How does WASH help build resilience to climate change?

Posted on 14/02/17 by Hannah Crichton-Smith (WaterAid UK)

This week at WASHwatch we’ve published country level data from the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative. The country scores are calculated by measuring a country's vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. It aims to help businesses and the public sector better prioritize investments for a more efficient response to the immediate global challenges ahead.

In this blog, Hannah Crichton-Smith, Programme Sustainability Officer at WaterAid UK explores the linkages between WASH and climate change, and highlights how WaterAid is working to increase communities’ resilience.

WASH and Climate Resiliance 

Following the UN climate talks late last year in Marrakesh, we thought it was about time we highlighted some of the approaches and practical ways in which WASH helps communities to be more resilient and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

An increase in the unpredictability of weather patterns and frequency of extreme weather events is likely to have detrimental impacts on the marginalised and vulnerable communities with whom WaterAid works. More intense periods of rainfall and increased temperatures have the potential to impact on the health, livelihoods and food security of the most vulnerable. Access to sustainable WASH services and associated improvements to water resources management can mitigate these risks and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.

WaterAid’s practical interventions

At WaterAid, we aim to build long-term resilience to water-related threats and disasters. Over the years, we have developed several approaches which set out to strengthen government institutions to deliver sustainable WASH services that are resilient to the impacts of climate change. In West Africa, the Securing Water Resources Approach combines water resources management with WASH service delivery. By monitoring rainfall and measuring groundwater levels, communities are better able to prioritise their water usage, thereby reducing the risks that unpredictable rainfall could bring in the future – a growing challenge in the Sahel region of Africa, for example. Improved monitoring also helps local authorities to build a better picture of national water-related risks, enabling them to better prioritise areas of intervention and ‘bounce back’ from water-related crises, such as floods.

Many practical interventions increase the resilience of communities and WASH infrastructure to climate change impacts. These are very context-specific and none should be seen as a silver bullet to achieving climate change resilience. Examples include improving access to more reliable groundwater sources and boosting storage capacity through rainwater harvesting and construction of tanks. Rainwater harvesting can be particularly useful for schools and health centres in times of scarcity. Enhancing groundwater recharge, where applicable, and soil water retention can also boost water availability and soil productivity during these times. Improving the safe disposal of hazardous faecal waste helps to mitigate the health risks associated with flooding, while building the capacity of institutions helps to ensure services are restored as soon as possible after disasters.

It is important to remember that marginalised and vulnerable communities with whom WaterAid works already face multiple challenges to accessing WASH services. Increasing demand for water resources due to population growth, unplanned urban expansion, unregulated groundwater extraction, industrial pollution, and uncontrolled wastewater discharge threatens their water security. Climate change poses an additional risk to WASH access, and is expected to exacerbate these existing threats. 

To find out more about WaterAid’s approaches and practical interventions to increasing resilience to climate change through improved WASH services, check out our latest web page

Hannah Crichton-Smith is WaterAid UK’s Programme Sustainability Officer. She tweets as @hcrichtonsmithThis blog was originally posted on WaterAid’s website

The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index scores are now available on the statistics page of the WASHwatch country profiles.