Water charity says climate change threatens progress for world’s poorest

Man digging a well, Mozambique Photo: WaterAid/ Jenny
Digging a well in Mozambique Photo: WaterAid/ Jenny Matthews

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference opens in Bonn, international development charity WaterAid warns that climate change is already hitting the poorest hardest, threatening to reverse progress.

The not-for-profit organisation says that funding and planning for water, sanitation and hygiene are essential as part of climate change adaptation.

Weather impacts associated with climate change include increased flooding, landslides and drought, which pose a serious threat to global progress on providing universal water, sanitation and hygiene, WaterAid warned as the UN Climate Change Conference opened in Germany.

Ensuring access to clean drinking water, decent toilets and good hygiene is essential to reduce the impact of droughts and floods, to prevent outbreaks of disease and to help communities rebuild more quickly.

Drought in Sahal. Image: WaterAid/Andrew McConnell
Women collect dirty water from a partially dried riverbed in Imbina village in the Sahal region. Here the dry season can last for up to eight months, the rainfall is unpredictable and risk of drought is high
Image: WaterAid/ Andrew McConnell

Existing challenges are compounded by extreme weather events, impacting on the health, wellbeing and livelihoods of the world’s poorest people. For people in Africa, where temperatures are projected to increase faster than the global average rise during the 21st century, the future situation looks particularly dire.

Diseases such as cholera, blinding trachoma, malaria and dengue are expected to become more common and malnutrition more prevalent. Rural communities dependent on farming to make a living will struggle to grow food and feed livestock amid soaring temperatures, and women – typically responsible for collecting water – may have to walk ever greater distances during prolonged dry seasons.

Jonathan Farr, WaterAid Senior Policy Analyst on Water Security and Climate Change, said: “The injustice of climate change is that the people paying the price for its worst effects are those who have done least to cause it. Wealthy countries have pledged $100 billion to help developing countries cope – now we must clear the path for communities already on the front line to access that funding.

“We know that people cannot adapt to climate change without access to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene services that are built to last. In the wake of increasingly severe climate impacts, such as this year’s hurricanes and flooding in the Americas and South Asia, access to clean water, decent toilets and hygiene are among the first things people need.”

A new WaterAid report on access to climate finance in Mozambique in south-east Africa, one of the poorest and most climate vulnerable countries in the world, points out that the country is expected to be severely affected and is already paying the price. The cost of climate-related disasters to the national economy is an estimated $US1.74 billion over the period 1980–2003 – far less than the $147 million the country has received in climate finance between 2003 and 2016.

WaterAid is calling for better coordination across international, national, and local levels to make sure the voices of those who are most in need are heard by national governments and international institutions.


To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database at: www.WASHwatch.org

Water and climate change in Malawi

Flooding in Malawi Image: WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga
Flooding in Malawi
Image: WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

Described as the warm-heart of Africa, Malawi is also one of the continent’s poorest nations. 1.5 million people live without access to clean water, while the country ranks in the top 22 per cent of countries most vulnerable to climate change and in the top 12 per cent of countries least ready to adapt, according to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index.

More than 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas where many people depend upon subsistence farming, meaning erratic and unpredictable rainfall can play havoc on livelihoods.

In the last 20 years, this landlocked nation has had two serious droughts, as well as severe flooding in 2015 and 2016, which left thousands of people displaced and disrupted water supplies.

In February 2017, heavy rains brought flooding to parts of the district of Lilongwe, disrupting access to potable water due to broken water pipes, and damaging houses and crops.