UK aid for combating climate change - WaterAid written submission

Posted On: 
8th May 2019

WaterAid have responded to the International Development Committee report. Please find below the full written submission.

1. About WaterAid

1.1. WaterAid is an international organisation whose mission is to transform the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people by improving access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene.

1.2. In many of our country programmes we are seeing a need to take extra measures to ensure the sustainability and resilience of our water and sanitation programmes due to the impacts of increased climate variability.

1.3. WaterAid is working with communities in West Africa and Bangladesh to build their capacity to manage climate related threats to water supply, and respond to floods and droughts themselves. This has already led to communities independently leading and implementing actions to improve water security and manage water resources.

1.4. We are also working with the Government of Mozambique to strengthen the resilience of Maputo against threats to water supplies following a three-year drought.  

2. Summary: 

2.1. Climate change impacts are largely felt through water – either too much, or too little – and we need to urgently invest in water infrastructure to strengthen communities from the impacts of droughts, floods, and the waterborne diseases, such as cholera, which result from these impacts. The world’s water is under severe stress, but if we were able to strengthen water resources and increase people’s access to supplies of good quality water then they would be able to stand strong against climate change.

2.2. Climate change undermines the human right to water and combating climate change is key to ensuring sustainable and equitable development for all communities, especially for children, women, and other vulnerable groups.

2.3. Climate finance should be over and above Official Development Assistant (ODA). WaterAid believes that investing in measures to strengthen the resilience of communities in least developed countries should not be viewed as aid, but rather as compensation for the serious threats to lives, livelihoods and economic development of developing countries and primarily the poorest communities who are likely to bear the greatest burden for a problem that they have least responsibility for creating.   

2.4. The international community needs to increase long term investments to build ongoing resilience and secure sustained development. Extreme weather events can be devastatingly swift or slow onset. Instead of reacting to disasters or managing decline, early investment has the potential to turn the fortunes of communities around. Ultimately, we want to leave countries with the capability to manage and respond to future crises themselves.

2.5. Further to this, infrastructure and disaster risk reduction projects should all be climate resilient, acknowledging that what have previously been seen as extreme weather events may become more severe and more frequent. Investing in infrastructure that is fit for the future is a ‘no regrets’ action, which could bring a number of benefits such as enhancing the reliability of essential WASH services and the ability to respond to variable demand.  

2.6. Climate change investments must have a greater focus on adaptation and respond to growing concerns that the systems currently in place for channelling finance to the communities who need it most are weak. The impacts of climate change are unpredictable even at a local level, and vary from region to region. It is virtually impossible for central governments, in large countries, struggling with a multitude of issues, to co-ordinate adaptive actions. The international community must develop a transparent and effective system of rapidly allocating investment, under local control, which is earmarked for climate resilience. 

3. What role can international development play in combating climate change?

3.1. As DFID already recognise, many development interventions must consider a changing climate as default. For aid to be sustainable, interventions must align with efforts to build resilience. School and hospital construction should design in the potential for increased likelihood of extreme weather, for example flood resistance; the provision of clean water with water storage infrastructure; or even water purification equipment to remove salt and other contaminants from water.

3.2. Climate finance should be over and above ODA. Climate finance is based on the idea that developing countries incur high costs to adapt to impacts caused by emissions from developed countries, and further to this have to take a more expensive “low carbon path” to development. 

3.3. People in poor communities are living with climate change right now and paying for its impacts with their own resources, through higher water prices, or lower agricultural yields, or increased medical bills. Too many communities are expected to pay for adaption themselves, to strengthen their homes against flooding, or pay for water storage. 

3.4. It should be noted that it can be hard to attribute interventions specifically to climate impacts – for example, communities may already face water scarcity due to intensive farming or over-abstraction, but more severe climate conditions means, for example, that dry weeks become dry months, tipping fragile communities into crisis.

3.5. The international community should not invest in climate adaptation in isolation but as part of the Sustainable Development Goals which underpin the 2030 agenda, integrating health, education, and poverty reduction within climate action. 

4. What will the consequences be if the international development community fails to take action?

4.1. Humanitarian aid is vital but to use such a precious resources to patch up communities year on year is a sub-optimal use of a global common good. Eventually long-term investments will have to be made to build sustainable settlements. The fundamental purpose of aid is to build the capability of countries to manage their development paths and respond to crises themselves.

