From climate change prevention to climate protection

by Jonathan Farr | WaterAid
Tuesday, 7 November 2017 14:30 GMT

A woman drinks from a bottle after filling it with water from a tank truck at an area hit by Hurricane Maria in Canovanas, Puerto Rico, September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

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The question is how to effectively direct climate finance towards preservation of drinking water and sanitation services

We know climate change will heavily impact communities’ access to clean drinking water and decent sanitation systems – but the inability of local, national and international institutions to coordinate means that available climate finance is not being matched with solid plans to help those in need. It’s time for a clear path of action.

The headline figure for helping developing countries cope with climate change -- $100bn pledged by wealthy countries in the lead-up to the Paris climate treaty – sounded impressive. However, getting that money released is only the first part of the struggle. Those governments with nations and communities already struggling with a changing climate are failing to get to grips with how to channel that money to where it is most needed: to assist the poorest and most vulnerable people. 

Clean drinking water and decent toilets are among the first things required in a disaster, and essential components of a community’s economic development.  We also know the ability to preserve and expand these services is under increasingly grave threat. We know 844 million people in the world do not have clean water close to home, and 2.3 billion do not have decent household toilets. When climate change means longer droughts, higher temperatures, more dramatic flooding and more extreme weather events like hurricanes, those people are going to be harder to reach – and those who have been reached risk slipping backward.

The question for many countries is how to effectively direct climate finance towards the preservation of drinking water and sanitation services which are jeopardised by climate change. 

Last year ODI carried out research on behalf of WaterAid in Timor Leste, Mozambique and Madagascar. They found these governments – like many in the developing world – are still unable to establish a broad picture of clearly identified climate risks and workable solutions, without which they cannot begin to establish programmes which would attract climate finance.

The research on Mozambique – which WaterAid is publishing today – summarises the country’s prospects for attracting climate finance.

Mozambique is one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries; changes in rainfall, temperatures, and increasingly intense flooding and droughts are expected to hit hard over the next 20 years and beyond. Already the cost of climate- related disasters to the national economy has been estimated at $US1.74 billion over the period 1980–2003 (WaterAid, 2017), an additional burden on the economic prospects of some of the world’s poorest people.

In addition to the devastating impact of natural disasters, the gradual year-on-year erosion of access to good quality water and decent toilets are often the main way people experience climate impacts in their daily lives, and this is a threat to WaterAid’s mission to make water and sanitation normal for everyone everywhere in a generation.

Mozambique has received some climate finance, most of it spent on adapting to climate change in recognition of that clear need. However, that finance amounts to a mere $US147 million between 2003-2016 (WaterAid, 2017), approximately $US5 per head. As the Government of Mozambique seeks funding to protect access to drinking water in the face of climate change, this report makes the following recommendations:

  • Incentivising cross-ministerial cooperation on climate change. Collaboration at regional and local levels is also vital and ministries should prioritise building strong working relationships and capacity with provincial and district level agencies;
  • Developing a water and sanitation sector ‘roadmap’ for adaptation and resilience as a reference point for co-ordinated effective action.
  • Prioritising the development of funding proposals that address water and sanitation issues due to climate change and meet the strict criteria set by international climate funds.

With these processes in place we can begin to see meaningful adaptive measures on the ground.  We tend to think of climate change adaptation in a large scale. But climate finance can drive small, household and community level measures to relieve daily hardship: raising latrines to prevent sewage being washed into flood water; water storage facilities and rainwater harvesting in dry areas, and flood-proof wells in flood prone regions.

Whether in a Pacific island nation like Timor-Leste, or Mozambique in Southern Africa, WaterAid recognises that these actions are just part of the huge shift in practice demanded by climate change from all countries, but we have to kickstart International climate finance for adaptation right now, and this report reinforces the pivotal role that sovereign governments play in tackling this global challenge.

At the UNFCCC meeting in Bonn this month we hope that the discussions will not only applaud progress so far but acknowledge where much more needs to be done urgently to build resilience to climate change. Climate change is claiming lives in the least developed countries right now and so helping these countries adapt and protect themselves must be prominently on the agenda.