Water Security, Sanitation, and Climate Change
The climate crisis directly threatens the water security of regions, countries, communities and households worldwide and compounds existing challenges managing water resources. Most of the worst climate disasters are water-related. Improving water security is essential to blunt the worst impacts of climate change.
Global climate action is a U.S. Government priority and is key to advancing sustainable development goals. A climate-resilient water and sanitation sector, coupled with improved water management, can mitigate economic losses and health risks by ensuring communities can withstand climate stresses, avoid conflict over scarce water resources, and maintain essential services following disasters.
Why it Matters
Climate change compounds common challenges associated with water and sanitation services and water resource management. Storms and floods, made more intense and frequent by climate change, damage water utilities, pipes, and community-based systems. Floods overwhelm drains, wastewater treatment plants, and latrine pits, resulting in stagnant, contaminated water that puts the health and wellbeing of millions of people at risk. Prolonged droughts mean lakes and streams dry up and water tables drop. In some coastal areas, rising sea levels are making well water salty and unusable for drinking, agriculture, and industry.
Building a robust climate-resilient water and sanitation sector is one of the single most important investments to prevent these dire consequences.
Climate and Water by the Numbers
Great strides have been made in strengthening safe water and sanitation systems around the world. However, climate shocks could derail that progress. Consider these numbers:
- Already in 2021, 1.42 billion people live in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability. This is likely to get much worse without immediate and significant climate action. The global population is on course to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, a nearly 24% increase over 2020.
- Nearly 3.6 billion people lack access to sufficient water at least one month per year. As demand for water increases, more than 5 billion people could lack sufficient water by 2050.
- Traditional water supply approaches won’t be able to help the 100 million people displaced due in part to climate change and conflicts over dwindling water supplies.
USAID’s Vision: A water-secure world
Through the US government-wide Global Water Strategy and Water for the World country programs, USAID plays a key role in addressing climate change in more than 45 countries across the globe. With strategic partnerships and expertise, USAID supports countries to grow climate-friendly economies and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.
USAID Climate Resilience Activities
WASH and Climate Resources
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More USAID Resources
- Climate Change (USAID.gov)
- Environment and Global Climate Change (USAID.gov)
- Water and Sanitation and Climate (Climatelinks.org)
- Climate Change and Water: An Annex to the USAID Climate-Resilient Development Framework (Climatelinks.org)
- Ecosystem-based Adaptation and Water Security (Climatelinks.org)
Confronting Climate Uncertainty Head on in the Philippines (March 2021) (precursor activity Real Impact: Be Secure)
Building Climate Resilience for Water Security (March 2019)
The Infrastructure Upgrade in Peru (February 2019)
Backyard Cooperation Leads to Wastewater Treatment (November 2018)
Building Resilience into a River Basin (March 2021)
Going Beyond Taps and Toilets in the Sahel (March 2021)
Banner photo credit: Ana Castañeda, Forest Trends. Three people observe Lima’s Rimac watershed in Peru, which is seriously threatened by pollution, overgrazing, and illegal peat extraction. USAID and Canada’s Natural Infrastructure Water Security Project is strengthening regulations and addressing these threats to Peruvian wetlands.
Top image: Solar powered water pumps, like this one in Tanzania, are one example of climate friendly technology for water security. Photo credit: Dan Stewart via Save the Children