Water Should Be At Centre Of African Climate Policies

Urgent Need To Link Water Access And Climate Change

4 Oct 2021 by The Water Diplomat

In the context of Africa Climate Week 2021, NGO WaterAid has advocated in favour of placing water at the centre of African climate policies.

In a statement issued by WaterAid Nigeria, the organisation highlighted the role of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in improving public health, reducing environmental degradation, enabling economic development and responsiveness to climate emergencies. WaterAid pointed out that while the entire African continent contributes only 4 Percent to global emissions, it is home to 33 of the 50 countries that are the most vulnerable to climate change.

The agency further argued that the linkage between climate and water is a prominent feature of the 6th assessment report of the International Panel on Climate Change. The global water cycle is expected to intensify, resulting in greater variability of precipitation and surface water flows and higher intensity floods and droughts.  Urgent action is required to tackle the effects of climate change through access to water such as flooding, drought, unpredictable weather and salinisation due to rising sea levels. 

The WaterAid statement built on its report published in July this year entitled: ”Mission-critical: Invest in water sanitation and hygiene for a healthy and green economic recovery”. The report argued that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and increasing risks from climate change, it is important to review investments in WASH. It calculated that long term investments in upgrading WASH facilities could yield between $ 37-86 Billion USD in economic benefits and avoid 6 billion cases of diarrhoea annually.

Columbia University researcher Harry Verhoeven confirms that Africa is at the centre of the global water predicament and climate upheaval, with limited sanitation infrastructure and with a very large proportion of the rural population engaged in weather dependent employment. However, Verhoeven warns that there is no direct relationship between investment in infrastructure and increased climate resilience.

Importantly, Verhoeven argues that access to water is also determined by the ways in which access to water is represented in local social exchanges and political participation. The ways in which local institutions respond to climate and water crises is not only affected by investments, but also strongly by local cultural, social and political dynamics. These may lead to increased resilience or even to reduced climate resilience, depending on the influence of these factors.