WaterAid and the 'Great Stink'
On Wednesday I attended a WaterAid event to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 'Great Stink'. In July and August of 1858 London was overwhelmed by the stench of untreated human and industrial waste that had amassed on the banks of the River Thames. The smell was so bad that Parliament had to be suspended. Disgust and fear at the smell, and the disease it signified, prompted a campaign for better sewage and sanitation facilities in the capital. The city’s inadequate waste disposal infrastructure was held responsible for several recent outbreaks of cholera. Joseph Bazalgette was appointed by the city’s authorities to design and build a sewer network for London that safely disposed of human waste.
The anniversary is a unique opportunity to reflect on the fundamental importance of accessible sanitation facilities and how often we take it for granted. This is a question of basic human health and dignity. Without access to sanitation facilities life becomes a daily repetition of illness and humiliation.
The squalor and disease of nineteenth century London may seem distant, but it remains a daily reality for millions of people across the world. Only two thirds of the world’s population have access to an adequate bathroom. The remaining 2.5 billion suffer daily indignity and ill-health. Poor sanitation is responsible for the spread of a range of diseases from diarrhoea and malaria to HIV/AIDS.
I am concerned that since 2010 spending on water and sanitation by the Department for International Development has risen at a slower pace than under the Labour government. Having more than doubled between 2005 and 2010, the growth in spending has since declined to just over 45%. There clearly remain further opportunities for the Department to improve sanitation in the developing world.
On Wednesday I also attended a reception hosted by ADS, the Areospace, Defence and Space trade association, to promote apprenticeships in these sectors. Last year alone these sectors provided 9,000 apprenticeships. In addition to providing these positions, these sectors also generate £56bn a year for the UK economy, including £31bn in exports, and directly provide 310,000 jobs.
The government had planned to introduce a vote on amending the Hunting Act on Wednesday, that would have effectively reintroduced hunting with dogs. I was grateful for the considerable volume of correspondence that I received from constituents on both sides of the debate. In the event, the government lost their nerve and withdrew their amendment, it being clear that members of their own party and the SNP were planning to vote against the reintroduction of hunting. I remain emphatically opposed to any further attempt to reintroduce hunting, whenever that might be.