What has water got to do with climate change?

Many of the impacts of climate change are felt through our water: droughts, rising sea levels or flooding. All of these extreme weather events affect the locally-available water and sanitation systems. Climate change is a global problem but the effects are being felt locally, in many of the countries we work in. 

The front line of climate change

In the communities we work in, we are seeing the impact now:

  • Functional water sources can break down – because of the increased demand placed on them by people whose other water sources have dried up. There is sometimes no capacity to repair them in a timely manner.
  • Shallow water sources, such as hand dug wells, can dry up completely and people, usually women and girls, have to walk further for water.
  • Floods destroy sanitation systems, contaminating water sources and the surrounding communities with human waste.
  • Healthcare centers are overwhelmed as the impact of the above takes its toil on peoples’ health.
  • Conflict arises between different members of a community or neighboring communities who are competing over scarce water resources.
  • This conflict often further marginalizes older people, those with disabilities, a different lifestyle e.g. nomadic or pastoral and women. Sometimes this can lead to cross-border tensions over shared water resources.

Climate change is exacerbating existing pressure on water access – often caused by poor governance, lack of political will and low levels of investment. But this isn't just a problem in remote villages, in the past few years, we’ve seen the real-world consequences of many of these issues play out on a large scale. From Chennai (India) to Cape Town in South Africa and it won't stop happening until we do something about it. 

 

 

Abeba's story

“We used to get two jerry cans of water per day from the hand-dug well. We can’t get that now because the water level is decreasing... we are now allowed to take only one jerry can per day.”

WaterAid/ Frehiwot Gebrewold

Abeba, 23, lives with her husband and nine-month-old baby in the village in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia. It’s a hot and dry region of the country and Abeba fetches water from a nearby hand-dug well. She has noticed the weather changing over the years and the effect this is having on the community.

The World Health Organization recommends a very minimum of 20 litres – or one jerry cans a day for drinking and basic hygiene purposes, but the optimum amount is 50 litres – or two and a half jerry cans.

Abeba also needs water for cooking and cleaning so must walk 20 minutes to a river to get more water.

“I know the water from the river is not clean and safe for us, but I have no other option. If the weather continues like this, it will be very difficult to live here.”

 

What are we currently doing?

We work to make sure all of our water projects are climate resilient. 

What makes a water service climate-resilient?

Climate change is a global issue that causes local problems – so each individual context and location needs to be assessed for risks to understand the different threats at play. Interventions are then designed to respond to these threats.

Different types of approaches must be assessed for how effectively they can manage climate and other risks, and the most resilient and robust options must be selected.

Communities must then be empowered to manage risk and respond to hazards continually. Strong institutions and a strong water sector must be in place to resist and recover from extreme events, and work to rapidly restore water services.

What needs to change in the future?

Priorities

Water services fail because of a lack of investment in the infrastructure and support needed to keep services running. National governments must prioritize investment in these areas to build a reliable and properly managed water service for their people.

National governments must include clean water access in their national climate change planning processes. Climate-resilient WASH services should be rolled out, monitored and reported on as a key measure of how a country is dealing with the effects of climate change.