World Water Day: Climate change threatens clean water for world's poorest

18 March 2021
Climate change
Kailash Chandra, a farmer is pictured fishing near his field in the village of Singiri, on the outskirts of Bhadrak, Bhuvaneshwar, Odisha, India. 22 January 2020.
Image: WaterAid/ Anindito Mukherjee

The impact of climate change on people’s water supplies is being ignored, threatening decades of progress. Urgent action is needed to help the world’s poorest communities adapt to changing weather patterns. 

Download report 
Download photos  

March 18, 2021 (New York, NY)—WaterAid’s latest report: Turn the tide: The state of the world’s water 2021 shows how people are losing access to clean water as droughts dry up springs, sea levels rise and landslides destroy water pumps. The international development organization shows that investing in water systems that provide a reliable supply, regardless of the weather, is a frontline defense against the impacts of climate change. 

In the crucial battle to reduce global emissions, the situation faced now by those most impacted by climate change has been given little focus or investment.  

Without easy access to clean water, people’s lives are blighted by sickness, poverty and the endless drudgery of collecting water. Women and girls around the world already collectively already spend an estimated 200 million hours a yeararound 23,000 yearswalking to collect water (i). 

One in ten people worldwide do not have clean water close to home. The hours spent collecting water or recovering from waterborne illnesses robs entire communities of an opportunity to build a better future. 

For water, climate change acts as a threat multiplier, exacerbating problems caused by poor management of water resources, lack of political will and inadequate investment. With the current climate scenario, it is predicted that water scarcity will displace between 24 million and 700 million people, by 2030 (ii). 

Currently only 5% of total global climate funding is spent on helping countries adapt to a changing climate, and that money is not targeted to communities most vulnerable to climate change.  The most climate vulnerable countries receive just $1 per person per year for investment in water. 

A woman carries dirty water collected from a hole dug from a partially dried riverbed Sablogo, Burkina Faso.
A woman carries dirty water collected from a hole dug from a partially dried riverbed Sablogo, Burkina Faso.
Image: WaterAid/ Basile Ouedraogo
[i] UNICEF (2016). UNICEF: Collecting water is often a colossal waste of time for women and girls. 
[ii] UN/UN Water (2020). Water Scarcity.