Water and Climate Change - Catalysing collective action

5 min read
Naja'atu (15) scoops water that she has dug from the ground near a stream in Kissa community, Kwaja village, Adamawa. Nigeria. February 2021
Image: WaterAid/ Etinosa Yvonne

Access to safe water, decent toilets, and good hygiene underpins the realisation of the other Sustainable Development Goals and without which human existence is threatened. However, despite the well-known importance of universal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), national statistics show that 60 million people in Nigeria lack clean water, 112 million lack decent toilets, and 167 million lack handwashing facilities with soap and water close to home. Levels of access to WASH services in rural communities are even more worrisome, making this segment of the population far more vulnerable.

Worse, climate change is piling pressure on water resources that are already overstretched due to inadequate infrastructures, poor water management, and insufficient government funding. Rising temperatures are leading to shrinking bodies of surface water while rising sea levels are contaminating freshwater sources. Floods destroy sanitation facilities and lead to further contamination and destruction of WASH infrastructure. These hinder good hygiene practices, increases the spread of diseases, and significantly reduces productivity.

The central theme of the SDGs ‘Leave no one behind’ stresses the need to leave no one without access to clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene regardless of age, gender, location, social or financial status. In the journey for a sustainable planet by 2030, the SDGs are connected. Access to WASH enables the realisation of education and health goals, and advances gender justice and reduces poverty. Also, taking urgent action to combat climate change (SDG13) in the WASH space will mean improving water quality by reducing pollution and increasing the recycling and safe use of untreated waste water (SDG 6.4)

Without easy access to clean water, people’s lives are blighted by sickness, poverty and the endless drudgery of collecting water. For the 60 million people in Nigeria who do not have water close to home, the hours spent collecting water or the time needed to recover from waterborne illnesses caused by dirty water, robs entire communities of an opportunity to build a better future. For the women and girls tasked with fetching water for their households, having to walk long distances to find a clean water source takes time away from their education and disproportionately impacts on their lives while exposing them to physical and sexual violence.

Calling on the government to accelerate progress on water to withstand the impacts of climate change

With just a decade to deliver on the SDGs, there is a critical need to accelerate progress on water, sanitation and hygiene to meet the ambitious goal of the SDGs. The government cannot continue to handle business as usual.

The government at sub-national and national levels must take urgent actions to prioritise water in their climate plans and address current and future threats to water access as part of climate actions plans—including the National Action Plan for the revitalisation of the WASH sector and national budgets.

The government needs to facilitate community, state and national awareness of climate change; engage and develop the local expertise of professionals by presenting climate change science, scenarios and uncertainties in locally relevant contexts and through interactive workshops; and adopt a sequential approach to assess risks and identify vulnerabilities in the context of other socio-economic and location-specific pressures.

The government must step up now, commit to reductions and recognise the critical role clean water has in helping communities cope with climate change and recovering quickly from related extreme weather events. More importantly, the government must translate commitments to realistic and sustainable actions.

Agenda 2030 and water stewardship – Private sector

Over the years, non-governmental and other civil society organisations have engaged with the private sectors on the opportunities for WASH advocacy within their supply chains, mainly on the basis of business improvement, corporate social responsibility and water stewardship programmes.

However, with increasing demand for water and sanitation services, the impact of COVID on economies and climate change on water resources, corporations must go beyond social responsibility to recognise WASH as a strategic and core business concern.

Beyond providing WASH improvement in core company operations or to local communities through NGO and community level partnerships, there is an opportunity for water stewardship to be approached as a business risk mitigation measure. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Attention to Watershed Management: Private sector can support research work for watershed management and ensure findings are actioned. They can develop capacities at community levels for wastershed management at their level in their areas of operation while also supporting sector strengthening through training and sensitization on Climate Change.
  • Funding Innovation: The water security crisis has also encouraged incredible innovation with proven capabilities and functionalities in the water technology sector however funds to scale-up these ideas are lacking. The private sector, with their financial capacity, can fund the commercialization of many of these innovations targeted at securing safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene for all. This will not only reduce vulnerability to climate change it will also create jobs and economic growth indirectly working towards achieving SDG 8 centered on promoting economic growth, higher levels of productivity and technological innovation.

Progress, projections and expectations

This window in Nigeria has never been as opened as the opportunity afforded by the recent declaration of a state of emergency in Nigeria’s WASH sector, the launch of the National WASH Action Plan to revitalise the sector and the launch of the national sanitation campaign – Clean Nigeria; Use the Toilet which clearly signals political commitment from the highest level to end Nigeria’s WASH crises. These present huge opportunities to make WASH a national priority by harnessing the potentials of the private sector in driving sustainable access, widespread adoption of the hygiene behaviour, and balancing it with equity concerns to ensure universal WASH access.

Catalysing collective action

Increased access to climate-resilient water services cannot be achieved by any government or organisation in autarky. It requires a synergistic, systematic, and multi-sector approach. Collaboration is critical to achieving sustainable water management and water security at sub-national, national and global levels. Water is everybody’s business. While governments must demonstrate political will, provide enabling environment for businesses to flourish, and also increase investments in the WASH sector, the private sector must also engage with key actors in the WASH sector and work towards putting in place measures that will support sustainable management of water resources to meet human and business needs.