Time for urgent action and funds to make water central to African climate policies

30 September 2021
Abandoned canoes on a cracked Lake Chilwa, Machinga, Malawi,
Image: WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

28 September 2021, Abuja, Nigeria – Climate change threatens critical water supplies for Africa’s most vulnerable people. This is the central theme WaterAid regional programmes in Africa want to ensure delegates to Africa Climate Week 2021 incorporate in their demands to world leaders meeting at COP26 in November.

28 September 2021, Abuja, Nigeria – Climate change threatens critical water supplies for Africa’s most vulnerable people. This is the central theme WaterAid regional programmes in Africa want to ensure delegates to Africa Climate Week 2021 incorporate in their demands to world leaders meeting at COP26 in November.

Africa Climate Week, being hosted virtually by Uganda and UN partners, begins on Sunday 26 - 29 September, as African countries prepare their positions in advance of the COP26 climate summit in the UK. Africa Climate Week 2021 | UNFCCC

Africa is the most-exposed region to the adverse effects of climate change despite contributing the least to global warming. The entire continent accounts for less than 4% of total global carbon emissions but is home to 33 of the top 50 countries most vulnerable to climate change.

This year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report shows a clear link between climate change and water. It makes a stark warning that urgent action is needed to tackle the dangerous effects of climate change, which is most felt through access to water: flooding, drought, unpredictable weather patterns and salination from rising seas.

Current examples:

  • By 2025 Niger's annual water needs will exceed the available water resources and by 2050 water volumes are expected to fall significantly across Burkina Faso.
  • The UN declared that Madagascar is on the brink of experiencing the world's first "climate change famine" in the south of the island nation.
  • The fluctuations in the levels of Malawi’s 2nd largest body of water, Lake Chilwa, have become ever more extreme affecting the lives of 1.5 million who live in that densely populated basin region. Pictured above and available here.

In addition to the challenges of coping with the effects of extreme weather events, almost 1 in 3 Africans live without clean water close to their homes. The continent still depends on surface water for drinking, washing and cleaning. But these sources of water are unreliable and easily contaminated. These issues, combined with rising temperatures, can facilitate the spread of waterborne diseases such as cholera across Africa.

In Nigeria, 60 million people lack clean water close to home, depending almost entirely on groundwater for domestic water supply, especially in rural areas. Groundwater provides much-needed protection against the impacts of climate change, acting as a buffer to changing water availability and quality in many parts of the world.

Climate change is also aggravating the sanitation crisis. Extreme weather – floods, rising temperatures, prolonged droughts – are causing irreparable damage to weak sanitation systems and causing illnesses to spread further in vulnerable communities. An estimated 250,000 additional deaths per year are predicted between 2030 and 2050 due to climate change and many of these deaths will be linked to poor sanitation.

Poor sanitation and the transmission of fatal, but preventable illnesses – such as cholera - are also compounded by the effects of climate change. Only 88 million people living in Nigeria (that is 44% of the population) can rely on safely managed sanitation – that is a toilet serviced to allowed human waste to be treated and disposed of safely. About 32 million people (16% of the population) have limited sanitation – that is the use of improved latrines where there is hygienic separation of human faeces from human contact but that is shared by two or more households. A staggering 112 million people still do not have access to a private toilet of their own, and about 46 million have no choice but to practise open defecation. 

Where decent toilets are lacking, human faeces can contaminate the groundwater or end up in rivers and lakes, polluting what is often the only supply of water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. Children play on ground rife with pathogens and as a result of faecal contamination, whole communities can contract diarrhoeal diseases.

Nigeria ranks 55th most vulnerable country to climate change – among the top 35% in the world - but only receives USD $1 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 Nigeria accounts annually for emissions of 0.546 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide - compared to the average per capita emission in the United States of 16.5 metric tonnes. 

“Climate change has intensified both the sanitation and water crisis. The climate clock is ticking and if efforts are not made to better understand, value and protect this vital resource, making it a central feature of climate change adaptation strategies, then we face a very bleak future.

“The government must respond now to the urgent threat of climate change and recognise the vital role climate-resilient water and sanitation services and systems play in helping vulnerable communities be more prepared for climate change; because despite contributing the least to it, it’s the world’s poorest people currently suffering the brunt of its destructive impact. 

“Far too little is spent on helping the most vulnerable people adapt to the impacts of climate change which is putting the health and lives of millions at risk. Climate change affects the occurrence of infectious diseases. Climatic conditions affect epidemic diseases, shifting the burden of diseases and increasing health risks for the populace. It is therefore crucial that we tackle climate change so as to mitigate these health risks as well.”

Africa Climate Week is expected to build momentum towards ambitious political action. The leadup to COP26 is also an opportunity for African countries, including Nigeria, as they prepare their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). These are national climate plans which need to include commitments for climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Achieving these national climate plans requires significant financing to use to adapt to climate change. At present, only 5% of total global climate funding is spent on helping countries adapt to the changing climate, and that money is not targeted at the communities most vulnerable to climate change. Indeed, some of the most climate vulnerable countries only receive $1 per person annually for investment in water resources and services.

We need urgent action to make sure that the most vulnerable in Africa can cope in the face of climate change,” says WaterAid’s Regional Director for East Africa Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole. “Given the undeniable links between climate change and water, this means that everyone must have a reliable and sustainable source of clean water and access to a toilet that is clean, safe and climate-resilient.” “This level of funding is a completely inadequate response to the growing crisis and to the critical need to begin adaptation initiatives now to build resilience for the future” says Olutayo Bankole-Bolawole.

“Africa Climate Week is a major opportunity to highlight to national governments, regional donors and institutions the value that climate-resilient WASH brings to climate change adaptation for national action, and to advocate for the funding needed to make climate adaptation sustainable and resilient.

“We are calling for all governments to urgently address the effects of the climate crisis and ensure sustainable access to clean water is a fundamental part of their national strategies for both adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.”



DG Knowledge Hub: https://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/guest-articles/addressing-climate-change-means-addressing-theglobal-sanitation-crisis/

2019 WASH National Outcome Routine Mapping (WASH NORM)

For more information, please contact:

In Southern Africa: Maureen Nkandu [email protected]

In East Africa: Elizabeth Mwambulukutu [email protected]

In West Africa Kine Diop [email protected]