Impacts of Climate Change on Sanitation


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  • F H Mughal
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Impacts of Climate Change on Sanitation

Impacts of Climate Change on Sanitation

An aspect that has not received appropriate attention is the impacts of climate change on sanitation, and for that matter, on water; and how to adapt to the impacts and build resiliency.

Catarina de Albuquerque, formerly Independent Expert, and UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation, now Executive Chair of the Sanitation and Water for All partnership, and author of the publication: Realising the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation: A Handbook, recently wrote a post titled: “Sanitation and Climate Change: the Connection That Needs to be Made” ( ).
Catarina has listed some impacts of climate change on sanitation. Some key points in Catarina’s post are:

This is the shocking situation that billions of people live with every day, without taking into account the devastating impact that climate change is having on peoples lives and livelihoods. Extreme weather events such as drought, flooding, or storm surges, as well as the problem of sea level rise put existing sensitive, often antiquated sanitation systems at risk.

Drought leads to insufficient water resources being available to flush sewage systems adequately, and accompanying higher temperatures can have an impact on how sewage systems operate. Flooding, from storms or sea level rises, can lead to inundation of both pit latrines or sewage treatment facilities, which increases the risk of contamination of the environment.

In the majority of existing urban systems, storm water drainage is combined with the sewerage system, putting urban areas at risk of sewage contaminated flooding. Sewage treatment plants are often positioned on low-lying ground, as sewerage systems rely on gravity, but this puts them at risk when groundwater levels rise due to flooding or sea-level rise. Rivers and other bodies of water are regularly polluted with untreated sewage.

As local climates change, as temperatures vary with reduced predictability, as regions experience higher or lower rainfall, and greater extremes in weather patterns, it is crucial that resilience is built into the existing and planned sanitation systems.

It is generally the poorest people in any country, living on low-lying ground susceptible to flooding, and with the least ability to mitigate against climate events, who will be worst effected by the impact of climate change, further entrenching existing inequalities.

We can see that climate change brings challenges -- but it also brings the opportunity to design the resilience necessary to improve sanitation generally, to provide better solutions than those that are currently being used, and to bring better sanitation to those billions of people currently without access.

One potential solution to the problem of faecal waste is the faecal waste itself. Untreated faecal matter is rife with dangerous pathogens -- but it is also rich in nutrients, and, provided the faecal matter has been treated, this can be used to improve soil. As the global population grows, with more people living in environments that are at risk from climate change we must harness the good out of that which we now see as bad.

The points in Catarina’s post are valid. In poor developing countries, however, there is a dearth of not only the technical expertise, but also detailed guidance manuals are not available. There is, therefore, a dire need for guidance manuals on climate change impacts, adaptation and building resiliency.

Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) is a resourced institute, which has the capacity to develop real-world, down-to-earth, and hands-on guidance manuals on climate change impacts on sanitation, water, and I would add solid waste management as well.

Perhaps, Dr. Arno Rosemarin, Senior Research Fellow at SEI can request his institute to develop the manuals. I can say, for sure, that such guidance manuals would be extremely useful to a range of actors, institutions, and the governments in poor developing counties.

F H Mughal
F H Mughal (Mr.)
Karachi, Pakistan
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