Is climate change calling for more WASH financing?

Is climate change calling for more WASH financing?

Climate change is affecting all facets of the world, more particularly water resources. The unpredictability of the weather and frequency of extreme weather conditions are making life difficult for both aquatic and terrestrial organisms.

In the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) sector, rural communities are impacted most by water shortage – and climate change is making it even worse. The question one will ask is, has the Ghana government’s efforts on financing to mitigate climate change been enough toward achieving the SDG6?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) states climate change means a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters composition of the global atmosphere, and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable periods.

The World Bank’s Climate Change Action Plan states that climate change presents enormous challenges and opportunities for development, and more specifically on WASH – making it essential that climate and development be tackled in an integrated way. The world needs to feed 9 billion people by 2050, provide affordable energy access to all, and extend housing and services to 2 billion new urban dwellers. We can only get close to achieving these if there is adequate provision of WASH services in the world. Hence, it is apparent that world leaders need to continuously increase and prioritise WASH financing as one of the tools for managing climate change and its associated impacts.

Climate Change in Ghana

Climate change is manifest in Ghana through rising temperatures, declining levels of rainfall and increased variability, rising sea levels, and high incidence of weather extremes and disasters. The average annual temperature has increased by 1°C in the last 30 years. Ghana’s efforts at climate change mitigation have been hailed globally due to implementation of the REDD+ programme. Ghana’s climate change “is projected to affect Ghana’s vital water resources, energy supplies, crop production, and food security” – calling for immediate actions, most especially financing climate-related activities.

Again, the nation’s National Climate Change Policy developed in 2013 institutionalised mechanisms to effectively manage climate change in the country. The policy principles are in conformity with the existing national policies, and statutes provide strategic direction and coordinate issues of climate change in the country.

The policy has prioritised five (5) main areas: (i) Agriculture and Food Security (ii) Disaster Preparedness and Response (iii) Natural Resource Management (iv) Equitable Social Development (v) Energy, Industrial and Infrastructural Development. These five areas affect WASH services directly and indirectly, calling for an increase in WASH financing to mitigate climate change impact on these areas.

Climate Change and Water Sanitation & Hygiene Services Linkages

Climate change has the potential to impact both the supply and demand sides of WASH delivery systems. Some potential impacts are likely to be direct and obvious (e.g. increased incidence of extreme floods that damage WASH infrastructure, lowering of the water table), whereas others are likely to be indirect, insidious and more uncertain in nature and severity (e.g. sea-level rise leading to out-migration from coastal areas).

Potential climate change impacts may be exacerbated by other changes that are also subject to a high degree of uncertainty (e.g. increased competition for water resources between the WASH and agricultural sectors).

A technical brief led by UNICEF dubbed WASH Climate Resilient Development states among other things that the WASH sector is already affected in many different ways by weather and climate events, such as variability, seasonality, extreme events, and climate-related disasters.

This impacts negatively on drinking-water availability and quality, and the performance of sanitation and hygiene services as well as on investments and infrastructure. Climate change will place additional stress on delivering and sustaining public health and well-being. Current evidence suggests that people living in developing countries will be worst-hit by changes, particularly those living in marginalised and vulnerable environments.

Salley Alhassan and Wade L. Hadwen, in their article published (2017) in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, identify the impact climate change is having on WASH services in Ghana. The article states among other things that the impacts of climate‐related disasters are well documented. For example, in recent years the northern part of Ghana has experienced extreme climate change pressures such as droughts, floods and heavy storms.

In 2007, it experienced serious floods which claimed 31 lives, displaced about 102,250 people, destroyed 39 dams, 45 schools, 58 bridges and culverts. WASH facilities such as public toilets and household latrines were also damaged. Furthermore, another series of floods in 2010 displaced 34,553 people and destroyed 5,512 houses. These pressures exacerbate the increasing poverty levels encountered in this region, and threaten the attainment of development goals.

Water Sanitation and Hygiene Financing in Ghana

Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) provides details on global targets for water, sanitation and Hygiene to be achieved by 2030 toward the realization of an overarching call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The UN-Water Global Analysis and Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking-water (GLAAS) 2019 Report states that the cost to reach SDG targets 6.1 and 6.2 has been estimated at US$114billion per year, with capital investment needs alone three times higher than current investment levels.

A dried-up riverbed during the dry season because of climate change. Location: Upper East Region

This cost estimate represents an average of 0.133 percent of global Gross Domestic Product. The World Bank’s technical Paper on The Costs of Meeting the 2030 Sustainable Development Goal Targets on Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene states that greater capital spending on WASH services is needed in sub-Saharan Africa, where the slow progress to date means capital expenditures of 0.64 percent of the gross regional product (GRP) will be needed to close the WASH gap in the region.

