Misplaced Priorities

GlenysKinnock4x3.jpgBaroness Glenys Kinnock is Labour’s Shadow Minister for International Development in the Lords

On June 20th, a major global conference on sustainable development will take place in Rio de Janeiro. This Rio + 20 Summit will be the largest event in the history of the United Nations and is an unprecedented opportunity to build a future that is more equitable, more prosperous and more respectful of the planet’s finite resources.
The focus will be on energy, water and sanitation, food security in developing countries and plans to devise ways to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and clean up, and protect, our oceans. But with only a few days left for negotiation, very little has been agreed and the Outcome Document remains vague and lacking in ambition.

When the objective of the Summit is to support sustainable development, we have to ask where exactly the UK now stands on access to clean, safe water and sanitation. The fact is that the bilateral aid programming on these sectors is one third of that of Germany or Spain, and in 2010 the UK made just $66.3m of new commitments to water and sanitation, compared to $252m in the previous year, under Labour.

In 2009, the Labour government committed to spending a total of $200m a year on water and sanitation – just for Africa – while, as the figures clearly show, the Coalition government invested only half that amount in bilateral spend worldwide in 2010-2011. When diarrhoea is the biggest killer of children in Africa, and the second biggest killer of children globally, how can it be that water and sanitation is one of DfID’s smallest investment portfolios.

The unifying principle behind calls for strong action at the Rio Conference is the fact that access to water and sanitation has been declared a human right by the UN.

My understanding is that the government is engaged in a cross-Whitehall consultation on the Right to Sanitation. This “review” does, in fact, represent what has been the UK position since July 2010 when they chose to abstain on the issue at Rio + 20 negotiations on sanitation as a human right.

We must ask whether the government supports the view that this undermines efforts at the Summit to confirm not only the importance of the right to water; but also, and especially, the importance of the very neglected priority for the provision of functioning toilets. Furthermore, why, two years after the UN General Assembly Resolution calling for international recognition of the right to sanitation the UK has still not ratified this.
Nick Clegg and Caroline Spellman will set off together next week to represent the UK in Rio. We can only hope that they will adopt a strong and principled position, alongside other EU Member States, on issues that are so critical to ensuring that the Rio Outcome Document can support and promote real progress on sustainable development.

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