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.
2019 was the hottest year on record, and the past decade was the warmest yet. 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.
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.
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
Beatrice Caroline Phiri
Beatrice is a climate change ambassador and youth reporter in Lusaka, Zambia. For the past five years, she has been presenting a weekly radio show to educate people about the importance of the environment and the impacts of climate change.
“Enough talking. When will there be action? Climate change is causing great harm now and young women are suffering the most.
“As our rain become less reliable and our reservoirs dry up, girls of my age spend more time fetching water for their families and less time in school.
“It is as simple as this: climate change is denying a generation of young women the education they deserve.”
Henrique Albero Mandlate
Henrique is a community activist in Maputo, Mozambique. He brings about change in his city by motivating people to practise good hygiene behaviours and demand their rights.
“Do governments have the plans and policies that will protect cities like mine, today and into the future?!
“I raise awareness among communities to have a good attitude in terms of sanitation and hygiene. But they can’t if they don’t have access to clean water.
“Climate change has a negative impact on my work. Torrential rain is always causing floods that destroy water and sanitation infrastructure. Water becomes unsafe to drink and people can’t wash their hands after defecating and before eating.”
Jennifer Nyaaba Apotele
Jennifer is a teacher in Asaloko community, Ghana. She has achieved a lot to get decent toilets and good hygiene for her community. But every time there is a flood or drought, she is set back.
“The weather is not stable. During the dry season there is no water for handwashing, putting people’s health at risk.
“During the rainy season in 2018, we had way too much heavy rain. It collapsed our toilets, which led people back to open defecation.”
Christopher is a community activist in Kampala, Uganda. He teaches people about the importance of toilets to keep the community healthy when floods and droughts happen.
"We see the effects of climate change. We have longer droughts now. And erratic rains that destroy crops and flood homes.
"Floods fill sewers and overflow latrines, sending filthy water into people’s homes, bringing diseases.”
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.
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.
What can I do about climate change?
We’re standing with the people most affected by our changing climate – and asking the UK government to stand with them, too. Will you?
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