When climate finance doesn’t get through, the poorest pick up the bill

4 min read
Image: WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

To reduce the burden on some of the world’s poorest people of the effects of climate change on their water and sanitation services, governments must increase adaptation and resilience. Key to this is to secure and effectively target funding. Jonathan Farr, Senior Policy Analyst on Water Security and Climate Change at WaterAid UK, introduces new research with recommendations for Madagascar’s Government.

Last week Nature warned that if global warming breaches an average of 1.5°C then 20–30% of the world could become arid before the end of the century, devastating millions of people’s livelihoods and food supplies.

Warnings like these have become commonplace, but although for many this seems a distant threat WaterAid is working with communities who are already living in the shadow of this slow-onset catastrophe. Unfortunately, while governments and international bodies focus on big solutions and carbon reduction measures, these people’s experiences are not being translated into real action on the ground.

From growing cities to remote rural villages, 60% of people are already experiencing increasing water stress, exacerbated by longer and longer dry seasons, unpredictable rain patterns caused by climate change, and the subsequent damage to water points and sanitation facilities. The result is that people without access to good quality, reliable water and sanitation, some of the poorest people in the world, are effectively footing the bill for the carbon emissions of much wealthier countries.

We must meet this injustice with urgent and significant action on a global scale to build resilience to climate change and its effects, so that the millions of people affected can build a secure future.

Finance must be targeted properly

Climate conferences have repeatedly resulted in billions of dollars pledged to support developing countries to adapt to climate change. But although pressure is coming from an international level, impacts are not visible on the ground – money is often not getting through to where it is needed most.

In 2016 WaterAid commissioned research to examine some of the reasons for this; today we are publishing a report based on the results of the Madagascar case study

Madagascar is the 20th most climate-vulnerable country in the world, with more than 25% of the population each year affected by weather-related events. Almost half of people lack access to at least basic drinking water, and climate change as well as other factors mean pressures on supplies are increasing, while at the same time national funding for water and sanitation is being reduced.

As of 2016, only one climate finance-funded project had included climate-resilient pro-poor WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) as a priority. This despite the fact that lack of investment in sanitation and hygiene is costing the national economy more than US$100 million a year

Building capacity to secure funds

Our report suggests actions the Government of Madagascar could take to build capacity of government departments and local authorities to increase the likelihood of securing international climate finance for WASH-related activities.

Recommendations include:

  • A WASH ‘roadmap’ for adaptation and resilience to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to mainstreaming climate change issues across all ministries.
  • Incentivising cross-ministerial cooperation on climate change and WASH issues. Madagascar is well placed to develop and implement a strategic framework for climate adaptation of WASH services, with a clear willingness from the Government to support the integration of climate and WASH.
  • Strengthening systems for public finance management in the WASH sector to ensure resources are getting to where they are needed most.

These recommendations are not sufficient to resolve the challenges of raising climate finance, but are intended to enable the Government of Madagascar to build links with the communities and sectors best placed to identify threats to their water supply and thereby build water and sanitation services fit for the future.

This isn’t just a problem for climate change adaptation – the End Water Poverty coalition said earlier this week the water and sanitation sector faces a ‘shrinking space for civil society organisations to engage with their governments…and lack of leadership and coordination from governments around sanitation and hygiene’.

As we begin the lead up to COP 24 in Poland this December, policy-makers, NGOs and businesses must find a way to amplify the voices of people already living on the front line of climate change. We must support them to be heard by governments and international institutions so they can drive the changes they need in their own communities.