Climate summits to adaptation plans: four years of campaigning on water and climate change

8 min read

From engaging at three UN climate summits to advocating that water, sanitation and hygiene are included in countries’ climate adaptation plans, here we summarise four years of WaterAid’s campaigning on water and climate change.

Our Water and Climate Change campaign represented a relatively new area of focus. We had done little campaigning in the space before, but with climate change putting already stretched water resources and services under growing threat, it was abundantly clear that more needed to be done to connect the dots between climate change, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The effects of climate change are primarily felt through water; either by having too much during floods or not enough during droughts. But a reliable clean water supply and decent toilets could be the difference between coping and not coping with the effects of our changing climate. Our campaign set out to establish WASH as a key solution to climate adaptation, to integrate WASH in National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Determine Contributions (NDCs), and to leverage additional climate adaptation finance for WASH. 


At a regional level, our Pan-Africa Programme was pivotal in supporting WaterAid Burkina Faso, Mozambique, and Uganda to participate in Africa Climate Week in August 2022, the first time we attended the conference in person. Delegates attended more than 40 events, and spoke at 10, to deliver our key messages on WASH and climate change. The Pan-Africa Programme also supported WaterAid Mozambique to present its study on the impacts of climate change on sanitation to the government of Gabon, the official hosts of the conference, and international organisations, advocating for the inclusion of WASH in actions around climate change.

A 12-strong delegation attended Africa Climate Week 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya, to highlight the links between WASH, climate and gender, and to call for WASH to be included in NDCs and NAPs. We also held a joint event on WASH for climate adaptation and gender equality with Burkina Faso's National Youth Parliament for Water.

Burkina Faso

WaterAid Burkina Faso presents Burkinabe filmmaker, Apolline Traoré, with a “climate, water and sanitation prize” for her film, SIRA.
WaterAid Burkina Faso presents Burkinabe filmmaker, Apolline Traoré, with a climate, water and sanitation prize for her film, SIRA.
Image: WaterAid

During the 2023 Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, one of Africa’s biggest film festivals, WaterAid Burkina Faso awarded a special “climate, water and sanitation prize” to the film SIRA, directed by Burkinabe filmmaker, Apolline Traoré. This engagement formed part of an advocacy and communications campaign to encourage African filmmakers to give priority to WASH and climate change issues in their film productions. After receiving the prize, Traoré became a WaterAid ambassador for WASH and climate issues.

WaterAid Burkina Faso also supported the National Youth Parliament for Water and Sanitation to organise a national parliamentary session on prioritising WASH in climate change adaptation policies and projects. The session brought together 40 young members of parliament from all regions, and representatives from the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, and resulted in the establishment of the Network of Parliamentarians for WASH Monitoring within the Parliament of the Political Transition of Burkina Faso two months later.


In Ghana, we successfully encouraged the government to address the impacts of climate change by embedding WASH in its NAP. WaterAid Ghana (WAG) also contributed to the review of Ghana’s Adaptation Communication which was submitted to the UNFCCC before COP26. More locally, the team collaborated with Ghana’s Environment Protection Agency to run a two-day workshop in the country’s Upper East Region on NDCs, the fundamentals of climate change and its links with WASH, and how to incorporate climate change issues into district and local government programmes.

WAG led two strong awareness campaigns. The first was a national radio campaign on Citi FM (which has an estimated reach of more than 80,000 listeners) calling on Ghanaians to share their experiences of climate change via Climate Change, Water, and Me. On social media, the campaign reached 100,000 people across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The second awareness campaign focused on the need for the government and its allied agencies to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change on WASH services. WAG worked with WASH Ambassador for Climate Change and Ghanian celebrity, Okyeame Kwame, who amplified the campaign’s messaging at COP26 through social media, reaching more than half a million Ghanaians.


Members of WaterAid Mozambique attend the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Land and Environment in November 2022 to implement its new country strategy.
Members of WaterAid Mozambique attend the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Land and Environment in November 2022 to implement its new country strategy.
Image: WaterAid

WaterAid Mozambique (WAMoz) was heavily involved in COP26 and COP27 and ensured momentum was sustained between the two summits. In partnership with the National Civil Society Platform for Climate Change, WAMoz co-organised a national workshop – Climate Change: Towards COP 27: From Glasgow to Sharm El Sheik – to reflect on the pressing issues for COP27 and share experiences on loss and damage. The workshop was attended by the Secretary of State of Maputo City, representatives from the Ministry of Land and Environment, national CSOs and INGOs.

Throughout the campaign, WAMoz built a strong relationship with the Minister of Public Works, Housing and Water Resources, Carlos Mesquita, and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Land and Environment in November 2022 to implement WaterAid Mozambique’s new country strategy, which includes WASH and climate change as one of its main pillars.


