Ensuring climate-resilient WASH services

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While many critical climate-sensitive sectors have come under the harsh impacts of changing climatic conditions, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is one such critical sector already suffering from climate impacts. This is against the background that climate change as an emergent challenge is essentially a water problem, manifesting through the lack thereof or excess of it.

Floods as excess water and droughts representing the lack of water define and drive how climate change impacts manifest in particular sectors. Climate-induced extreme events such as floods, therefore have a high propensity to influence water-quality through pollution and contamination, which may in turn lead to water-borne diseases such as diarrhea and cholera outbreaks.

Droughts, on the other hand – born out of increased temperatures and prolonged periods of low or no rainfall – lead to water scarcity, which has significant ramifications for WASH services delivery and public health.

WASH and Climate Change in Ghana

WaterAid Ghana is a recognised organisation known for its work in the WASH sector across the country’s length and breadth.

Focusing primarily on water security and public health for sustainable development, WaterAid acknowledges the threat of climate change to WASH services delivery in Ghana – and has since inception been at the forefront of advocacy, policy and intervention actions to create a climate-resilient WASH sector.

The WASH sector is essentially water-driven and water-dependent, making any changes in availability and quality of water a major concern for public health and wellbeing – and for the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Despite progress made in WASH services provision in Ghana and in pursuit of the SDGs – especially Goal 6, a lot more work remains to be done as climate change impacts on water resources continue to threaten the WASH sector, as well as the health of many people and communities.

More than 4.4 million people live without access to clean water in Ghana. Close to 24 million Ghanaians lack decent toilets, while more than 1,600 children under five die each year from diarrhea-related diseases caused by poor quality water and the lack of decent toilets. Even more worrying is the fact that about 76 percent of households in Ghana face the risk of drinking unsafe water contaminated with faecal matter – a situation that has remained central to WASH and public health programming.

While these may be general national statistics that play out differently in diverse communities across the country, the fact however remains that climate change as an emergent reality is exacerbating existing water, sanitation and hygiene challenges, and in ways that have negative portents for Ghana’s sustainable development aspirations. The imperative is therefore urgent for government, communities and development partners such as WaterAid to make water management a central pillar in climate adaptation processes for local communities across Ghana to assure climate-resilient WASH services delivery.

WaterAid Ghana – Evidence-Based Advocacy

Known globally and nationally for its commitment to water security and improved public health, WaterAid Ghana not only leads in advocacy for climate action in the WASH sector, but also in the provision of WASH services that build the adaptive capacity and resilience of people and communities. A major preoccupation of WaterAid Ghana has been to bring focus on the linkage between climate change impacts on water resources by shining the light on how those impacts impede WASH services provision.

This they have done, and continue to do through intentional processes of evidence-gathering (research) and knowledge development to inform policy and practice.

Recently commissioned studies in parts of Ghana, and especially in the northern regions, have provided critical evidence on the pace and state of climate change impacts on water resources there; and, perhaps more importantly, how they affect WASH services and public health.

The truth is that even though the SDGs advocate for progressive reduction of inequalities related to hygiene and universal access to clean water and sanitation, evidence derived from such focused studies point, ironically, to increased inequalities in access to clean water and improved sanitation between rural and urban settings.

While diverse reasons may be cited for such inequalities, the role of climate change impacts on water resources in perennially vulnerable communities – such as those in the northern regions of Ghana – cannot be ruled out, as people and communities there deal with issues of water scarcity, access and quality on a regular basis.

Mobilising for Climate Action in the Water Sector

Any quest for a climate-resilient WASH sector in Ghana will require intentional processes of effective policymaking, knowledge development, awareness-creation, education and resource mobilisation to build adaptive capacities and resilience. These are prerequisites for proactive adaptative capacity and resilience-building; and, thankfully, WaterAid Ghana understands this imperative.

Working in collaboration with key strategic partners such as government, communities and other critical stakeholders, WaterAid Ghana has been focused on mobilising the requisite resources to create a climate-resilient WASH sector.

A major concern has been the need for creating an enabling operational environment, one that is supported by the requisite policy framework.

WaterAid-Ghana is encouraged by the existing government policy framework, especially as contained in the National Adaptation Planning (NAP), the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) and the National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy (NCCAS).

Even more encouraging is the more recent Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is Ghana’s expressed and committed obligations under the Convention.

Representing Ghana’s overall ambition toward sustained, coordinated and proactive climate actions, the NDCs spell out Ghana’s position – expressed as intended climate actions to build adaptive and resilience capacity in both adaptation and mitigation across sectors.

Central to this is the recognition by government that climate change manifests through water, the lack of it (drought) or excess of it (flood), and the critical importance of protecting water resources.

The protection and assurance of water resources is a prerequisite for human health and human survival; it is also the foundation for provision and assurance of climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene services in Ghana.

WaterAid Ghana embraces these policy provisions and remains committed to working with government, development partners, local communities, academic and research institutions, and all stakeholders to create a climate-resilient WASH sector in Ghana.

The writer is Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies, University of Ghana

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