21/03/2012 18:19 GMT | Updated 21/05/2012 06:12 BST

Why the Poorest Will Have to Wait for Water

The Millennium Development Goal on water has been met. This is a major global achievement and we should all feel pride in the part that our governments have played to get us to this milestone.

That over 2 billion people have gained access to clean water to drink since 1990 shows that aid is working. This essential service is transforming lives.

Nadia from Rwanda is just 16; she sums it up well when she says, "before this pump was working we had to get our water from the swamp, it was far away and we would get tired going there. I had to collect water when I was pregnant, which was difficult. We would get sick a lot, we would often get worms. Before all the little children would always fall sick, and I was worried that my baby would also have fallen sick. The clean water has made a big difference. The future is brighter for me and my son".

While this and countless other stories provide meaning to this success, there is no time for complacency. We cannot forget that 783 million people are still without access to clean drinking water and a further 2.5 billion still live without basic toilets. Although the water target has been met, the sanitation target remains off-track globally, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is only by investing in both water and sanitation that the full health benefits of these services will be realised for the world's poorest people. We know that diarrhoea is the single biggest killer of children in sub-Saharan Africa and on current trends it will be around 200 years before Africa has universal access to both water and sanitation. As always, it is the poorest that will have to wait.

But we can change this. The worldwide success of meeting the water MDG came about through the combination of political will and investment. The Sanitation and Water for All partnership is the key global platform to support government efforts to tackle the water and sanitation crisis, both institutionally and financially.

The UK Government's Department for International Development plays an important leadership role within the partnership and the Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell was the first minister to confirm that he would be attending the forthcoming High Level Meeting in April.

Another sign of DFID's commitment to water and sanitation is the recent publication of a Portfolio Review that examines in detail the impact of its work in this area. Importantly, the review finds strong evidence that water and sanitation positively impact on the health of poor people in developing countries and that DFID's investment in water, sanitation and hygiene represents excellent value for money for the UK taxpayer.

On the back of such strong evidence we hope that DFID will again provide a lead to the international community in substantially increasing its target for the number of people it will reach by 2015 with access to water and sanitation.

Given the scale of the problem remaining, the UK must continue to build on this good work and encourage other countries to follow its lead.