A Great Stink at the Houses of Parliament

Today, we took 115,056 of your signatures to Westminster, to tell the UK Government why we need a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation. Here our Campaigns Officer, Rebecca Owen, explains why.


15 Jul 2015

In 1858, there was a Great Stink in the Houses of Parliament. The overwhelming stench of raw sewage in the Thames made the sanitation crisis impossible to ignore.

Today, the stink is a little further from Westminster – but the crisis is just as real. Every day, it costs 1,400 children their lives.

Which is why, thanks to your incredible support, we took 115,056 signatures to the Houses of Parliament today, calling on the UK Government to support a dedicated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on water and sanitation and asking them to do more to make sure everyone everywhere has access to clean water and safe toilets by 2030.

Barabara Forst and Baroness Verma hold a petition.
WaterAid CEO Barbara Frost and Baroness Verma holding the petition of 115,056 signatures at the Houses of Parliament.

150 years ago, the UK's first proper sewerage system was completed, after decades of inaction.

Even as cholera and dysentery haunted our overcrowded, insanitary slums, it wasn't until the sanitation problem literally got up the noses of our MPs that the funds were found to make Joseph Bazalgette's visionary new sewer system a reality.

This investment helped transform the nation’s public health over the decades that followed – something we reminded the UK Government of today.

A house, school or hospital without taps and toilets

In 2015, you can't imagine finding a house, school or hospital without taps and toilets. But change took time, as our supporters discovered through the Big History Project.

However, we know universal access was reached much more quickly in other countries; in South Korea, the government invested heavily in sanitation while the country’s GDP was lower than many of the poorest countries today, leading to a rapid transformation.

A woman sits outside her home in a street in Kampala, Uganda.
Christine Mbabazi's house at the bottom of a gully floods with rubbish and human waste when it rains. Her son died of cholera due to the contaminated water the family drink and live around. Kampala, Uganda.

Today, addressing the water and sanitation crisis isn't so much a technological or financial challenge as it is political, and we know that 2015 is the year we can make change happen.

When the SDGs - new UN targets to end extreme poverty - are agreed in September, a dedicated water and sanitation goal is essential not only to improve health, but education, gender equality and economic growth.

And with the transformative impact of its pioneering decision to invest in our sewer system in mind, our government should be leading the way, by demonstrating its commitment to taps and toilets.

We believe that universal access to water and sanitation is possible, and that political will is the key.

Find out why 2015 is such an important year >