The Ripple Effect: Climate Change's Impact on Global Water Resources

4 min read
Karimatu (17) walks back home after collecting water from the pond in Kinga community, Kwaja village, Adamawa. Nigeria. February 2021
Image: WaterAid/ Etinosa Yvonne

As the global community faces the far-reaching consequences of climate change, one of the most pressing concerns is its profound impact on water resources. 

Our climate is changing at an alarming rate and it’s making it even harder for the world’s poorest people to get clean water. In the past decade, more than 90 per cent of natural disasters have been caused by floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events. 

From sea-level rise to flooding, cyclones and droughts, the climate crisis is a water crisis. 

With devastating impacts on communities on the front line of climate change – hitting those least responsible for it the hardest. 

Over two billion people worldwide lack access to safely managed drinking water, and climate change is intensifying this crisis.

One of the most immediate consequences of climate change is the exacerbation of water scarcity. As temperatures rise, evaporation rates increase, leading to more frequent and prolonged droughts. 

With the current climate scenario, it is predicted that water scarcity will displace between 24 million and 700 million people, by 2030.

Seven months pregnant Rani (25) witnessed cyclone Amphan in Bangladesh
Seven months pregnant Rani (25) witnessed cyclone Amphan in Bangladesh
Image: WaterAid/ Fabeha Monir

Climate change also disrupts traditional precipitation patterns, causing unpredictable and extreme weather events such as floods and droughts. Floods can contaminate water sources, leading to the spread of waterborne diseases, while droughts deplete water reserves, leaving communities without a vital lifeline. 

In both cases, the ability to access clean water is compromised, placing vulnerable populations at increased risk.

People need a climate-resilient supply of water that keeps pumping through floods, drought and natural disasters. Regions that are already grappling with water scarcity find themselves in an even more precarious situation. 

Beyond water scarcity, climate change poses significant challenges to sanitation infrastructure. Increased flooding can damage sewage systems, leading to the contamination of water sources and the spread of diseases. Inadequate sanitation facilities in many parts of the world are particularly susceptible to climate-related disruptions, further compromising hygiene and public health. 

WaterAid Australia is at the forefront of the battle against water scarcity and access to climate-resilient sanitation, advocating for sustainable solutions to ensure access to clean water and sanitation for all. We provide water and sanitation services that communities can rely on.

We’re working with partners and side-by-side with the world’s most vulnerable communities to help them get a steady supply of clean water, come rain or shine. We’ve been doing this for 40 years, so we know exactly what it takes.

We provide water points and pipe networks that can withstand floods, so people continue to have clean and safe drinking water. We help people monitor and manage their water supplies properly to meet their basic needs in times of drought. 

There is a lot more to do. Our planned work includes raising water points and toilets, so they withstand floods and don’t contaminate water, storing rainwater in rooftop tanks or ponds for times of drought, or helping communities monitor water levels so they can prepare for shortages.

Rural communities often feel the impact of climate change on water resources the most. Traditional water resource management practices are often no longer relevant as they face unique water challenges due to unforeseen climate change impacts 

 

Justine, 30, standing with a pickaxe looking at the sky, in the middle of some small plants of millet in her family field which is missing rain and thirsty for water
Justine, 30, standing with a pickaxe looking at the sky, in the middle of some small plants of millet in her family field which is missing rain and thirsty for water
Image: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

In the face of these challenges, innovation becomes a crucial tool in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. We promote innovative technologies and practices that can help communities become more resilient to the changing climate. 

Rainwater harvesting systems, decentralised water treatment solutions, and climate-smart agricultural practices are just a few more examples of initiatives aimed at safeguarding water resources in the face of a changing climate.

Addressing the impact of climate change on water resources requires a coordinated and global effort. WaterAid Australia actively supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 – ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. 

By advocating for climate-resilient water and sanitation solutions, supporting vulnerable communities and fostering international collaboration, we strive to make progress toward achieving this critical goal.

The fight for water and sanitation is inseparable from the fight against climate change. Through sustainable solutions, innovation and global collaboration, we can build a resilient future where communities thrive, even in the face of a changing climate. 

Clean water can create a ripple effect that will be felt for generations. By ensuring people have clean water close to their homes, they will be better able to stay free of disease. When they are healthy and well, they are better able to go to school or to grow food they can eat or sell. With clean water, they will be better able to earn a living and put money aside for the future. Communities will be stronger, so they can plan and prepare for whatever tomorrow brings