Climate change threatens us all. Investing in resilient water and sanitation is more important than ever

3 min read
Eveline Kabore carrying dirty water collected from a hole dug in the sand, in a partially dried riverbed located in Sablogo, Burkina Faso, January 2018.
Image: WaterAid/Basile Ouedraogo

The latest IPCC report shows a clear link between climate change and water. World leaders must step up now, commit to substantial reductions in emissions, and ensure that everyone – no matter where they live – has a reliable and safe source of water.

Human activity is “unequivocally” the cause of rapid changes to our climate, including sea level rises, melting polar ice and glaciers, heatwaves, floods and droughts. That’s the key takeaway from the latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to the report, which represents the world’s full knowledge to date of the physical basis of climate change, temperatures are likely to rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the next two decades. Not only would that breach the ambition of the 2015 Paris Agreement, but it would also bring widespread devastation and even more extreme weather, more regularly. Only rapid and drastic reductions in greenhouse gases this decade can prevent such climate breakdown.

This news is not surprising. We already know that rising global temperatures will – and are – affecting life on the planet. We are all living under threat. But we also know that we now have just a small window to fix this.

The IPCC report also demonstrates the clear link between climate and water. Long droughts followed by severe flooding in many areas devastates communities, particularly those who lack access to a safely managed water service.

Today 771 million people still do not have clean water close to home. Well managed water systems can protect access to reliable water supplies. Decent sanitation systems can resist floods. And, as we have witnesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, hygiene behaviours such as handwashing are a crucial first line of defence against the spread of disease.

Currently, only 5% of total global climate funding is spent on helping countries adapt to the changing climate, and that money is not targeted at the communities most vulnerable to climate change. This level of funding is completely inadequate to the growing crisis. Some of the most climate vulnerable countries only receive $1 per person per year for investment in water.

New estimates reached by WaterAid and Vivid Economics show that investments in clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) provide benefits 21 times greater than their initial costs. This means that trillions of dollars could be made available, all while promoting health, equality and sustainability. Providing the money to strengthen access to WASH as part of climate adaptation would bring economic benefits to whole societies.

Leading up to the UN climate conference (COP26) in November 2021, WaterAid is urging all high income nations to significantly increase the amount of climate finance allocated for adaptation measures. This includes fulfilling their previous commitments to give half of all climate adaptation finance to vulnerable communities to help them cope with the harsh realities of living with climate change.

The IPCC report presents a possible future that is hard to grasp. Governments, the private sector and the public must now make huge changes to prevent the worst from happening. World leaders must step up and show that a different future is possible by committing to substantial reductions in emissions, while ensuring that everyone – no matter where they live – has a reliable and safe water source so they can become more resilient to climate change.

Jenny Fors is Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager for WaterAid Sweden

Top image: Eveline Kabore carries dirty water collected from a hole dug in the sand, in a partially dried riverbed located in Sablogo, Burkina Faso, January 2018.