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Blog Action Day: Andrew Mitchell on water and sanitation

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell joined Blog Action Day by writing his own blog on the issues of water and sanitation.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

For those of us who are able to take part in Blog Action Day, going to the tap for a glass of clean water would hardly be out of the ordinary. Yet for more than 884 million of the world’s people who must rely on unsafe drinking water sources, it would be a life changing event.

Last month, I went to stay with Abrar, a father of eight, in Ethiopia. It was a chance for me to see the difficulties his family cope with every day through their own eyes. One of those challenges is just getting something safe to drink.

Almost half of people in Ethiopia lack a reliable water supply, but for the past six months, clean water has been coming into Abrar’s village with the help of British support.

Abrar showed me the difference UK support has made to his family life.

This development has made a huge difference to his and his family’s life and lays the foundations for longer term development. For starters, Abrar can be sure his family won’t get sick from drinking dirty water.

And there are further knock-on effects for rural families like his. With a safe drinking supply closer to home, children - usually girls - don’t need to miss school to spend hours fetching water for the family.

Yet access to clean water is just one half of the story. Basic sanitation such as simple latrines and a focus on good hygiene are equally important if we are to help more families like Abrar’s build a better future.

It is fitting, therefore, that today also marks Global Handwashing Day. Their slogan - “Clean hands save lives” - says it all, and is certainly the case for people like Ranu Begum in Bangladesh, whose children faced a real risk of life-threatening diarrhoeal diseases in the previously unsanitary slum where they live.

With support from DFID, WaterAid and our local partners, they now have access to proper latrines and her family have learnt good hygiene through community education groups. These days none of her children suffer from waterborne diseases, and as she herself says, “We no longer go to the hospital”.

These are the water success stories, and we know more of them are possible. Between 1990 and 2007, 1.7 billion people gained access to clean water, making this MDG target on track at a global level - an example of what we can achieve together.

However, the challenge to improve sanitation looms large with 40% of the world’s people still without basic facilities. More must be done, and it needs to be done faster.

The UK is looking long and hard at what we can do to make this happen as we review our policies to ensure we get the best results from British aid. We continue to work with our international partners to raise the profile of sanitation and water through Sanitation and Water for All: A Global Framework for Action.

I hope today, we can use our voices collectively to shine the light on this vital cause through our blogs; raising awareness about how the provision of water and sanitation can change the lives of the world’s poorest people.

Updates to this page

Published 15 October 2010