Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Thursday, 19 November 2009

What is an MP doing in a cesspit?

Ed Davey
BBC News, London

Andrew Mitchell MP
It was a far cry from the gleaming porcelain of Westminster

One of London's most original Victorian toilets was transformed into a cesspit complete with slurry and live maggots to raise awareness of poor sanitation in the Third World.

Development charity WaterAid festooned the lavatory in Hyde Park, central London, with rubbish.

A stagnant stream was lovingly installed, while the insalubrious surroundings also boasted a "unique toilet scent".

Andrew Mitchell, shadow international development secretary, braved the foul environs.

He told BBC London: "On the whole the chief does not approve of MPs visiting public toilets - but it was for a very good cause.

"The British people take toilets for granted, but across the world people don't have them, to their detriment."

Stephen Fry
I know I couldn't go without my loo - could you?
Stephen Fry

Mr Mitchell has visited 30 developing countries and experienced the full horror of latrines in Bangladesh, Eritrea and Sierra Leone.

He continued: "There was running water [in the Hyde Park toilet] which, in the developing world, would have sewage in it.

"There was a plank of wood to walk over and the latrines were not properly dug.

"It gets across to people the importance of good sanitation - 2.5 billion people don't have access to a proper toilet."

While Mr Mitchell may have given his shoes a surreptitious clean having left the cesspit, another man faced an altogether more gruelling cleanup.

'Shocking transformation'

Dave Sear, of Westminster Council's environment department, is the man charged with ensuring the upkeep of the borough's conveniences.

He said: "It was really shocking to see our immaculate toilets transformed in this way.

"It makes you realise just how lucky we are in this country as we just take it for granted that we have clean and safe facilities.

"The brown slurry looked absolutely disgusting but it was just a mixture of mud and sand.

"I really wouldn't want to see the real thing as this was unpleasant enough."

Barbara Frost, chief executive of WaterAid said: "A lack of toilets not only kills 4,000 children every day in the developing world, but keeps kids out of school and hampers economic prosperity."

And comedian Stephen Fry, who is backing the campaign, added: "I know I couldn't go without my loo - could you?"

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