Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and climate change
Making water, sanitation and hygiene services adaptive, safe and resilient.
The effects of climate change are already being felt everywhere. Most strikingly, they are felt through water.
Increased demand for water due to low rainfall can cause water sources (including boreholes and springs) to run dry. Conversely, heavy rainfall and flooding can damage water sources and sanitation facilities, carry runoff and waste into streams and lakes, and contaminate the water supply.
Water scarcity through climate change and the resulting increase in the costs of water can lead to inequitable access. This may deprive households of opportunities to collect the amount of safe water needed for proper handwashing and hygiene, limiting children’s ability to grow up healthy and strong.
Explore topics in WASH and climate change
Water scarcity is the lack of available water to meet the demands of a specific population, caused by climatic factors, human factors or both. Almost two thirds of the world’s population experiences severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.
Solar-powered water systems provide families with a higher quality of water while helping to reduce carbon emissions. These systems are a climate-resilient alternative that can mitigate the impact of extreme weather events and declining water levels.
UNICEF brings decades of experience in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes to countries affected by climate change. We work tirelessly to protect children from the effects of droughts, floods, storms, rising sea levels, increased competition for water, and climate-related health impacts.
In 40 countries, we are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using solar and wind power in development and emergency contexts.
We work at the local, national, regional and global levels through a variety of activities:
Identifying climate threats to infrastructure, services and communities is the first step to addressing them. UNICEF works with governments on large-scale projects to identify the risks posed to WASH services by climate change. Most recently, UNICEF and partners have undertaken climate-inclusive analyses of the WASH sector in Bangladesh, Ecuador and Tanzania.
UNICEF implements a variety of solutions to mitigate climate-related risks to WASH systems. This may include reviewing and altering the location or design of a water point or latrine (to make them flood- or cyclone-proof) or technology (deeper boreholes), or promoting renewable energy instead of diesel. Such changes can ensure that the water point or the latrine continues to be functional and accessible for decades, even after extreme weather events.
UNICEF, in association with the Global Water Partnership (GWP), has developed an online course on the Strategic Framework for WASH Climate-Resilient Development, available to practitioners around the world.
UNICEF works with governments to integrate climate change into school curricula. We support the establishment of environment clubs that teach students what climate change is and what causes it. Through practical demonstrations focused on behaviour change, students also learn how to conserve water.
UNICEF works with governments to highlight the impact of climate change on children, communities and WASH services, and to ensure climate change is included in key national policy and climate documents.
UNICEF is committed to making all our WASH programmes climate-ready by the end of 2021. This means ensuring WASH infrastructure and services are sustainable, safe and resilient, and that WASH systems contribute to community resilience.