid, I believe that particular focus should be given to the role of clean water and decent toilets in providing a step up out of poverty. Much progress has been made but still one in ten people around the world do not have clean water to drink nearby and one in four people do not have a decent toilet.

When clean water arrives in a community, many wonderful things happen. Children get sick less often, women are freed from the daily drudgery of walking hours for water, schools welcome back pupils who no longer have to start their day carrying jerrycans, hospitals are cleaner and safer, it is easier to start and maintain businesses. All of this means that people are able to thrive, not just hope to survive.

The fundamental importance of having clean water to drink, a decent toilet to use and the ability to keep clean is one recognised by the British public.

A recent poll of British Adults by WaterAid shows that, among the sectors tested, water, hygiene and sanitation is the top area that people think should be funded by the UK’s foreign aid budget, with one in four (24%) saying it should receive the greatest investment, above even spending on humanitarian disasters and emergencies (23%).

The World Bank estimates that for every £1 invested bilaterally in water and sanitation there is a £4 return, yet currently Britain spends less that 2p in every £1 of overseas development aid on those vital services.

Next year will make the start of the decade which will decide whether the Sustainable Development Goals – which promised the world an end to extreme poverty and that everyone would have clean water and toilets – will be met.

Currently, the world will fail to meet its promise on water and sanitation, so I urge all parties as they head into this election to reflect on how they will review and refresh our commitment to bring clean water, toilets and good hygiene to everyone everywhere by 2030.

Baroness Chalker is Vice-President of WaterAid. Read more about their work HERE.