WaterAid calls on global leaders to prioritise climate-resilient water resources

3 min read
Village women walk on cracked ground, towards a pond to collect water at Vitaranga, Gunari, Dacope, Khulna, Bangladesh, March 2018.
Image: WaterAid/ Abir Abdullah

WaterAid is calling on world leaders meeting at the United Nations General Assembly to urgently fund the provision of climate-resilient clean water to everyone in the face of a climate crisis that is forcing millions of people into water scarcity.  

Water security, specifically access to water and sanitation services, is the first line of defence against the impacts of climate change. No other consequence of climate change, except for extreme heat, will be as widespread and immediate as the effect it has on water.  

Since 1981, WaterAid has reached over 27 million people around the world with clean water. But climate change is reversing this progress and increasing the number of communities that have to worry about water. By 2050, the number of people lacking water at least once a month will have swelled to five billion, according to a recent report from the Global Commission on Adaptation.

Climate change increases the unpredictability of weather patterns and extreme weather events: how much, how often, and how intensively it rains, and the frequency and severity of extreme events. The more global heating we lock in, the more the impacts will be felt through our water systems, increasing the pressure on areas where water supplies are already scarce.   

The impacts are being felt across the globe today. In 2018, Mozambique was hit by unprecedented droughts that caused severe water shortages in capital city. Earlier this year, the same country was hit by two cyclones and flash flooding that stretched across the country. Climate change is filling hurricanes and tropical storms with more rain and power, causing devastating destruction, as seen in the Bahamas just a fortnight ago.   

Investing in water and sanitation services for at-risk communities is one of the best investments you can make to help make people resilient to the effects of climate change. It’s also a relatively cheap investment. The Global Commission on Adaptation report found that just a $200-$300billion investment in water resources before 2030 would reap $1.4trillion in benefits globally, whilst protecting the lives of billions of people.  

Despite this, investment into climate adaptation accounts for just 6% of global climate finance. An even smaller proportion of that is going to Least Developed Countries, and an even smaller proportion of that is being spent on household water and sanitation, and on water security.  

Justino da Silva, Country Director, WaterAid Timor Leste, said:

Climate change is causing immediate and long-term impacts on life in Timor Leste. Around 80% of the population rely on agriculture to make a living, but erratic rainfall, long dry seasons, sea level rises and rivers drying up is making it harder and harder for people to feed their families. In villages where WaterAid has worked to bring water and sanitation services to communities, equipment has been damaged by extreme weather events including landslides and floods. If you do not have basic services, you cannot be resilient to anything.

Tim Wainwright, CEO, WaterAid said:

We must stop thinking of climate change as just something we have to prevent, and instead focus on finding ways to tackle the effects that are being felt right now. Water and sanitation services are uniquely vulnerable to climate change – whether you live in Chennai, California or rural Malawi – and there is no better investment than getting these basic services to those who are currently forced to live without them.

Tackling water change will reduce the likelihood that more and more communities will have to worry about water. I urge leaders to recognise the urgency of the climate emergency and prioritise investments in the services that are the most vulnerable, but can make the biggest difference to millions of people.