Lord Avebury writes… World Toilet Day and sanitation: an unspoken problem

Today is World Toilet Day and it is important to remember that 2.5 billion people lack access to adequate sanitation. One in three women across the world risks shame, disease, harassment and even attack because they do not have a safe place to go to the toilet. This is unthinkable in the UK, but a reality in the developing world and the impact is devastating. Absence of clean toilets and inadequate sanitation facilities are key causes of diarrhoeal disease, the second largest killer of children worldwide, causing around 760,000 child deaths every year. Diarrhoeal disease is also a contributing factor to malnutrition, which in turn can lead to stunted growth and impede cognitive development.

This is a desperate situation. Diarrhoeal disease and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) need to be at the heart of the UK’s International Development policy. This is an area to which Liberal Democrats are committed. Our party policy on preventing disease and improving health states our aim to:

  • Ensure 15 million more people have access to safe, clean water
  • Ensure 25 million people have access to proper sanitation facilities

It’s great that Lynne Featherstone has recently joined the DfID team as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development and I’m sure that she will be working in the Department to promote these aims.

The UK has undoubtedly been at the heart of the great strides that have been made in combating diarrhoeal disease, with diarrhoea-related deaths having declined from 12 million to 7 million in the past two decades. But more needs to be done to ensure that we meet our commitments to Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5. Access to a clean toilet is a particularly relevant issue for women and I welcome the commitment made by the Government in April 2012 to double the number of people that will be reached by WASH by 2015.

I urge Lynne and her colleagues to show leadership on this issue by making water and sanitation a priority for UK development policy.

The All Party Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases has worked for a number of years to raise awareness of the importance of preventable measures to reduce childhood mortality in the developing world, particularly prevention against pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease, the two leading killers of children worldwide.

We are now looking more closely at diarrhoeal disease and WASH and are working closely with the Government and leading NGOs in the field, such as PATH, Tearfund and WaterAid, to support the development of safe, healthy and productive communities.

We have the tools at our disposal; we simply need to keep up the momentum and ensure that they are rolled out where they are most needed.

Lord Avebury is Co-Chair of the All Party Group for Child Health and Vaccine Preventable Diseases.

* Eric Lubbock, Lord Avebury, is a working peer, and Vice-Chair, Parliamentary Human Rights Group. He blogs here.

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