5. How can the UK play an active role in leading the world on this issue?

5.1. The UK sets the standard for policy rigour and understanding the value of professional experts to protecting the environment and supporting development. For instance, the UK Environment Agency has over 11,000 staff, many times the number of employed by Environment Ministries for other larger countries, and are a global example of what “good” looks like. The UK has promising examples of sharing its global expertise to build stronger institutions.

5.2. WaterAid Ethiopia are running a project with Yorkshire Water to set up miniutilities in small towns to manage water supply. This also helps to increase resilience because the mini-utilities are able to take ownership of problems as they emerge and seek advice from other towns. The positive and visible changes in the efficiency of the towns covered includes significant increases in water distribution, revenue collection, reducing unaccounted for water, and integration of sanitation activities. 
 
6. Does the Government strike the right balance between adaptation and mitigation in its ODA spending?

6.1. No. Adaptation projects are not getting the funding they need, either because they are seen as not being “bankable” or because they are seen as being “developmental”. WaterAid is concerned that the term “bankable” excludes smaller scale interventions with ancillary economic benefits at community level in favour of large infrastructure projects of national significance.

6.2. Adaptation is harder to implement because it is a much more diffuse area compared to mitigation and it cannot be planned top-down from a national ministry - rather it needs to react to problems on the ground. There needs to be a dialogue between communities, regions and governments, as well as a way to aggregate small interventions required at a national scale. 

6.3. 50% for adaption must be maintained. At present the split under the Green Climate Fund for dispersals is 60/40 in favour of mitigation and less than 5% for projects dedicated to resilient water supply (presently less than $100m). 

7. How effective are the climate-focused multilateral agencies to which the UK contributes? 

7.1. The spirit of the Green Climate Fund is a positive step, but in the face of questions over continuing donor support and contributions, its purpose and future capability remains precarious. International climate change support agencies need considerable latitude in what is an emerging and higher risk area of operations.  WaterAid recommends tight but adaptable review stewardship but a commitment on the part of donors to long term funding and support for organisational development.  

8. Does the UK give sufficient priority to climate-related issues within its ODA portfolio? 

8.1. Given climate change and its negative impacts are underway, the focus on investments in clean energy production needs to be balanced with investments in adapting to climate change.  For example, presently National Determined Contribution (NDC) plans under the Paris Agreement have detailed plans for low carbon energy, even in countries with very low energy consumption. And while water is recognised as one of the main channels for climate impacts, very few NDCs have more than a short acknowledgment that there will be more extreme weather and pressure on water resources. Development cooperation needs to recognise the scale and burden of the problem and respond with appropriate instruments and investment choices.

8.2. Climate change impacts are largely felt through water, and the international community needs to urgently invest in water infrastructure as a way to strengthen communities from the impacts of droughts, floods, as well as the waterborne diseases, such as cholera, which result from these impacts. The world’s freshwater sources are under severe stress, but if the UK is to help strengthen water resources and increase people’s access to supplies of good quality water the UK’s support would assist in building the resilience of poorer communities to withstand the most serious impacts.

8.3. Social capital also has a critical role to play. WaterAid has been working with communities in West Africa building capacity to monitor ground water resources and track them against rainfall. This work allows communities to understand how their climate interacts with water supplies, and take measures to mitigate against droughts and floods. Many of these interventions are ‘soft’ human capital interventions that do not involve expensive new infrastructure. They include, for instance, banning certain high water use activities during the dry months and coming to water allocation agreements with different users. However, the data the communities build up also enables them to make evidence based investments in water infrastructure such as new boreholes or water storage. Climate resilience need not just be about infrastructure projects, but also ensuring that communities have the skills and expertise they need to measure and manage changing circumstances. 
 
9. How can development actors best harness technology to combat climate change?

9.1. There are no silver bullets – but a more balanced portfolio of investments is needed and one that strengthens adaptation measures (largely water resource and flooding interventions) alongside mitigation efforts (reductions in emissions). The critical challenge for development actors is to design their interventions in ways that incentivise local actors to build adapted and locally relevant technologies. Toilets are a 4000-year-old technology that could prevent the spread of disease during floods, in developed countries they are taken for granted, yet billions of people around the world still lack access to decent toilets.