Water as “first line of defence” against growing threat of climate change

22 March 2020
Water stress

WaterAid’s analysis of global water access On the frontline: The state of the world’s water 2020 examines how climate change is making it harder for people in the world’s poorest countries to rely on being able to drink clean water every day, whilst highlighting the currently inadequate amounts of climate finance spent in these countries to help them cope with the impacts of climate change.

Everyone needs water to survive. Ensuring that everyone has a source of safe water they can rely on whatever the weather, is the vital first line of defence against the growing threat of climate change. The most immediate and widespread impacts of climate change are felt through water – extreme droughts, sea level rises, more frequent floods and powerful storms, all of which threaten people’s access to safe water. 

India is the 51st most vulnerable country to climate change – among the top 30% in the world - but only receives USD $3.20 per person, per year in climate finance. This is for both mitigation – cutting carbon emissions – and adaptation – reducing the impacts of climate change. While developing countries contribute very little to global carbon emissions, they are the least prepared to withstand the effects, with little money allocated towards helping them. The average person in India accounts annually for emissions of 1.728 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide - compared to the average per capita emission in the United States of 16.5 metric tonnes.

Across the world nearly 800 million people do not have access to clean water close to home, while a staggering two billion people do not have access to a water service that is free from contamination, putting them at risk of waterborne disease and death. 

By 2050, the number of people expected to face problems in getting water at least once a month is expected to swell to five billion globally – over 50% of the world’s population. Access to clean water is uniquely vulnerable as climate change piles more pressure on water sources that are already overstretched due to inadequate infrastructures, poor water management and a lack of government funding.

Key findings: 

  • Half of all countries get less than USD $5.20 in climate finance per person, per year to help them cope with the climate crisis.
  • Only 5% of climate finance is spent on helping countries adapt to climate change. Even less is spent in the most vulnerable countries, and less still on vital services like clean water, placing billions of lives at risk.
  • Half of the countries where more than 10% of people do not have water close to home get less than 84 cents per person, per year in climate finance for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) service adaptation. 
  • The ten countries with the lowest number of people with access to water close to home get on average USD $1 per person, per year in climate finance for WASH – and Madagascar, where nearly half the population do not have water close to home, gets just 17 US cents per person, per year.

VK Madhavan, Chief Executive, WaterAid India said:

“No-one can survive without clean water. No-one can thrive if they struggle to find it. Our changing climate is making life harder for the world’s poorest people who are already struggling to get clean water.

“WaterAid’s report shows that far too little is spent on helping the most vulnerable people adapt to the impact of climate change which in turn is putting their health and lives at risk..”


For more information, please contact: Our media team at [email protected]