In the first year of the Water and Climate Change campaign, WaterAid Bangladesh (WAB) built strong evidence on the impact of climate on water, which became the cornerstone of our participation at COP26. In 2021, WAB also trained a youth group on water and climate advocacy, with one of the participants, Shamim Ahmed Mridha, becoming a globally recognised activist and founder of the youth-led organisation, Eco-Network.

At COP27, WAB received recognition from the Global Center on Adaptation for their locally-led adaptation work with Gita Roy to establish a reverse osmosis plant in her community in southwest Bangladesh.

After three years of influencing, WAB also became the first WASH agency in Bangladesh to directly influence strategic changes regarding the inclusion of WASH in the country’s NAP, with specific inputs on gender, health and inclusion. WAB has also been working to highlight loss and damage associated with WASH services, and presented their work at the All Systems Connect Symposium, COP27 and COP28, as well as to the Bangladesh government under the coalition of the Loss and Damage Working Group, which includes Practical Action, ICCCAD, and the Centre for Participatory Research and Development.


Throughout 2022, WaterAid Canada (WAC) participated in the Ministerial Roundtable with Civil Society, hosted by the governments of Canada and Germany as co-leads of the $100 billion delivery plan for developing countries, as well as the climate and environment roundtable for Canada’s new Indo-Pacific Strategy. WAC also engaged with climate, gender and food security representatives of the Canadian Coalition for Climate and Development for a panel event at COP27, and the COP15 for biodiversity in Montreal.

In October 2022, WAC co-hosted Women and Water: on the frontline of climate change, a webinar to discuss gender-responsive climate finance, including women’s experience and expertise in decision making, and bridging the gap between local actors and global climate finance. The governments of Mozambique and Madagascar shared statements and a joint statement for COP27 was released and signed by more than 25 local CSOs, NGOs and UN networks.


Despite being a new campaign, WaterAid Germany has actively established relationships with Germany’s main international development agency (GIZ) and its Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development to advocate for the importance of WASH as an adaptation measure. WaterAid Germany also organised an event at the Swedish Embassy with the United Nations Association, bringing together 15 participants from WaterAid, government representatives and GIZ climate experts to discuss the connections between water, climate effects, hazards, solutions, and WASH.


WaterAid Sweden took a thought-leadership role in developing policy and advocacy products on the links between climate and sanitation to support our organisation-wide advocacy efforts. WaterAid Sweden also engaged with Sweden’s Head of Delegation to UNFCCC to discuss WASH in climate and water Policy, and there are good indications that the government of Sweden is starting to understand water’s role not only in adaptation, but also in mitigation discussions.

The UK

In the UK, the team led the #OurClimateFight campaign, which ran through the summer and autumn of 2022, in the lead up to COP27. The campaign mobilised more than 26,000 actions, culminating with a petition hand-in to the Prime Minister which pushed the UK government to raise its political ambitions on water and adaptation; at the UN Water Conference in March 2023, it committed initial seed funding for the Resilient Water Accelerator (RWA).

WaterAid representatives Timothy Ingram and MP Fleur Anderson stand outside 10 Downing Street holding a box containing a selection of climate messages from the UK public to the Prime Minister as part of a petition hand in to demand urgent action from the Government at COP27 to prioritise clean water for people living with the effects of climate change. London, UK, November 2022.
WaterAid representative Timothy Ingram and MP Fleur Anderson stand outside 10 Downing Street to hand in climate messages from the UK public to demand urgent action from the government at COP27 to prioritise clean water.
Image: WaterAid/ Oliver Dixon

Ahead of COP28, the WaterAid UK team secured 44 references to water and the inclusion of WASH across sections on education, global health and climate in the government’s international development white paper. This represents the first meaningful inclusion of WASH in a flagship development strategy for more than a decade.

Elevating water in climate adaptation at COP28

We concluded 2023 with several wins at COP28. First, the Global Goal on Adaptation now includes climate-resilient WASH, and targets to reduce climate-induced water scarcity and enhance climate-resilient water supply and sanitation. Second, the UK government announced £39 million for the Just Transitions for Water Security programme, which will fund projects to enhance accountability, policy and investment in the water sector in water-stressed regions. As one of three organisations in this programme, the RWA will receive £11 million over the next four to five years.

We are proud of the progress made through the Water and Climate Change campaign, not only in increasing understanding of the links between climate change and water, but also between climate change and WASH. Country teams have made some great achievements with 10 WaterAid countries seeing the inclusion of WASH, water security and reslience in their NAPs and NDCs, aalongside other major policy successes.

Yet there is still much to be done in financing and implementing the WASH indicators from NAPs and NDCs. Governments have an ever-growing number of challenges to prioritise, but we cannot deliver on the Paris Agreement if we are not delivering on WASH. A comprehensive approach to water security is essential, and this can only be achieved if there are systems in place to ensure people have access to clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene.

Top image: Safura Amadu, 37, carries water from a well in Galaka, Ghana. She says: "To supplement the low volume of water in the nearby well, we walk longer distances to collect water from the White Volta, primarily to wash clothes and water our livestock." September 2023.