Opening of the workshop on climate resilience in Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Remarks by Dr Jane Muita, Deputy Representative for Programmes

22 February 2022
climate change, flooding, disasters, Uganda, UNICEF, emergency response

Climate change is already affecting water access for people around the world, causing more severe droughts and floods. Increasing global temperatures are one of the main contributors to this problem. The communities where UNICEF works are on the front lines of these problems, and we are already seeing household water supplies under increased threat. This not only causes severe long-term health effects, but exacerbates gender-based discrimination, because women and girls—who are typically responsible for collecting water—have to queue longer at water points or walk further for clean water.

Disasters such as flooding cause severe damage to homes, schools, health centres, and WASH infrastructure. Rebuilding and recovery efforts after debilitating events take resources away from development activities, hindering the speed of growth. Combined with rising temperatures, increasingly frequent extreme weather events help waterborne diseases, such as cholera, spread further and faster. 

Climate change that affects clean water supplies can have a disastrous effect on the life opportunities of children. Additional work collecting drinking water from far away, or extra childcare responsibilities when children are unable to go to school due to illness, often fall on girls and young women, further reducing their own time to study and increasing their risk of dropping out of school altogether.

When extreme weather events destroy crops or lead to higher food prices, meanwhile, vulnerable families struggle to maintain nutritious diets, which affects physical growth, cognitive skills, and progress in school. 

Without targeted action, the climate crisis is likely to further exacerbate inequalities, just as we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, where interrupted education and a growing digital divide have increased the risk that children and young people from poor and rural backgrounds will fall further behind, or never complete their education.

Within the context of climate change, building resilient and gender-responsive WASH services is an increasingly urgent priority. Resilient services and reliable water supplies can transform the prospects of communities living in poverty, enabling them to withstand longer dry seasons and flooding. 

UNICEF is grateful to the Ministry of Water and Environment for taking up the concept of applying resilient WASH programming in your regular development agenda. This will help ensure that WASH infrastructure and services are sustainable and resilient to climate related risks, and that WASH contributes to building community resilience to climate change.

As you work on identifying climate-resilient WASH solutions, I ask that you take into consideration:

  1. A commitment to cross-institutional cooperation, recognising that WASH is an essential element in climate change adaptation. 
  2. Balance top-down policy with bottom-up planning for climate-resilient WASH to prevent and mitigate extreme weather events. 
  3. Look at solutions that increase financing and investment in adaptation and mitigation, to which WASH services are essential.

I wish you fruitful deliberations.

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