The overlooked solution: strengthening climate resilience through sanitation systems

Dagitu and her elder sister Gedam are very happy to see there is new toilet built at Edget Behibret Elementary School that also caters the needs of students with physical disabilities, Burie, West Gojjam, Amhara, Ethiopia. November 2018.
Image: WaterAid/ Genaye Eshetu

Sanitation plays a vital role in building climate resilience. To maximise this, sanitation systems must themselves be resilient to the impacts of climate change. Our new report sets out the need to take a systems-wide perspective along the entire sanitation service chain, and highlights key opportunities and approaches to achieve this.

With less than a decade to the deadline, efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG6) must ramp up to meet the targets of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for all by 2030. Climate change is threatening progress made as floods, droughts and extreme weather affect the water cycle and disrupt WASH services.

To date, sanitation has been overlooked as a solution to both climate change adaptation and mitigation. But if the global community is serious about climate adaptation practices, it cannot fail to address this critical dimension of climate resilience.

This report sets out three approaches to adapting and strengthening sanitation systems, which can all be integrated based on the cultural and political contexts of the location:

  1. Strengthening inclusivity through enhanced local participation
  2. Connecting fragmented sector silos for area-wide systems resilience
  3. Enhancing access to data and monitoring systems

The report also includes three recommendations for prioritising sanitation in climate policies and financing, and ensuring effective collaboration across sectors to build climate-resilient sanitation systems, communities and the surrounding natural environment.

  1. National governments must ensure that climate policies and plans, financing, implementation and monitoring systems include sanitation and vice versa. These policies and plans must also be integrated with other sectors, such as agriculture, urban planning and health.
  2. Governments, development partners and donors must allocate more climate finance to sanitation, ensuring sanitation services are sustainable and climate-resilient. This means moving away from an infrastructure-only focus and considering the implications of climate change on the long-term performance of all aspects of the sanitation service chain.
  3. Governments, development partners and donors must strengthen the participation of communities, particularly groups who are vulnerable, and engage all groups of communities in adaptation policy design and implementation to ensure adaptation actions respond to their needs and are sustainable and resilient.

These insights and recommendations are valuable to those working to achieve SDG6, from national governments to donors to development partners.

Related publications

A participatory assessment for climate-induced WASH vulnerabilities in Bangladesh

Citywide Inclusive Sanitation Brief: Issue #2

Living in a fragile world: the impact of climate change on the sanitation crisis

Top image: Dagitu and her elder sister Gedam outside a new school toilet that caters to the needs of students with physical disabilities. Burie, West Gojjam, Amhara, Ethiopia. November 2018.