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On the frontline of climate change: Why clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene are essential for communities affected by climate change

Originally published


Every day, an additional 110,000 people are forced into water scarcity: WaterAid

A new ranking by WaterAid of developing countries shows where millions of people are already losing their right to water, increasing their vulnerability to the impact of climate change.

Sudan, Niger and Pakistan are the top 3 countries with the most threatened water supply, based on new analysis of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative measures of access to water, climate patterns and water usage rates.

UN Water has estimated that 3.6 billion people lived in water-scarce areas in 2016, a number expected to increase to around 5 billion by 2050[i]. This is the equivalent of an additional 110,000 people a day, or at least one more person added to those living in water-scarcity every second, leaving entire communities unable to find clean water to drink or wash themselves and exposing them to fatal diseases such as cholera.

By 2040, 600 million of those living with water scarcity will be children. This is nearly twice the population of the United States.

Richer nations, which have done most to cause the carbon emissions leading to these disastrous events, have pledged $100 billion a year for poorer nations to deal with the consequences, but are failing to deliver. Contributions to climate finance are falling short and are used mostly to mitigate carbon emissions, rather than adaptation, in which water, sanitation and hygiene services are essential. In 2016, only $23bn was spent on adaptation globally, just 6% of total climate spending.

WaterAid Chief Executive Tim Wainwright said: "The world's poorest countries will be most impacted by climate change, while they have done the least to cause carbon emissions. Helping those countries to adapt to these challenges has been neglected, putting millions of people's lives at risk." "Access to clean drinking water and a safe place to relieve yourself are top priorities following natural disasters. By providing water and sanitation systems that can better withstand the impacts of floods, droughts and heavy storms, and by having response plans for communities on the front line of climate change, they get a fairer chance at a healthier, longer life. This requires drastic action, including financial commitments, from those countries that contributed most to climate change."

Increasing unpredictability of droughts and floods together with sea level rises are among the clearest signs of the impact of climate change. This affects the poor and most marginalised most, especially those without reliable access to water, sanitation and hygiene. The resulting threats include fatal diseases, undernutrition, stunting, and economic and educational losses.

In Niger, which ranks second in vulnerability of its water supply, about 64 percent of the rural population does not have access to clean water close to home, and 11,500 children die of diarrhoea each year.

In Bangladesh, a country prone to flooding, less than half the population have access to a decent toilet. If toilets are not made to withstand high waters, faeces will spread and increase the risk of disease significantly.

At this year's Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, WaterAid is calling on:

  1. Governments, donors, financial institutions and the private sector

    • to recognise that water, sanitation and hygiene are essential elements in climate change adaptation. Communities that do not have sustainable water supplies and sanitation cannot recover quickly from natural disasters, and will face even greater hardships.
    • to provide funding beyond regular foreign aid, without removing funding from existing foreign aid budgets. Existing overseas development aid is not enough, and additional funding needs to be made available by wealthy industrialised nations that created this crisis.
  2. Developed countries to keep their promises on climate finance and ensure that investment is used for adaptation. In 2016, only 6% of total climate spending was spent on helping countries adapt.

  3. And on international organisations and climate funds to support developing countries to complete a National Adaptation Plan, allowing countries to lay out their priorities, so the necessary resources can be allocated to meet those needs.


Notes to the editor

WaterAid is at COP 24 this week - for comment on site please contact Jonathan Farr, senior policy analyst, water security and climate change, on or Bethan Twigg, advocacy coordinator,

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