In droughts, ponds and rivers dry up. When heavy rains bring floods, these water sources are often contaminated by human waste and disease spreads fast. Climate change is causing more extreme weather events and natural disasters, making these challenges worse. And in coastal areas, rising seas are reducing water quality and damaging sanitation.
Why climate change?
Climate change is water change. The communities we work with are on the front line of these climate impacts, their already precarious water resources under threat and sanitation services damaged by extreme weather. Increasing global temperatures threaten to reverse progress made in improving access to clean water and decent sanitation over the past few decades.
When the changing climate causes extreme weather events, it's the poorest people who suffer most, being least able to prepare and protect themselves and their environments. Yet the poorest have contributed least to the causes of man-made global warming.
Climate change is a serious risk to everyone, everywhere having clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene. Services must be urgently extended and strengthened in the face of the severe and unpredictable impacts of a warming world.
The World Bank estimates that by 2025 about 1.8 billion people will live in regions or countries without enough water. Many other factors contribute to water scarcity – such as weak political will, climate variability and groundwater pollution – but climate change makes all of these challenges worse. When threats combine to lead to rapid water stress, the poorest suffer the worst consequences.
Watch our short film for a summary of what climate change has to do with WaterAid, and scroll down to read more about our approach.
Pushing for effective action on climate change at the UN
How must we step up to integrate action on water, sanitation and hygiene and climate change adaptation and mitigation?
Building resilient services and strong systems is more important than ever. In our programmes we use our more than 30 years’ experience of establishing high-quality services that last. We share our expert knowledge with governments and the private sector to change even more lives. And we campaign for more climate change money to be spent on clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene, to make the poorest people better able to cope with extreme weather events.
Global warming makes the future uncertain, so we build reliable systems that make sense whether or not communities are hit by more extreme weather or natural disasters. This makes communities more resilient, helping them be as prepared as possible for the effects of climate change.
Our projects generally rely on groundwater, which is often safer and more reliable than surface water, even considering climate threats. At a local level we take practical steps to guard against climate impacts such as flooding and drought, for example:
- Raising water points and latrines above flood levels
- Using rainwater harvesting and storage
- Introducing technology such as reverse osmosis filtering systems to clean contaminated water
The solutions are about more than high-quality infrastructure and new technology. We work together with communities to identify the kinds of problems they face now and might face in the future. We help them get involved in finding solutions, and in planning and managing their services. And we adapt the technologies we use to suit each context and withstand extreme weather events.
We partner with local governments and businesses to build and strengthen the systems that ensure resilient services. We work with them to reduce the risks to people’s health and livelihoods caused by natural disasters such as droughts and floods. Together, we find ways for them to manage their water resources sustainably, so people have the water they need not just for drinking, but for farming, cooking, cleaning, washing and making a living.
In the face of wider threats to water supplies we build interventions at regional and town level that require strengthening the water sector, sharing expertise, integrating with other sectors such as planning and health, and a flexible approach to service users’ differing needs.
We will continue to work with governments, the private sector and communities to put clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene at the heart of action to mitigate the effects of climate change. So that everyone, everywhere will have these basic human rights, whatever the future holds.
Climate and WASH statistics
- Climate finance contributions are falling short and mostly used to mitigate carbon emissions, rather than adaptation. In 2016, just 6% of total climate spending – US$23 billion – was spent on adaptation globally (PDF), compared to almost $300 billion on renewable energy projects.
- Less than a third of all climate finance reaches the least developed countries that need it most (PDF).
- The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that, even if the average global temperature rise is kept to 2°C, poorer countries will need US$70 billion to US$100 billion every year until 2050 to help them adapt (PDF).
- Limiting global warming to 1.5°C, compared to 2°C, may up to halve the proportion of the population exposed to increased water stress caused by climate change, although this varies between regions (PDF).
- Over the past decade, more than 90% of major disasters have been caused by floods, storms, heatwaves, droughts and other weather-related events that are expected to change in frequency and intensity as a consequence of climate change.
Explore our climate change publications and resources
Read opinion pieces and discussions on climate change