The East Belfast Alliance MP said the issue, which is close to her heart as her former career was as a civil engineer, said she hoped the debate, which will begin at 11am, would focus international attention on the issue ahead of World Water Day 2012 on Thursday.
She said she hoped it would encourage the Department for International Development to be even more ambitious with its goals going forward and that it would press others to do the same ahead of the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) high level meeting in Washington DC next month.
“The lack of access to clean water and sanitation is one of the most significant challenges still facing the developing world,” said Mrs Long.
“There are an estimated 800 million people around the world who don’t have access to clean water but there is an even larger number – 2.6 billion – don’t have access to basic sanitation. That’s over a third of the world’s population who are exposed to the health risks associated with inadequate sanitation.
One of the many direct consequences is that people are dying of diseases which, with the right basic water treatment and sanitation facilities, could be almost entirely eliminated. Currently, the biggest killer of children under five in sub-Saharan Africa is diarrhoeal diseases, many of which are entirely preventable conditions. Those children are dying needlessly.”
Mrs Long MP said the biggest step-change in public health and mortality rates came not as the result of medical advances but due to wider access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.
“In developing countries, women and girls still shoulder most of the responsibility for the collection of clean drinking water from wells, which may involve long and arduous journeys on daily basis. The provision of a simple village stand pipe could therefore not only improve health but also education outcomes for women and girls in particular who, freed from this daily chore, would have time to attend school.
“So, by investing in water and sanitation, we can improve both the health and education of millions of people around the world. Safe water and sanitation transform lives, improve health and lifts communities out of poverty.
“The UN Human Development Report estimates that for every pound invested in this sector, £8 is returned in saved time, increased productivity and reduced health costs. It is a wise as well as a necessary investment. The impact of that investment can be multiplied if governments also work with NGOs and charities, which can assist with providing education to local communities through church and community networks.
“Whilst this month we received the welcome news that the UN Millennium Development Goal on Water has been met, it is clear that there is still much work to be done. At the current rate of progress, it is estimated that it could take 350 years for everyone in Africa to have access to adequate sanitation.”