Healthy environments, resilient communities: the vital role of sanitation for climate resilience in the Pacific

Asia and Pacific, Sanitation
Octavia, 17, and her friends outside the new toilet block at their school in Timor-Leste.
Image: WaterAid/ Tariq Hawari

Countries across the Pacific are among the most vulnerable to climate change in the world. The region is also one of the furthest from meeting Sustainable Development Goal 6 targets for basic sanitation. This report builds a case for prioritising sanitation as a foundation for sustainable development and community resilience to climate change, and provides recommendations for making it happen.

Pacific Island countries face a unique set of threats including sea level rise, frequent tropical cyclones, coastal inundation and droughts. Leaders in the region have repeatedly recognised the threat of climate change to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of its people and declared a climate emergency in July 2022, calling on all development partners to prioritise climate action.

Between 2000 and 2020, over half a million people in the Pacific gained access to basic sanitation, but these gains were outpaced by population growth. Today, about 70% of the population don’t have access to basic sanitation – and open defecation rates in Papua New Guinea are increasing faster than any other country in the world.    

The links between climate change and water are increasingly recognised. But the links between climate change and sanitation have not received the same attention, even as flooding, droughts and sea level rises are increasingly impacting sanitation services, causing:

  • Widespread damage to critical sanitation infrastructure
  • Contamination of drinking water sources from overflowing septic tanks and pit latrines
  • Wastewater discharge into important aquatic ecosystems that provide livelihoods
  • Exposure to pathogens from open defecation and unsafe hygiene practices.

Current efforts to improve sanitation in the Pacific are not sufficient to address these challenges, and so a step change is needed in both the level of investment and priority given to sanitation by the region's governments and the international development community.

This report and accompanying policy briefs provide recommendations for governments, donors, NGOs, research organisations and the community for improving access to climate-resilient sanitation services, to achieve a resilient, healthy, equitable and prosperous Pacific.

Top image: Octavia, 17, and her friends outside the new toilet block at their school in Timor-Leste.