Making communities ready for a changing climate

Climate variability and climate change are already having an impact on the communities we work with and our efforts to improve access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene. WaterAid Research Officer Wen Hoe looks at how we are helping communities cope, and how we can use our experience to ensure they are resilient to long-term changes.


6 Jul 2015

In 2009, Cyclone Aila killed around 190 people in southwest Bangladesh and destroyed the homes and livelihoods of at least half a million people. It also had a devastating impact on access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).

Cyclone Aila’s impact is a reminder that climate variability and climate change already affect our work. This December, governments will gather in Paris in the latest attempt to steer us away from catastrophic four-degree warming. Even if the negotiations are a success, the level of warming already ‘locked in’ will continue to worsen challenges for the WASH sector.

Climate change will mainly have an impact on communities through the medium of water; the WASH sector, therefore, must be at the forefront of adaptation. At WaterAid, we must ask ourselves: how can we use our experience of helping communities cope with climate variability to ensure they are also resilient to climate change?  

Building climate resilience in Bangladesh

After Cyclone Alia, WaterAid Bangladesh introduced several climate change approaches, including a participatory WASH vulnerability analysis (PWVA) programme. PWVA strengthens the capacity of local governments and communities to build integrated and multi-sectoral development plans for resilience:

  1. First, WaterAid supports the formation of Ward Development Management Committees (WDMCs), chaired by local authorities, and builds their capacity. This formalises the link between communities and local authorities, also known as Union Parishads (UPs).
  2. WDMCs conduct an analysis of WASH vulnerabilities led by community members.
  3. WDMCs prepare Ward Development Plans – action plans for adaptation to identified climate risks.
  4. The UP compiles the Ward Development Plans of their nine wards, and creates a comprehensive union-level assessment of vulnerability, or a Union Development Plan.
  5. The actions implemented are monitored with community participation.

Two Bangladeshi staff members standing in front of community members showing them a large sheet of paper with characters on.

Securing water resources in West Africa

WaterAid has introduced the Securing Water Resources Approach (SWRA) in Burkina Faso and Mali to strengthen community resilience against climate variability and climate change. SWRA supports communities to improve their management of water resources:

  1. The first step is to understand what the water-related threats are, including those posed by climate variability and climate change.
  2. Communities prioritise threats for ongoing monitoring. In Burkina Faso and Mali, communities focused on rainfall and groundwater levels.
  3. Local experts are trained to interpret the data.
  4. Risk information is shared at local and national levels, addressing crucial information gaps. Communities share this data with local governments, and water security learning groups are created to share it with national governments and meteorological offices.

By using this data and adjusting their activities accordingly, communities can enhance their resilience to climate change and variability. In Burkina Faso the data enabled people to, among other actions, plan which groundwater wells to use, request seeds that need less water and build sand dams.

A woman points at a graph on the floor using a stick as other women surround her to watch.

Delivering on climate change

SWRA and PWVA are critical starting points for WaterAid to strengthen integration of climate change into our policy and programme activities. We are well placed to work with both local governments and communities to strengthen their climate change adaptation capacities. Our work on the ground also enables us to share information with national, regional and local governments, and help fill gaps in WASH and climate change evidence.

We aim to scale up successful pilot programmes across the countries where we work, and will advocate for WASH to be included in national climate change policies and programmes. We will develop a portfolio of programme options that governments can use to secure climate funding.  

Our work on climate change will include both rural and urban vulnerability. Recognising the cross-cutting nature of climate change with many related development issues, we are also increasing our advocacy and research on WASH, climate change and health.

By using what we have already learned and achieved in helping communities increase their resilience to variations in climate, and building on this through ongoing shareable analysis, we will continue to enable people to develop resilience to climate change. To ensure everyone everywhere has access to safe water and sanitation by 2030, this sustainability is crucial.

Wen Hoe is Research Officer at WaterAid. She tweets as @wenhoe.