Clean water supplies and sanitation in the developing world are essential foundations for development.
In 2001, UN member states adopted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). One of which was to halve, by 2015, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. The UN says that this target was met five years ahead of schedule. UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have also stated that between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources.
The previous Labour government had a proud record of leadership on international development, having led the world to agree the MDGs and tripled the aid budget, which helped improve water and sanitation services for millions of people.
UNICEF and the WHO estimate there are still 663 million people around the world who are using unimproved drinking water sources and do not have access to clean water.
I welcome the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have replaced the MDGs, and include the goal of universal access to water and sanitation. Last year the UK achieved its aim, set in 2012, of reaching 60 million people in the developing world with water, sanitation or hygiene (WASH) programmes by the end of 2015. The government says that the UK provided access to clean water for 5.8 million people, including 2.6 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, in 2014/15. It also says that it is committed to help a further 60 million people get access to clean water and sanitation by 2020. This is a welcome commitment.
I am, however, concerned that the government is looking for ways to divert the international development budget to other uses such as security, rather than solely for international development. Genuine international development should prioritise sustainable economic development and help improve lives, including by helping to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.