Bishop of Derby asks government about access to water in developing countries

derby-19117On the 24th January 2018 Lord Cameron of Dillington held a debate about sustainable water management in developing countries. The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Alistair Redfern spoke in the debate and highlighted the work of a local charity in Derbyshire who send aid boxes containing hydration units to areas of conflict or natural disaster:

The Lord Bishop of Derby: I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for introducing this vital issue. The timeframe is pressing and getting shorter. It is wonderful to hear the testimony of colleagues about Nepal and the inspiring story of the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, on what can be done with commitment. However, it is the scale of the problem that we have to mark.

Clearly, water is basic not only to life but to health. Many of us now carry bottles of water because we know it is good for our health. Lack of water causes droughts, which cause death; too much water causes devastating floods; and untreated water causes death and disease on a vast scale across the world. So how we talk about water, and how as a country we contribute to the global management of water, is a mark of how civilised our world can be and the role we can play in a civilisation that takes seriously how basic good water is for human life.

I shall talk briefly about two areas. The first obvious area is how we can intervene when there is a crisis and a shortage of water. In doing research for this debate I was delighted to find that, within a few miles of where I live in Derbyshire, in the small town of Wirksworth the rotary club set up a scheme called Aquabox, which has sent to disaster areas over 100,000 boxes containing hydration units, education materials and cooking utensils. It is an amazing local charity, which received the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2016. This shows, as in the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that we can make interventions. My question to the Minister is: how can all those small, passionate efforts be gathered up strategically to contribute not only to staving off disasters but to building creative steps to put things right in the long term and not just plugging the gaps, if I can use that terrible metaphor in a debate about water?

In addition to responding to disasters, the second area concerns the lack of an infrastructure to provide proper water for so many of our brothers and sisters. As the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, and others have said, the statistics of the number of people who lack access to proper water and sanitation, who suffer from the results of contamination and who have to go miles and spend many hours to collect water are horrific, as is the sheer vulnerability of the women and girls who carry the water.

I want to ask a number of questions about big players such as DfID. In terms of DfID’s strategic operation, to what extent can the long-term provision of a proper infrastructure to provide good water be built in to the grants given to areas for development? All the evidence shows that if we do not do that, however much money we put into education, other forms of healthcare, malaria control and so on, if the basic infrastructure for water to provide a quality of life is not there, it is a dubious investment. There will be short-term gains but, in the long term, disease will keep coming and people will struggle.

What leverage do DfID and people like the Minister have, when we are negotiating to give aid and to join in partnerships with aid agencies, to make the provision of long-term infrastructure for good water a part of the deal? Otherwise a great deal of our investment will be far more short term than we hope.

On a similar track, I should say that I am proud of our amazing aid budget and I congratulate the Government on maintaining the percentage. As we decide on how to invest that budget, how can we build into our aid programmes a challenge to the kind of culture that the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about, where people are expected to sort this out locally and get by? One of the problems with water supplies is that we expect the local people to sort them out and get by. They do that by travelling to fetch water and by losing many of their children at young ages to disease. But that is getting by in an uncivilised way. If we can make targeted and strategic investments into a culture that would allow this kind of development to happen locally through investment in infrastructure, we might begin to make some progress. I turn to the third area: DfID often carries out development in partnership with business enterprises. To what extent can they be challenged to push this issue up the agenda through how we work on development as a Government?

I want to make two more brief points. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, that what is key is the development of appropriate technologies. We have some marvellous research and technological wisdom in this country and through other countries we partner with. That needs to be part of the planning equation and the crafting of the strategy equation. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that for us. Lastly, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, we have a number of levers in terms of international co-operation. Water knows no borders and so it has to be managed politically as well as practically. It would be interesting if the Minister could share with us the role of the Government, especially through DfID but also in terms of other foreign policy relations, in how they approach the political importance of the management of water and what kind of aspirations DfID may have to see that within its portfolio?


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