What has climate change got to do with water?

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. More frequent and extreme flooding is polluting fragile water sources; longer droughts are drying up springs. People need a reliable supply of water that keeps pumping through flood, drought and natural disaster. Because with clean water, they can stay disease free, go to school, earn a living and be better prepared for whatever the future brings.

Climate change can seem abstract and overwhelming, but it’s real and it’s happening now.

Did you know that 2020 was the joint hottest year on record? Only 2016 matched last year's heat. Globally, temperatures are rising, which means the weather is becoming more extreme, resulting in either too much or too little water. In fact, a staggering 90% of all natural disasters are water-related, and they're massively impacting people's lives.

Before the spread of COVID-19, millions of people in developing communities were already struggling with a public health catastrophe. A shocking 1 in 10 people worldwide don't have clean water close to home, putting them under constant threat from waterborne diseases like cholera, which claims 120,000 lives every year. The more our climate changes, the more challenging this becomes.

Every day, already fragile water supplies are at even greater risk of disappearing completely.

The world has made huge progress in giving everyone, everywhere the clean water that is their right. Yet climate change threatens to set us back decades and push more people into extreme poverty.

How is climate change affecting people?

Susmita washes her utensils in a pond

Yelfie Collecting Water

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

outdoor latrines

In the past decade, more than 90% of natural disasters have been caused by floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events.

child walking through tidal pools

By 2040, the UN estimates that one in four children will be living in areas of extremely high-water stress.

Left to right: Susmita, 22, washes utensils in a pond in West Bengal, India. Yelfie, 35, collects water from a large pond in Frat, Ethiopia. A child uses an outdoor latrine which is often overflown due to tidewater in Khulna, Bangladesh, where sea levels have risen. A child walks through a flooded area in Morandavo, Madagascar.

Eveline collecting dirty water from a hole dug in the sand, in a partially dried riverbed located next to her family compound. This was what she used to do when there was no safe water point in her district, in the village of Sablogo, in the Commune of Lalgaye, province of Koulpelogo, Region of Centre-East, Burkina Faso, January 2018.
Eveline collecting dirty water from a hole dug in the sand, in a partially dried riverbed located next to her family compound in Burkina Faso

In countries like BangladeshEthiopia and Mozambique, climate change is causing weather extremes, from prolonged droughts to flooding at different times of the year. That means people have to walk further to find water. Often the only water available is dirty, which makes people sick. Drought also means farmers’ crops are more likely to fail and cattle risk dying, so they have less produce to sell and families have less food to eat.

Chan, with her daughters standing in floodwater which inundates their neighbourhood
Chan with her daughters standing in floodwater which inundates their neighbourhood. Cambodia

MalawiPakistan and Timor Leste are some of the countries also increasingly affected by weather extremes like flooding and drought, and least prepared to adapt to the extremities. Floods can destroy people’s crops, toilets and homes, and they can contaminate drinking water sources, damaging people’s livelihoods, their dignity, their safety and health.

 

Ali Sabo, 51, monitors rainfall using a rain gauge in Zinder, Niger.
Ali Sabo, 51, monitors rainfall using a rain gauge in Zinder, Niger.

What does WaterAid do to help the people worst affected by climate change?

We provide water services communities can rely on.

We’re working with partners and side-by-side with the world’s poorest 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 waterpoints and pipe networks that can withstand floods, so people continue to have clean and safe drinking water. And 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 waterpoints 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.

Find out how we’re using technology to provide reliable sources of water

 

We work with governments and businesses for bigger change

We share our knowledge with governments and the private sector to change even more lives. We work with governments to make sure access to clean water is at the heart of their climate adaptation and development plans.

But nowhere near enough government money is invested in helping people most vulnerable to climate change. Our research shows that in some of the poorest countries in the world, as little as $0.20 per person is spent each year on making water services climate resilient.

We're calling for an urgent tenfold increase in climate finance spent on getting sustainable, clean water to the people currently forced to live without, so they can cope with the effects of climate change.

Read more about our approach

Fatimata Coulibaly, 29, a member of the Benkadi women's group who is in charge of water monitoring and management, standing with an electric probe next to a well inside the market garden
Fatimata, 29, a member of the Benkadi women's group who is in charge of water monitoring and management, standing with an electric probe next to a well inside the market garden. Mali

A sustainable future, resilient to climate change

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. And they will be better able to earn a living, and put money aside for the future. In short, communities will be stronger, so they can plan and prepare for whatever tomorrow brings.