Build back for the world of tomorrow, not the world of today, experts warn

Themes: Climate change WASH

City leaders need to do more to understand, plan for and respond to the threats of climate change.

Cities in developing countries need to focus more on the impacts that climate change will have on their ability to deliver inclusive water and sanitation services, according to speakers at a WSUP event held this week.

The event titled The Missing Piece of Climate Adaptation, was moderated by WSUP’s Chief Executive, Neil Jeffery, and looked at the impact of climate change on providing water and sanitation services to the cities’ most vulnerable residents as well as ways we can better integrate these services into climate resilience efforts.

Fatima Mussa, Water Lead for WSUP in Mozambique highlighted the devastation caused by Cyclone Idai, the impact on water and sanitation, and the need to prepare the city of Beira for more cyclones of this magnitude.

“Parts of the water supply system were seriously damaged, “she said.… “[Only] 10% of the city is covered by drainage system and the sewerage and flood water were mixed which was a public health risk.”

Watch our film: Two years on from Cyclone Idai, Beira is rebuilding

“There is still a lot to be done, there is a need for infrastructure, toilets, septic tanks, etc. There is also a need for citywide sanitation services to reduce public health risks when areas are flooded,” she said, adding: “It’s also important to look at this issue of solid waste management.”

Supporting residents like Vasco to access water services in Beira, Mozambique. Credit: Stand Up Media

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change – but how is this affecting water and sanitation coverage in urban areas? Pritum Saha, M&E Coordinator for WSUP in Bangladesh, shared multiple ways in which climate change is affecting services, and how WSUP is contributing towards a solution.

He highlighted how climatic events such as sea level rise and flooding are displacing 700,000 people per year in Bangladesh, among them 400,000 climate refugees which migrated to Dhaka alone in 2020. As a result, city authorities are unable to cope with the rising demand for basic services such as water and sanitation.

Blog: How climate change is worsening sanitation in Bangladesh

On the need for sanitation services that protect the communities, Pritum spoke about SWEEP: a public-private sanitation waste management service that was set up by WSUP.

Video: A vision for a green city: can improved sanitation help?

A SWEEP vacuum tanker making its rounds in Dhaka, Bangaladesh

Drought, extreme flooding, heat, rising sea levels are all affecting WASH services in cities. So, what can we do about it?

Katrin Bruebach, Global Director, Programs, Innovation and Impact at Resilient Cities Network highlighted how many issues cities are already grappling with.

Solutions that address multiple problems from flooding to solid waste management as well as underlying stresses such as poverty and unemployment, will stand the most chance of being adopted, she argued.

Read more about how integrating WASH within wider urban development is making a difference

Joep Verhagen, Program Lead Water & Urban at The Global Center on Adaptation spoke about how the world is not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 6 targets and how climate change is going to compound this challenge.
But for the urban poor, he said, it is difficult to distinguish what is climate change and what is already a poor service.

Alex McNamara, Programme Manager, Environmental Sustainability at the National Business Initiative in South Africa highlighted the importance of building strong municipal businesses which can provide good customer service, billing, and make sure services are properly priced.

He highlighted how the municipality in Durban looked at climate adaptation not as an additional cost, but as a saving: given how preventative action to improve drainage would reduce the clean-up required after heavy rains. The initiative helped communities to clear rivers, improve ecosystems and create jobs.

Katrin Bruebach highlighted how in the last 20 years the world has failed to solve the sanitation crisis, but that the current pandemic has brought WASH to the forefront. Demonstrating the problems that cities will face if they fail to address the water needs of their communities is vital if we are to be able to generate momentum on the issue.

The current pandemic has shown the importance of handwashing with soap as the simplest and most effective way to prevent the spread of a virus

Lord Boateng, Chairman of WSUP highlighted in his closing remarks that the public health challenge of inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene is also a climate change challenge, and there is no solution to one without the other.

WSUP has been implementing climate adaptation work for 15 years, supporting cities to grapple with urbanisation and the increasing fragility of urban life for the poorest residents. In each country where we work, we have developed solutions which work – changing institutions for the better and improving the lives of millions of people.

As climate change gathers pace, we need to step up this work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable. WSUP is determined to do as much as we can to tackle this problem.

Learn more about our climate change work

Top image: Resident in Beira washing his hands. Credit: Stand Up Media