|© UNICEF/HQ06-0187/Michael Kamber|
|A muddy alleyway strewn with excrement and garbage in Kibera, Kenya – the largest slum in Africa.|
Water at the heart of impacts from climate change
Climate change is clearly an important issue when addressing environmental challenges for WASH. The evidence on climate change impacts is increasing with predictions of wide scale impacts at the community level across the globe. However, it must be recognised that it is not the only driver to environmental problems that affect survival, poverty, equity and development of children. Other causes include population growth, urbanisation, agricultural growth and industrialisation which all potentially lead to exploitation of natural resources, particularly water, and affect environmental safety. Climate change is exacerbating an already unsustainable environmental situation in many countries, leading to increased human impact from disasters and affecting the ability of many countries to achieve their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly with respect to MDG7 (environmental sustainability). Water resource sustainability and safety are directly and increasingly affected by climate change and environmental unsustainability. Additionally, the other sectors of Young Child Survival and Development (YCSD), such as health and nutrition will increasingly be affected if the WASH sector is unable to adapt effectively and sustainably.
Adaptation is essential to protecting children
UNICEF has always recognised the importance of considering environmental sustainability in its work, through requiring programmes undertake environmental impact assessments and mainstream environment. Critically, environmental issues, including those exacerbated by climate change need to be addressed at the early stages of programming, through environmental impact assessments and through country programme process. Environment should be considered as an integral part of a development programmes, emergency interventions and disaster risk reduction planning, not separate to them. UNICEF should however, identify (although not necessarily act on) all the possible causes of environmental issues when addressing programming for WASH, to ensure the most sustainable outcome is developed.
UNICEF can do much to do respond to the threat of climate change and environmental sustainability. Action should focus on: gathering and evaluating the evidence at the country and community level; identifying the WASH related hazards; assessing the vulnerability and risk to communities and the systems affected by the changes; and integrating adaptive action into existing programmes by acting based on comparative advantage. UNICEF should seek to improve partnerships with local research organisation, other UN agencies (such as UNDP and UNEP) and with national government agencies with cross sectoral responsibilities. UNICEF should also engage advocate more: with children (as advocates for change); and with national partners to increase adaptive capacity and reduce vulnerability to hazard impacts).
UNICEF must be holistic in its approaches to redress climate change and environmental sustainability to: improve access (by improving sustainability and safety of supply); promote behaviour change (address water conservation and efficiency); and promote environmentally sustainable enabling environments (such as securing basic rights in droughts and improving monitoring/evaluation/compliance mechanisms for water supply, particularly groundwater).