Dysfunctional Borehole due to falling water table because of climate change. Location: Upper West Region

The Government of Ghana (GOG), in its quest to improve the WASH sector, established the Ministry of Sanitation and Water Resource (MSWR) in 2017. The goal of the ministry is “to contribute to improvement in the living standards of Ghanaians through increased access to and use of safe water, sanitation and hygiene practices, and sustainable management of water resources”. In reference to the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) for 2019-2022, the ministry was allocated GH¢255million (US$58m) and GH¢183million (US$39m) budget for 2017 and 2018  respectively.

In 2019, the ministry had budget allocations of GH¢246million (US$46m).  Of the GH¢255m budget allocated in 2017 for the ministry, GH¢216m representing 85 percent of the total budget was expected to come from donor agencies; and the GH¢39m representing 25 percent was to come from the GOG and internally generated funds (IGF).

In 2018, the allocated budget for the ministry had GH¢110m representing 60 percent expected from donor agencies, while GH¢70m representing 40 percent was expected from GOG and IGF. For the 2019 GH¢246m budget allocation, GH¢173M representing 70 percent was expected from donor agencies while GH¢73m representing 30 percent was expected from GOG and IGF.

Table 1: MSWR Budgets (2017-19)

From table 1, budget allocations in 2018 dropped in real value US$18m which represents 32 percent when compared to the 2017 budget allocation of the ministry. However, the 2019 budget allocations saw an increase in real value by US$7m, which represents 18 percent of budget allocations for 2018. Figure 1 below provides a graph comparison of budget allocations from 2017 to 2019.

From table 1, budget allocations as a ratio to GDP in 2017 was 0.1 percent, which decreased to 0.06 percent in 2018 and increased marginally to 0.07 percent in 2019; but the World Bank’s technical report on WASH financing recommends 0.64 percent budget allocation to GDP for sub-Saharan countries. And this gives a clear indication that Ghana’s budget allocations for the WASH sector are not enough to support measures put in place to withstand the impacts of climate change on the WASH sector.

Table 2 Actual: Disbursement to MSWR

Table 2 presents data on actual disbursements to the MSWR from 2017 to 2019 (September 2019) as contained in the MTEF 2020-2023 of the MSWR. It shows that out of the total disbursement of GH¢235m, which represents 92 percent of the ministry’s budget allocation in 2017, 13 percent came from the coffers of government while donor agencies contributed 87 percent of the total allocation.

In 2018, of the total GH¢72m representing 39 percent of budget allocation to the ministry 24 percent was provided by GOG and IGF, while 76 percent came from donor agencies. 2019 saw donor agencies contributing 83 percent of the total release to the ministry while 17 percent came from GOG and IGF.

Further analysis of the disbursement table shows that donor agencies contribution in 2018 fell more than half (64 percent) from disbursement provided in 2017 and went up by more than half (78 percent) when compared with disbursement as at September 2019. With reference to contribution by GOG and IGF, the disbursement table shows that the amount disbursed in 2017 was reduced by 21 percent from GH¢29m to GH¢23m and was increased by 17 percent as at September 2019 from GH¢23m to GH¢27.


Climate change is disrupting adequate access to safe water, improved sanitation and hygiene (WASH) for all – particularly for people living in poverty around the world. World leaders, multilateral and bilateral agencies are calling for more investment in the WASH sector, and subsequently placing responsibilities on governments to take action.

An African Development Bank report on Water Sector Activities and Initiatives states among other things that: “Governments and their partners should prioritise water security in general, and WASH in particular. They should identify new financing mechanisms to bridge the huge funding gaps and create the needed enabling environment for all stakeholders to play their appropriate roles”.

Analysis of Ghana’s budget allocations and disbursements for MSWR indicated that the country is not investing more resources into the WASH sector – as in all three years none came close to the World Bank’s recommended budget to GDP ratio of 0.64 percent. While budget allocations fell below the recommended budget to GDP ratio, none of the three years under review recorded a disbursement of 100%.

Further reviews of the yearly disbursement showed that the Ghana government’s contribution ranged from 13 percent to 24 percent, giving a clear indication of government not prioritising WASH financing but relying on donor contributions to manage the sector. This can be seen as risky, as donor contributions can change based on their priorities.  For example, the UK government has cut its Development Assistance budget allocations for the WASH sector by 80 percent.

In support of managing climate impact on WASH services, the government of Ghana should as a matter of urgency commit at least 0.3 percent of the country’s GDP to WASH investments with apt monitoring and evaluation – like in the case of Lesotho doing an average of 46 percent and South Africa doing an average of 28 percent of their GDP, as reported in UNICEF’s ESARO-2019-WASH Financing-Regional-Assessment.  This approach, when adopted, will help bridge the gap in provision of WASH services in rural communities and enhance accessibility, thereby helping to fight against the impact of climate change on WASH.

>>>the writer is the Grants Manager for WaterAid Ghana and holds a Master’s in Business Administration (Finance) from KNUST. He is a Fellow of Association of Certified Chartered Accountants UK (ACCA UK), and Associate Member of Chartered Institute of Taxation Ghana (CITG). David has an interest in Development and Sustainability Financing, as well as Resource Mobilisation and Management in support of achievement of the SDGs. Email: [email protected]

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