WaterAid calls for urgent government action on water as “first line of defence” against growing threat of climate change

Posted by
Anna France Williams
20 March 2020
Water, Climate change
WaterAid/ Abir Abdullah

On the frontline:
'The state of the world’s water 2020' briefing released to mark World Water Day 2020

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WaterAid is calling for urgent action from governments around the world and the international community to include safe water and sanitation in their plans for dealing with the impact of climate change. 

1 in 10 people globally do not even have a basic water pump or covered well close to home, which is making it much harder to cope with the growing impacts of climate change.

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. The report also highlights 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. 

Ethiopia ranks the 23rd most vulnerable country to climate change  - among the top 15 per cent in the world – but only receives around USD $0.39 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. In west Africa, Niger is in the top 5% per cent of most climate-vulnerable countries, ranking 2nd in the world. Despite this, the country gets just USD $0.82 per person, per year in climate finance. 

WaterAid is calling on governments globally to include planning for how to provide climate resilient water and sanitation services in their NDC (Nationally Determined Contribution) plans - the document which it is obliged to produce by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change – and its National Adaptation Plans.  This sets a baseline from which countries can develop bids to access global climate funding sources.

Across the world nearly 800 million people do not have access to clean water close to home, while a staggering two billion people lack access to a water service that is free from contamination, putting them at risk of water-borne 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 countries where more than 10% of people do not have water close to home get less than 84 cents per head, 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 cents per person, per year.

•    In Africa, which accounts for less than 4% of global carbon emissions, over two-thirds of countries receive less than USD $1 in climate finance per person, per year allocated towards clean water, decent sanitation and hygiene.

Tim Wainwright, Chief Executive at WaterAid, said:

“No-one can survive without clean water. No-one can thrive if they have to struggle to find it. But right now, 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 impacts of climate change which is putting the health and lives of millions at risk. Governments must recognise the vital role clean water plays in helping their people be more resilient to climate change and work to address this urgent threat now so that future generations can stay safe and healthy.” 


Download the report: www.washmatters.wateraid.org/on-the-frontline

Download the photos: https://wateraid.assetbank-server.com/assetbank-wateraid/images/assetbox/b581b947-879b-4cd4-85f4-17d0b85c079f/assetbox.html

Download footage: https://wateraid.assetbank-server.com/assetbank-wateraid/action/viewDownloadSharedAsset?download=354a54636f365836784e51665545756e7152593742773d3d&asset=303546444767614c507556523651564c4949613431413d3d

For more information, please contact:

In London:
Rosie Stewart, Senior Media Officer, [email protected]
+44 (0) 207 793 4943
Anna France-Williams, Senior Media Officer, [email protected]
+44 (0) 207 793 5048
Emily Pritchard, Global News Manager, [email protected]
+44 (0)207 793 2244

Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552 or email [email protected]
In the US: Emily Haile, Senior Communications and Media Manager, [email protected]
In Delhi: Juhi Mohan, Media and Communications Coordinator, [email protected]
In Melbourne: Tegan Dunne, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +61 3 9001 8248
In Ottawa: Aneesha Hampton, Communications Manager, [email protected] or +1 (613) 230-5182.
In Stockholm: Magdalena Olsson, Communications Manager, Magdalena.Olsso[email protected] or +46 (0)8 677 30 33 or
+46 (0)73 661 93 31,
or Petter Gustafsson, Communications Officer, on [email protected] or +46 (0)8 677 30 21 or
+46 (0)72 858 58 51

Notes to Editors:


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 www.wateraid.org/uk, follow @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • 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]

[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

[3] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

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

[5] www.wateraid.org