Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge, stepped back in time to visit WaterAid’s pop-up Victorian street to mark 150 years of Britain’s modern sewers and call on the Government to lead the way in ending the global water and sanitation crisis.
The MP met characters from Victorian times to discover what life was like during the Great Stink of 1858 and signed a cross party letter to Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for International Development, calling for the UK Government to take action to help improve sanitation globally.
He said: “It has been an eye-opening (and nose holding!) day, experiencing what life was like in Victorian Britain when people lacked access to safe water and there was no decent sewerage system.
Investment in water and sanitation had a huge impact on our health and development but sadly in large parts of the world people still have no access to clean water and sanitation.
Fifteen years ago the Labour government worked with other governments on the Millennium Development Goals. They have driven enormous progress. Now later this year the world will come together again at a UN summit to agree new sustainable Development Goals. It is clear that water and sanitation must play a central role as they and are key to achieving a healthier and more prosperous world for all. Ours is the generation that can wipe out extreme poverty."
Britain’s first life-saving sewerage system was created following the ‘Great Stink’, when the stench of the polluted Thames was so unbearable, it sent MPs running from the House of Commons clutching handkerchiefs to their faces and spurring them into action to clean up the city.
The opening of the first modern sewage pumping station in 150 years ago, designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, helped prevent cholera outbreaks in London. The disease had had a devastating impact across the country since its arrival in 1831, similar to the effect of Ebola in West Africa today. This marked the start of Britain’s drive to protect public health through good sanitation with similar transformations following across the country.
WaterAid’s Chief Executive Barbara Frost said: “Our own history shows how water and sanitation can transform a nation, helping to create a healthier and more prosperous society.
“Today, 650 million people across the world still lack access to clean water and 2.3 billion have nowhere safe to go to the toilet. Life in a densely populated slum bears far too close a resemblance to UK cities in the 1800s, representing a real and growing threat to global health and stability. Diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation is the second biggest killer of under-fives worldwide, claiming the lives of 1,400 children every single day.
“The stink may be a bit further from Westminster now; but that’s no reason not to act. With the right political will, we can solve the global water and sanitation crisis. This year we have a unique chance to right this wrong as world leaders agree the new Sustainable Development Goals to eradicate poverty over the next 15 years. Only with investment in sanitation can we achieve a safe and secure future for everyone everywhere.”
A recent survey, commissioned by WaterAid and conducted by ComRes in May, revealed that the British public thinks the most important sectors we should support through UK aid are water, sanitation and hygiene, and health. However, water, sanitation and hygiene currently receives a small fraction of UK aid funding – just 2%, compared to 20% for health and 13% for education.
WaterAid is calling for increased investment in water and sanitation in order to achieve improvements in health and other development areas, as having access to these simple services is the foundation to climbing out of poverty.