Marking World Water Day

Today is World Water Day, the official United Nations Day for raising awareness of the vital role that water plays in communities around the world. The theme for this year’s activities is ‘water cooperation’, with the aim of highlighting the cross-border nature of both challenges and solutions to ensuring universal access to clean water. This recognition of the transnational nature of development is both timely and essential and one which the Labour party is actively working towards in its Social Contract without Borders approach to the post-MDG future. We recognise the universality of social justice, economic growth and responsible governance as core values which must be applied across all development policy, irrespective of national borders.

Inequality of access to water, sanitation and hygiene remains one of the most significant and persistent problems in development policy. Despite being taken for granted in Britain and other developed states, there remains huge inequality of provision in the developing world. It is no coincidence that diarrhoeal disease, a condition linked to unsafe water and poor hygiene practices, is particularly rife in Asia and Africa, where 80 per cent of diarrhoea-related child deaths occur. In both Africa and Asia there is a transnational dimension to improving water sources, management and treatment, with a real need for interventions at both regional and local levels.

Diarrhoeal disease is the single most common cause of childhood illness and the second-leading killer of children worldwide. Taken in isolation, diarrhoeal disease is responsible for 760,000 child deaths every year. This represents 2,000 deaths every day, a mortality rate higher than malaria, AIDs and measles combined. It is also a contributory factor to childhood pneumonia, the leading cause of child deaths worldwide, and to malnutrition, with the WHO estimating that around half of all cases of malnutrition are associated with repeated bouts of diarrhoeal disease.

Improving access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) can play a huge role in combating diarrhoeal disease. Successive UK governments have made WASH a key pillar of development policy and we must make sure that the current government remains committed to its target of doubling the number of people reached with WASH by 2015. Improving access to WASH and reducing instances of diarrhoeal disease would make a significant contribution to lowering child mortality and to making progress towards our millennium development goal target of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

One of the most effective ways of combating diarrhoeal disease is to integrate prevention and treatment into one full package of care. Organisations like PATH, WaterAid and TearFund are working to ensure that all effective tools including vaccines, WASH, antibiotics and oral rehydration solution are being utilised and combined on the ground to form a single package of care for reducing diarrhoeal disease. This approach is endorsed by UNICEF, which estimates that implementing an integrated package of health, nutrition, clean water, sanitation and hygiene solutions will cut deaths from diarrhoea worldwide by up to 60 per cent.

With progress on achieving targets for MDGs 4 and 5 still limited, we must ensure that any new post-MDG framework marries the successful elements of this approach with new policies and ideas which will help us meet our commitments to child and maternal health. With an increasing body of evidence in its favour, the prime minister must use his position as co-chair of the UN High-Level Panel on Post-2015 Development to ensure that integrated care and ambitious targets for providing universal access to WASH form key parts of the post-2015 framework and that the UK remains a committed leader on development issues.

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Glenys Kinnock is co-president of the Labour Campaign for International Development

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Photo: clive darra

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