More than 100 parliamentarians met characters from Victorian times to discover what life was like during the Great Stink of 1858 as WaterAid called for the UK Government to lead the way in ending the global water and sanitation crisis.
Ms Spelman also met some of the 115,056 supporters who signed the charity’s ‘Make It Happen’ petition, who came from across the country to discuss the importance of ensuring everyone everywhere has clean water to drink and somewhere safe to go to the toilet.
Ms Spelman said: “It was an eye-opening day, seeing 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, and these are key to achieving a healthier and more prosperous world.
“I am proud that the UK Parliament has made the historic commitment to ending global poverty, investing 0.7% of our national income in international development. As we develop the Sustainable Development Goals for addressing global development, it is clear that water and sanitation must play a central role.”
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.
This year also has a global significance, as the framework for the development priorities for the international community until 2030 is being agreed in September.
WaterAid’s Chief Executive Barbara Frost presented the ‘Make it Happen’ petition to Baroness Verma, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Development. Barbara 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.”