Climate change is water change: prioritise climate-resilient water resources to prevent billions being forced into water scarcity

18 September 2019
Village women walk on cracked ground, towards a pond to collect water at Vitaranga, Gunari, Dacope, Khulna, Bangladesh, March 2018.
Image: WaterAid/ Abir Abdullah

Case studies and images available. See notes to editors for info.  

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.”  

Notes to editors  

Spokespeople available for interview: 
•    Tim Wainwright, CEO, WaterAid 
•    VK Madhavan, Chief Executive, WaterAid India  
•    Dr Virginia Newton-Lewis, Senior Policy Analyst – Water Security  
•    Jonathan Farr, Senior Policy Analyst – Climate Change  

Case studies and imagery available. For images please click HERE.

To arrange interviews or for further information please contact: 

Emily Pritchard, Global News Manager, +44 (0) 207 793 2244 or 07725991201, [email protected]  



WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]
  • To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database 

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines


[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage