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To invest in children’s future, we need to invest in water, says Tony Cunningham MP

23 March 2012

by Tony Cunningham MP, Shadow Minister for International Development

Just a couple of weeks before World Water Day, it was announced that the Millennium Development Goal target for halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water has been met. This is excellent news. The hard work of the international community and NGOs illustrate just how much we can achieve when there is the political will.

Although we have officially met the target, there are still 743 million that we have not reached. Worst of all, those we have not managed to reach yet are some of the world’s poorest, most marginalised and most desperately in need of these essential life giving services. Around half of the targets achievement is the result of China’s and India’s recent investment in clean water which has brought access to water to millions of people in these countries.  The East Asian region has seen the biggest increase in the percentage of its population with improved water access from 68% in 1990 to 91% in 2010.

While the target for access to safe drinking water has been met, the access to sanitation target still has a very far way to go before it is met. Globally it is predicted that it won’t be reached until 2026.  While in Sub-Saharan Africa region it will still take over two centuries for the region to reach this MDG.  Currently 2.5 billion people still live without adequate sanitation, a staggering 37% of the world’s population, including nearly four in ten in sub-Saharan Africa.

When there is a lack of adequate sanitation people are forced to make horrific decisions often using the same rivers and streams they drink from as their toilets. Not only is this an issue of dignity and human rights, but also a serious health challenge as hospitals and health clinics in the developing world are significantly stretched by the widespread challenge of water-borne diseases.

The lack of these indisputable necessities has severe knock on effects for almost all elements of human development. The Lancet Medical Journal found that diarrheal diseases, so often caused by dirty water, are the biggest killer of children in Africa and the second biggest in Asia. Wateraid have estimated that access to clean water and sanitation cost the lives of 3,000 children under a day. Access to water and sanitation also effects education in developing countries. With water-borne diseases effect millions of children, poor sanitation is preventing a significant proportion of children from attending school in the first place.

Investment in water and sanitation makes economic sense. A reasonable estimate is that investment in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene can generate $9 in GDP growth for every $1 spent. An investment in water and sanitation is a long and sound investment; benefiting all sectors of society. A lack of water and sanitation services cost sub-Saharan Africa around 5% of their GDP.

I am pleased that Andrew Mitchell has decided to attend the Sanitation and Water Aid High Meeting. It is important that he continues the leadership that we offered when we were in Government. In the wake of the news that the target has been met, I hope he continues the momentum to provide access to water, and also ensures that sanitation does not slip from the radar. The message from our success on access to water is clear; we have it within our grasp to offer every single person on this planet clean water and a decent sanitation system within a lifetime. Labour is committed to working with our global partners to make this happen.

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