Water, the first line of defence against climate change

A report by WaterAid calls for a tenfold increase in current levels of climate finance that goes to WASH services.
Shantilata uses a cloth to filter out the high iron content in the salty water, filled from a hand pump, in the village Sitapur on the outskirts of Bhadrak, Bhuvaneshwar, Odisha (Image: WaterAid/ Anindito Mukherjee) Shantilata uses a cloth to filter out the high iron content in the salty water, filled from a hand pump, in the village Sitapur on the outskirts of Bhadrak, Bhuvaneshwar, Odisha (Image: WaterAid/ Anindito Mukherjee)

Water insufficiency is a challenging problem globally with 1 in 10 people lacking a basic water pump or covered well close to home. There are currently 98 million people - 7% of the population - in India who do not even have a basic water pump or covered well close to home, which is making it much harder to cope with the growing impacts of climate change.

A recent report ‘On the frontline: The state of the world’s water 2020’ for World Water Day 2020 presents WaterAid’s analysis of global water access and how climate change is making it harder for people in the world’s poorest countries to rely on being able to drink clean water every day. It also highlights the currently inadequate amounts of climate finance spent in these countries to help them cope with the impacts of climate change.

By 2050, the number of people who will struggle to get water for at least one month every year will have swollen to five billion – to over 50% of the world’s population. The communities WaterAid works with – in countries like India – are on the frontline of these climatic changes and are already suffering from ill-health and economic hardship as a result.

Having a reliable source of clean water can help protect people when they are at their most vulnerable – during droughts, floods and other extreme weather events. Without clean water, people are denied opportunities that should be open to all and whole communities are held back.

How is climate finance spent in vulnerable countries?

There is very little correlation between how vulnerable a country is and how much money it receives to help to respond to the climate crisis. Half of all countries get less than $5.20 per person, per year to help them cope with the climate crisis. Some of the most vulnerable countries get a lot less than this.

India is the 51st most vulnerable country to climate change – among the top 30% in the world - but only receives USD $3.20 per person, per year in climate finance. This is for both mitigation – cutting carbon emissions – and adaptation – reducing the impacts of climate change. While developing countries contribute very little to global carbon emissions, they are the least prepared to withstand the effects, with little money allocated towards helping them. The average person in India accounts annually for emissions of 1.728 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide - compared to the average per capita emission in the United States of 16.5 metric tonnes.

Low levels of inefficiently allocated climate finance is failing to effectively help countries prepare for climate change and placing billions of lives at risk. It is also a misuse of development assistance to not spend it in ways that support the poorest people who will suffer the most. 

How is climate finance spent on water?

The countries that are most vulnerable to climate change have some of the lowest levels of clean water access in the world.Across the world nearly 800 million people do not have access to clean water close to home, while a staggering two billion people do not have access to a water service that is free from contamination, putting them at risk of waterborne disease and death.

By 2050, the number of people expected to face problems in getting water at least once a month, is expected to swell to five billion globally – over 50% of the world’s population. Access to clean water is uniquely vulnerable as climate change piles more pressure on water sources that are already overstretched due to inadequate infrastructures, poor water management and a lack of government funding.

Despite being a human right and a first line of defence, a paltry amount of climate finance is currently invested in getting clean water to everyone, everywhere. Money for WASH adaptation accounts for just $9 billion – or 1.6% of total climate finance.

The key findings of the study indicate that –

  • Half of all countries get less than USD $5.20 in climate finance per person, per year to help them cope with the climate crisis.
  • Only 5% of climate finance is spent on helping countries adapt to climate change. Even less is spent in the most vulnerable countries, and less still on vital services like clean water, placing billions of lives at risk.
  • Half of countries where more than 10% of people do not have water close to home get less than 84 cents per person, per year in climate finance for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) service adaptation.
  • The ten countries with the lowest number of people with access to water close to home get on average USD $1 per person, per year in climate finance for WASH – and Madagascar, where nearly half the population do not have water close to home, gets just 17 US cents per person, per year.

This low level of climate finance spent on WASH services reflects the poor recognition of how these services can build resilience to climate change. “No-one can survive without clean water. No-one can thrive if they struggle to find it. Our changing climate is making life harder for the world’s poorest people who are already struggling to get clean water,” says VK Madhavan, Chief Executive, WaterAid India.

The government of India has now committed itself to provide piped water at the household level to every Indian home by 2024. The climate crisis threatens the viability of this promise.

WaterAid’s call to action

  • Governments must include clean water in their climate adaptation plans. Governments must put urgent measures in place to increase access to safely managed water and decent toilets by monitoring and managing WASH services, sustainably managing water resources and ensuring there is a disaster management plan in place.
  • Governments must develop clear strategies to address the huge capacity gaps that currently exist in order to bring climate resilient water to all. 
  • There should be a tenfold increase in current levels of climate finance that goes to WASH services from donor governments and climate finance institutions.  To meet this, a ten-fold increase in public climate finance is needed for WASH, as current investment is falling way below what is required.
  • To help the poorest countries create effective climate-resilient water programmes, a pipeline fund needs to be created that provides these countries with the technical support needed to access climate finance. 

Download the report: www.washmatters.wateraid.org/on-the-frontline

 

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