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Water & Climate

Climate stories

Meet the people affected by extreme weather

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

Around the world we're seeing clear evidence that our climate is changing. Floods, drought, heatwaves and forest fires have all become more extreme in recent years.

Climate change is making life harder for people who already struggle to get clean water.

Every day, fragile water supplies are at even greater risk of disappearing completely. Drought, or at the other extreme, floods can damage water supplies and spread disease.

The solution is a reliable source of water that doesn't depend on the weather.

Belita in Malawi would agree. She relies on open water sources like Lake Chilwa for her livelihood. But the lake is prone to the whims of changing weather patterns.  

“Due to drought last year, I was not able to produce enough food for my family,” she told us.

“However, I was determined to save my life and that of my children by cultivating a small garden.” 

Watch her story below.

Lake Chilwa is the second biggest lake in Malawi.

Belita and her community rely on it for transport, fishing and doing business.

At some points of the year, the lake suffers from extreme flooding. At other times, it dries up. Some years, the lake evaporates completely, devastating the community.

In 2019, Cyclone Idai struck, scarring the lake and land further. 

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

When the lake starts to dry up, life gets harder for everyone.

Sometimes it disappears completely, leaving empty canoes on the land and cattle searching for water.

"It used to take 25-40 years for natural drying cycles to occur.

"But now, every three to five years there is an extreme recession in Lake Chilwa.

"This is the impact of climate change."

– Environmental scientist, Professor Sosten Chiotha

At other points in the year...

the lake floods.

As a canoe transporter, Elson Tchezeko, 24, makes a living by taking people across Lake Chilwa to town.

When the lake is dry, he can’t do this, and people either have to cycle that distance, or they don’t travel at all.

It makes things difficult for everyone.

For fishermen like Samson, Charles, Flechala and Dumba, a dry lake means there's no fish to catch or sell. 

Belita makes her income by selling rice porridge to fishermen. But of course, when the lake is dry, there are no fishermen to sell to.

Both drought and flood are equally harmful to communities, forcing them to do the heavy lifting as they search for solutions.

Flooding can contaminate water sources. In communities where outdoor toilets are commonly used, flooding can cause sickness to spread.

Time and again, these communities have said that a reliable source of water and decent toilets that are protected from flooding and other extreme weather events are the only ways to maintain their access to water and sanitation.

Teodora Nzingo from Tanzania has seen the effects of extreme weather changes first-hand. She told us:

“I am nearly 80 years old. I was a farmer but now I don’t have any job because of the floods. It never used to rain like it does these days” 

Teodora shows us the flooding that occurs during the heavy rain.

For people like Teodora, climate-resilient solutions such as raised platform toilets which won't flood, and a reliable clean water supply are the best ways to ensure her water and sanitation can withstand the effects of our changing climate.

Photo: WaterAid/ Sam Vox

Photo: WaterAid/ Sam Vox

Teodora shows us how the heavy rains have entered the water storage tanks and flooded the pit latrine toilets causing overflowing. Photo: WaterAid/ Sam Vox

Teodora shows us how the heavy rains have entered the water storage tanks and flooded the pit latrine toilets causing overflowing. Photo: WaterAid/ Sam Vox

Jamila, 35, by a toilet on the banks of the river Rupsha, Bangladesh. Tidewaters overflow this area regularly and the recent cyclone Amphan destroyed most of the riverside toilets. Photo: WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

Jamila, 35, by a toilet on the banks of the river Rupsha, Bangladesh. Tidewaters overflow this area regularly and the recent cyclone Amphan destroyed most of the riverside toilets. Photo: WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

1.7 billion people – more than one in five – don't have a decent toilet of their own.

771 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.  

WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

And it's not just drought and flood.

Other extreme weather events are becoming more common and causing harm.

Cyclones have damaged roads and homes in Parul's village in Bangladesh.

Photo: WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

Photo: WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

When your only sanitation facility is an outdoor toilet, cyclones, floods and disappearing coastlines can make the simple task of going to the bathroom a perilous journey.

Govinda lives in Dolakha, Nepal, where erratic rainfall and fast melting snow are making the area vulnerable to landslides.

Due to the landslide and then the flood, one of the water sources was completely covered up by debris and the other three were badly affected.

In response, Govinda’s community has been pushing forward a project to help safeguard their water supply and reduce the effects of disasters like these. 

“The community is very determined to complete this project at any cost," he said. "They are even ready to contribute their extra labour if needed."


Photo: WaterAid/ Mani Karmacharya

At WaterAid, our work with communities like Anita's in Khulna, Bangladesh, includes raising taps and toilets, so they withstand floods and don’t contaminate water.

Anita, now has a hygienic toilet which she is able to keep clean.

Photo: WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

Photo: WaterAid/ DRIK/ Habibul Haque

We also work with communities to store rainwater in rooftop tanks or ponds for times of drought, or help communities like Bachirs' in Niger to monitor water levels so they can prepare for shortages.

Photo: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

Photo: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

As our climate changes, it's people in the most marginalised communities who suffer the most. We're working with them to get a steady supply of clean water, come rain or shine.

But we can't do it alone. We need our governments to listen to the people most affected by climate change – and invest in real, long-term solutions.

Will you join us in asking our government to do this?

François, 31, from Burkina Faso. Photo: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

François, 31, from Burkina Faso. Photo: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo

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