What has climate change got to do with water?

Our climate is changing at an alarming rate and it’s making it even harder for the world’s poorest people to get clean water. More frequent and extreme flooding is polluting fragile water sources; longer droughts are drying up springs. People need a reliable supply of water that keeps pumping through flood, drought and natural disaster. Because with clean water, they can stay disease free, go to school, earn a living and be better prepared for whatever the future brings.

Climate change can seem abstract and overwhelming, but it’s real and it’s happening now.

Did you know that 2020 was the joint hottest year on record? Only 2016 matched last year's heat. Globally, temperatures are rising, which means the weather is becoming more extreme, resulting in either too much or too little water. In fact, a staggering 90% of all natural disasters are water-related, and they're massively impacting people's lives.

Before the spread of COVID-19, millions of people in developing communities were already struggling with a public health catastrophe. A shocking 1 in 10 people worldwide don't have clean water close to home, putting them under constant threat from waterborne diseases like cholera, which claims 120,000 lives every year. The more our climate changes, the more challenging this becomes.

Every day, already fragile water supplies are at even greater risk of disappearing completely.

The world has made huge progress in giving everyone, everywhere the clean water that is their right. Yet climate change threatens to set us back decades and push more people into extreme poverty.

How is climate change affecting people?

Left to right: Susmita, 22, washes utensils in a pond in West Bengal, India. Yelfie, 35, collects water from a large pond in Frat, Ethiopia. A child uses an outdoor latrine which is often overflown due to tidewater in Khulna, Bangladesh, where sea levels have risen. A child walks through a flooded area in Morandavo, Madagascar.

Village women walk on cracked ground, towards a pond to collect water. Floods, cyclones and droughts exacerbated by climate change make it extremely difficult to reach everyone with clean water, toilet and hygiene services. In the south of Bangladesh, ...
WaterAid/ Abir Abdullah
These women in Khulna, Bangladesh must walk to collect water from a pond. The area has been affected by floods, cyclones and drought. Seawater has contaminated drinking sources and damaged crops.

In countries like Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mozambique, climate change is causing weather extremes, from prolonged droughts to flooding at different times of the year. That means people have to walk further to find water. Often the only water available is dirty, which makes people sick. Drought also means farmers’ crops are more likely to fail and cattle risk dying, so they have less produce to sell and families have less food to eat.

In February 2017, heavy rains brought flooding to parts of Lilongwe in Malawi, which disrupted people's access to clean drinking water due to broken water pipes. Houses and crops were damaged and people lost personal belongings. Malawi is one of the countries globally least prepared to adapt to the effects of climate change.
WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga
Heavy rains brought flooding to parts of Lilongwe, Malawi back in 2017, which disrupted people's access to clean drinking water. Houses and crops were damaged and people lost personal belongings.

Malawi, Pakistan and Timor Leste are some of the countries also increasingly affected by weather extremes like flooding and drought, and least prepared to adapt to the extremities. Floods can destroy people’s crops, toilets and homes, and they can contaminate drinking water sources, damaging people’s livelihoods, their dignity, their safety and health.

Meet the water heroes taking action on climate change in their communities

What does WaterAid do to help the people worst affected by climate change?

We provide water services communities can rely on.

We’re working with partners and side-by-side with the world’s poorest communities to help them get a steady supply of clean water, come rain or shine. We’ve been doing this for 40 years, so we know exactly what it takes.

We provide waterpoints and pipe networks that can withstand floods, so people continue to have clean and safe drinking water. And we help people monitor and manage their water supplies properly to meet their basic needs in times of drought. 

There is a lot more to do. Our planned work includes raising waterpoints and toilets, so they withstand floods and don’t contaminate water; storing rainwater in rooftop tanks or ponds for times of drought; or helping communities monitor water levels so they can prepare for shortages.

Ali Sabo, 51, a water monitor, demonstrating how he uses a rain gauge to monitor rainfall, Dungass, in the department of Dungass, Zinder, Niger, February 2019.
WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo
Ali Sabo, 51, monitors rainfall using a rain gauge in Zinder, Niger.

We work with governments and businesses for bigger change

We share our knowledge with governments and the private sector to change even more lives. We work with governments to make sure access to clean water is at the heart of their climate adaptation and development plans.

But nowhere near enough government money is invested in helping people most vulnerable to climate change. Our research shows that in some of the poorest countries in the world, as little as $0.20 per person is spent each year on making water services climate resilient.

We're calling for an urgent tenfold increase in climate finance spent on getting sustainable, clean water to the people currently forced to live without, so they can cope with the effects of climate change.

A sustainable future, resilient to climate change

Clean water can create a ripple effect that will be felt for generations. By ensuring people have clean water close to their homes, they will be better able to stay free of disease. When they are healthy and well, they are better able to go to school or to grow food they can eat or sell. And they will be better able to earn a living, and put money aside for the future. In short, communities will be stronger, so they can plan and prepare for whatever tomorrow brings.

A WaterAid trained pump mechance and local leader, Gaudence Mukahabyarimana, washes her hands at the handpump in Nkange, Rwanda, February 2018.
WaterAid/ Jacques Nkinzingabo
Gaudence is a WaterAid trained pump mechanic and local leader, from Mukahabyarimana, Rwanda.

What can I do about climate change?

Make a donation today 

Support our work to help communities survive and thrive, by adapting to the effects of climate change.

WaterAid/ Ernest Randriarimalala

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