Seizing WASH and health gains in a period of climate uncertainty


Poorly designed adaptation strategies and lack of preparedness exacerbate the impact of disasters on health and economies. We know that climate change effects will destabilise WASH systems, access to and delivery of services. We know that these will heighten the risk of deepening inequalities.[1] The time to act is NOW.

We know that climate change effects will destabilise WASH systems, access to and delivery of services. We know that these will heighten the risk of deepening inequalities.[1] The time to act is NOW.

For the occasion of #WorldWaterDay 2020, we share some actions that the WASH sector could take to safeguard WASH access.[2]

Invest timely in preparedness planning: facilities and procedures

‘Prevention is better than the cure.’ When waters rise, for example, poorly contained faecal matter spread into the environment.

With the governments of Bangladesh and Indonesia, we co-developed national guidelines in faecal sludge management, emptying procedures and treatment operations that are safe for consumers, the environment and emptiers/sanitation workers. In both – and other countries where we apply our Urban Sanitation and Hygiene for Health and Development (USHHD, pronounced as U-SHIT) approach – we promote timely (before rainy season) and regular emptying of sludge containments. These are based on several studies conducted by SNV with its knowledge partner, UTS-ISF. See latest publications on WASH and climate change and scheduled emptying.

In Benin, we manage the Dutch government’s WASH and IWRM (Integrated Water Resources Management) 4.5-year portfolio for non-state actors across five departments and the Delta of Ouémé. Our partners set up climate-resilient latrine models using barrels and pre-fabricated nozzles to prevent collapse due to flooding. Community capacity for resilience is enabled by reforestation efforts, fascine and sand barrier construction, and the collection and processing of water hyacinth for income generation.

In Mozambique, we support the government’s national rural water and sanitation programme PRONASAR in constructing, operating and maintaining resilient water supply services. This includes consolidating services through the construction of larger water supply networks that can be managed more professionally, are easier to monitor and provide a higher level of service. We lend support to the government’s ambition to establish systems for the effective operation and maintenance of resilient technologies. These include solar-powered pumping systems and introduction of more resilient water resources, such as deeper groundwater aquifers.

Clearing canals filled to improve resilience to flooding in Benin

Water testing in Mozambique

Utilise information and communication technologies

Information and communication technologies enable the capacity of decision-makers and utilities to deliver services and continue income-generating activities amidst changing contexts.

Over the years, we’ve compiled comprehensive information in containment location and type, road conditions, etc. in Khulna and Jhenaidah, Bangladesh. This information, for example, is useful to monitor and organise timely desludging and identify the vacutug size most appropriate to deliver a service. All information is stored in a GIS-based Integrated Municipal Information System (IMIS), which has now been turned over to the city governments of Khulna and Jhenaidah. IMIS – provided that information is kept up-to-date – has potential to generate information that could aid the country during emergency situations, e.g., flooding.

In Northern Mali, periods of drought and heavy rainfall are becoming harder to predict. Uncertain weather conditions heighten subsistence and financial insecurities for pastoralists. Through the Sustainable Technology Adaptation for Mali's Pastoralists (STAMP) project, SNV and partners introduced a call-in phone service that offers agro-pastoralists with geo-satellite derived data on, among others, surface water availability. Reaching an estimated 60,000 pastoralists, livestock mortality fell by 15%, livestock productivity and income increased by 10%. The project’s approach has been replicated in Burkina Faso, through the MODHEM project. After six months of operations, the GARBAL information service had received 41,862 calls.

IMIS results with info on building structure, roads, containment types, etc.

IMIS results with info on road size to inform type of vacutug for desludging

It is incomplete progress if human rights are enjoyed by a few

The greatest number of people with limited or no access to basic WASH services resides in rural areas. This is why SNV and partners continue to invest in rural areas and why we’re among the proponents of the #RuralSanitationMatters call to action.

Within rural areas we also see disparity in access to sanitation improvements. If these disparities are not addressed – people with disability or households headed by women – could be the most impacted by climate change effects. A comprehensive external study by researchers from Emory University and the University of Nevada recently validated the effectiveness of our Sustainable Sanitation and Hygiene for All (SSH4A) approach in realising more equitable gains.[3] Though more needs to be done to bridge the gap, especially for households belonging to the lower wealth quintiles, they write: 'The SSH4A approach increased sanitation coverage among vulnerable groups from baseline to the end of the program at similar rates to vulnerable groups. These results contrast to those from other studies, which have found lower sanitation coverage among households with elderly persons, among persons with disability, and female headed households.'

In the Atsaphone district of Lao PDR we collaborate with local government and communities to integrate resilience and disaster-risk preparedness in sanitation planning, implementation and enforcement. Through the SSH4A - Beyond the Finish Line project, we're aiming to ensure that Atsaphone's 200,000 people don't revert to using unsafe water supply sources during long periods of droughts or do not suffer the consequence of overflowing toilets due to heavy and unpredictable rainfall.

As the examples suggest, the sector has already been contributing to the design and scale up of climate-resilient approaches and infrastructure. In moving forward, not only do we need to make the linkages between WASH and climate change more visible. But, along with climate policymakers, we need to start taking informed, assertive and collective action to safeguard and build upon these (WASH) development gains.




[1] Latest WHO figures estimate that 790 million people live without access to basic drinking water. Access to safe sanitation services is a distant reality for 4.2 billion people and 3 billion people don't have a handwashing facility with soap. With the world's population estimated at 7.8 billion (March 2020 figures, Worldometer, UN), lack of access by the billions is staggering.
[2] Examples are based on SNV projects financed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Bangladesh), the government of the Netherlands and embassies (Indonesia and Mali), the government of the United Kingdom (Mozambique and SSH4A Results Programme countries), and the government of Australia (Lao PDR and Beyond the Finish Line implementation countries in Asia).
[3] P. Apanga, J. Garn, Z. Sakas and M. Freeman, ‘Assessing the impact and equity of an integrated rural sanitation approach: a longitudinal evaluation in 11 Sub-Saharan Africa and Asian countries’, Int. J. Environ Res. Public Health 17 (5), 2020, p.12.


Antoinette Kome

Global Sector Head - Water