In preparation for the recently concluded SWA Sector Ministers’ Meeting, 42 countries submitted country briefs highlighting the progress made in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) sector, especially focusing on the extent of inequalities that remain in access to these services. More than half of these country briefs mention the term- climate change, global warming, climate resilience, mitigation or adaptation. One-third of these countries see, climate change as one of the major challenges to progress towards the WASH-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), showing how the effects of climate change would exacerbate already existing inequalities in the sector.
Starting with Asia region, the country brief submitted by the Government of Afghanistan mentions how severe drought conditions and uneven distribution of precipitation are becoming more frequent, causing serious water shortage and displacement of people. This has resulted in over 40% of the population suffering from a shortage of safe drinking water and more than 60% deprived of safe sanitation facilities. Due to nearly four decades of conflict and drought much of Afghanistan’s WASH-related infrastructure, including irrigation and domestic water supply facilities, has been destroyed or severely damaged.
It is interesting to note that one of the key documents used to prepare the country brief in Cambodia is the Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan (CCCSP) 2014-2023. According to the 2017 World Risk Report, Cambodia is ranked among the top 15 countries in the world that have the highest exposure to extreme natural events, with an exposure rating of 27.65%. This Climate Change Strategic Plan was launched by the Prime Minister, thereby, putting climate change as a key priority for the leadership in the country. Around nine line Ministries, including the Ministry of Rural Development (MRD), have adopted sectoral Climate Change Strategic Plans, with support from the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance (CCCA). Even in carbon negative country like Bhutan, the impacts of global warming are visible, especially on glaciers and glacial lakes, which act as a major source of water in Bhutan. The country brief elaborates, “the Bhutan Himalayas is known to have some 677 glaciers and 2,647 glacial lakes, these glaciers are reported to be retreating by about 20-30 meters each year (Bhutan Environment Outlook, NEC, 2008) and inconsistent rainfall reported in recent years may adversely impact the WASH services.”
Due to its geographic location and fragile ecosystem, Mongolia is highly vulnerable to climate change and its consequences, including droughts, floods and cyclical dzuds (severe winter) – moreover, slow-onset disasters associated with extreme temperatures can lead to excessive livestock deaths. The country brief states that the causes for low access to WASH services are related to “persisting negative social and cultural practices and beliefs together with limited quality infrastructure. This is exacerbated by Mongolia’s extreme climate, the remoteness of populations, lack of budget allocation and an overall low prioritization at the political level.” In Indonesia, the impacts of climate change can be seen in the form of climate change-induced natural disasters damaging or destroying the WASH-related infrastructure and the outbreak of waterborne diseases.
In the Africa region, Ethiopia has planned to upscale the implementation of Climate-Resilient WASH and Water Safety Planning to each new water supply project and to upgrade ageing, most vulnerable and top priority water supplies in rural and urban areas. The Government of Ethiopia has also revised and updated the One Wash National Programme (OWNP) to take climate change into account. Also, a Climate Resilient WASH (CR-WASH) programme has been prepared as part of OWNP to ensure that the drought-affected areas (mostly pastoralist communities) are not left behind. The Government of Chad has also made climate change a priority, by taking a commitment to strengthen the resilience of population by fighting against the negative effects of climate change through adapted infrastructure.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, climate change is causing variation in the rainfall patterns, leading to significant alterations in the river flows and lowering of the water table. These consequences have a negative impact on drinking water supply systems. The country brief also points to an important linkage between poverty and climate change– "Eliminating extreme poverty and coping with climate change are two major challenges of this century. A failure on one will be synonymous with failure on the other. These two challenges need to be addressed by a collective awareness of their great interdependence and the complementarity between development, economic growth and climate responsibility."
The country brief of Mali calls climate change, a major preoccupation. As part of the solution, the research and learning organizations in the country are "conducting research and publications on the quantitative and qualitative availability of water resources in light of climate change and social demand." In Morocco, the Government is revising its national WASH sector to account for climate change, to build climate resilience in the country. The country brief states, "The revision of the PDAIRES [Plan directeur d'aménagement intégré des ressources en eau/Integrated Water Resources Management Master Plan] and the PNE [National Water Plan] is underway to take into account, among others, the Climate Change. All these measures will be quantified and the schedule for their implementation will be decided as part of the revision of these planning documents." Likewise, the Government of Benin is taking significant steps to adapt territories to climate change.
In Lesotho, the impact of climate change has negatively affected the shallow groundwater spring sources that in the past have been the main source of water for 70% of rural population. The government is now engaging in construction of multipurpose dams for water security and looking into investments to achieve this purpose. The country brief of Eswatini mentions how climate change has contributed to the retarded growth, especially, in the context of access to the water supply. The sector is currently in recovery phase from the effects of the El Nino induced drought, experienced in 2015 and 2016. The drought resulted in a lowered water table affecting water access mainly to rural communities rendering their water systems non-functional. Therefore, the available national development funding had to be reprogramed for humanitarian assistance, providing short term interventions such as water trucking, household water treatment and increasing water abstraction depth for groundwater systems.
In the Latin America region, the country brief of Paraguay calls floods and droughts as the greatest hydrometeorological risks in the country, particularly for communities with extreme poverty and for indigenous communities. The country brief also draws attention to major health challenges linked to climate change– “Vulnerability to a growing number of dengue and yellow fever outbreaks and epidemics is also linked to deforestation, climate change and stream pollution, as well as socio-cultural factors such as lack of prevention practices.”