Climate Change and the Right to Water and Sanitation
Climate change threatens access to basic necessities such as water and sanitation. It is driving more people into extreme poverty and reversing progress made in preventing extreme poverty. Already, 2020 was the hottest year on record. And the past decade has been the warmest on record. The longer global warming continues, the worse it will be.
Impacts of climate change on water supply
As the climate warms, water resources will be affected in unpredictable ways. Even moderate changes can result in changes that are outside historical ranges. As a result, it is important to rethink assumptions about how water systems operate and develop contingency plans. Water supply managers must also consider the importance of options and maintain a flexibility to respond to climate change.
A recent study concluded that a single degree increase in air temperature increases the average residential water demand by 3.78 litres per person, per day. The impacts of climate change are widespread and varied, but one consistent theme is the stress and strain on global water resources. This study used two measures to assess global water stress: the “Water Crowding Index” and the “Water Stress Index” (the ratio of water demands to available resources).
Global warming is altering the water cycle, which is an intricate and dynamic process. It changes the amount, distribution, timing and quality of water that is available. This affects communities, ecosystems and industries. Consequently, climate policymakers must put water at the center of action plans. While there are many challenges ahead, water management must be considered in every sector to ensure water security in the future.
As temperatures rise, the amount of precipitation will increase, leading to droughts and floods in some regions. This will exacerbate the effects of droughts and floods and will increase the need for water to meet increasing demands. As a result, infrastructure will need to change.
Impacts of climate change on sanitation
With extreme weather events linked to climate change, sanitation facilities, water supplies, and waste systems are at risk of damage. Moreover, over two billion people lack access to basic sanitation facilities, which can lead to the spread of disease and health risks. The Sanitation Learning Hub highlights the effects of climate change on sanitation systems in developing countries, including Indonesia and South Asia, and provides practical guidance on long-term adaptation to these impacts.
The climate-change-induced impacts of sanitation on human health and hygiene are particularly acute in LDCs, which have limited capacity to adapt to these changes. These countries face major sanitation challenges and typically have low national sanitation budgets. For example, Liberia has an open defecation rate of 62% in rural areas and 20% in urban areas, and there are no wastewater treatment facilities in the country. Furthermore, the average annual government spending on sanitation is less than two million dollars.
However, there is more research needed to develop a climate-adaptation strategy for sanitation. Adaptation to climate change must be integrated with development interventions to ensure a more inclusive, long-term approach. Investments in basic sanitation infrastructure, combined with behaviour change-focused sanitation initiatives, can potentially shift up to 1 billion people away from open defecation. However, these measures are generally not seen as adaptation, and the separation between development and adaptation has hindered the mainstreaming of climate considerations in sanitation planning.
Climate change impacts sanitation systems and the water cycle. Flood waters can overwhelm waste treatment facilities and cause sewer pipes to burst. Septic tanks and pit latrines can also be flooded, rendering them useless.
Impacts of climate change on people of color
The impact of climate change is not evenly distributed, but disproportionately affects people of color and low-income households. This disparity is largely explained by economic factors. As the world becomes warmer, climate change will increase the risk of extreme weather events, putting people of color and low-income households at risk for severe impacts. The effects of climate change on these communities will be worse than those for the white and wealthy classes, and will be especially devastating for African Americans and people of color.
Increasing temperatures and droughts are increasing the risk of hurricanes. These storms can cause catastrophic flooding in low-lying communities. In 2005, for example, thirty percent of Black New Orleans residents did not own a car. Lack of transportation can make it difficult for them to evacuate their homes in case of extreme weather.
Climate change is already impacting communities of color and Indigenous people more than the general population. It is affecting people of color disproportionately because their economies are more fragile and do not have insurance coverage, which increases their costs. Moreover, low-income communities lack the financial resources necessary to rebuild and relocate. Furthermore, early efforts to combat climate change have not been equally distributed. As a result, people of color are disproportionately disadvantaged and are often excluded from many climate change initiatives.
The impact of climate change on communities of color has been felt disproportionately in recent years, from the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina to the recent flooding of New Orleans, and the destruction that followed. The underfunded levee system in New Orleans collapsed under the weight of the ocean, and black residents lost 80% of their homes. They were also far less likely to return to their homes after Katrina.
Impacts of climate change on women
As climate change threatens natural resources and livelihoods, women are especially vulnerable to its impacts. They are the primary gatherers of water, food and fuel. They are also responsible for subsistence farming, child care and household cleaning. These gendered roles place a high burden on natural resources and contribute to a negative feedback loop of poverty and vulnerability. This is why it is crucial to empower women in their respective roles to address climate change and create sustainable livelihoods.
Climate change increases the risk of armed conflict and exacerbates existing conflicts, which endanger women’s lives. In addition, women are less likely to receive adequate prenatal and postnatal care, which can affect the health of both mother and baby. Women also face greater risks of injury, death and disease during childbirth due to lack of access to health care.
Climate change can also affect household food, fuel and water. As a result, women have to travel longer distances to collect fuel or water. Girls may even drop out of school to assist their mothers in their household chores. Changing climate patterns also affect the health of crops and livestock, which are crucial for women’s livelihoods.
Water scarcity can also reduce women’s capacity to engage in productive activities. They must spend more time collecting water, cleaning up after floods, and caring for their families. Additionally, they are forced to carry heavy weights and walk long distances, which means they have less time for other tasks. In addition, women must spend more money on water bills, limiting their income.
Impacts of climate change on rural communities
Rural communities are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to their dependency on natural resources. These communities face particular challenges in responding to climate change, including fewer resources and a higher cost of living. They also rely on government subsidies to sustain their economic growth and wellbeing, and are therefore more likely to be impacted by climate change.
Rural communities are critical for climate adaptation efforts in the United States, but implementing climate policies requires the consent of local residents. Unfortunately, environmental issues remain highly polarizing in the United States. More Americans disagree than on any other topic, and their disagreements typically fall along party lines. It is important to consider the needs of rural communities as an integral part of climate adaptation efforts, so they can be involved in determining the most effective climate policies.
Agricultural communities face particular challenges due to the impact of climate change. Sea level rise, increased frequency and severity of storms, and decreased agricultural productivity are all potential threats to rural communities. Changing weather patterns will alter local livelihoods, and this may also change the status of rural areas as tourist destinations. Increasing climate variability will increase the risk of natural disasters and extreme events, including droughts and heat waves. These changes will affect emergency management and transportation planning, as well as public health.
Adapting to climate change will involve changes to rural transportation, infrastructure, and health systems. The capacity of rural communities to cope with these changes is limited, and many communities have not yet been prepared.