How climate change impacts sanitation in poor countries
Extreme weather events linked to climate change can damage toilets, water supplies, waste systems, and treatment facilities, especially in developing countries and marginalised groups identified as more vulnerable to climate change impacts.
According to the new report from the Sanitation Learning Hub, over two billion people still lack access to basic sanitation facilities, leading to the spread of diseases and poses human health risks from the young to the old.
The report highlights how climate change affects sanitation in rural areas of Indonesia, Chad, and Solomon Island, South Asia, and Africa. It gathered the experiences of local people involved in sanitation programmes as case studies and provides practical guidance for climate adaptation strategies for long term coping with climate change.
According to one sanitation practitioner in South Asia, heavy rainfalls can lead to landslides. When toilets are far away from home, which is true in some communities, the lack of access during and after disasters, especially from people with mobility issues, can lead to open defecation.
A practitioner in North Africa says that at the community level says that most of the infrastructure is built from local materials and not adapted to resist flooding and heavy rainfalls. When infrastructure collapse due to natural hazards, behaviour change is affected.
In some schools in rural areas, when kids don’t have access to water or when floods cause the toilet facility to collapse or buried in the sandstorm, they go back to open defecation.
Ruhil Iyer, a co-author of the report, says climate change deepens existing inequities and barriers to sanitation and access and use. When extreme events like floods are rampant, it can cause a lot of sanitation problems.
She calls for a much greater commitment from all those working on sanitation projects to address local climate change impacts, listen to local community needs, and work collaboratively to find the best adaptation methods to ensure that sanitation services are sustainable, equitable, and accessible to everyone.
Aside from the short-term climate change impacts from frequent heavy rains that can flood septic tanks and dry spells, causing water shortages for flushing and washing hands, there are also long-term climate change impacts from sea-level rise and coastal erosions that funders and the sanitation sector need to prepare for.