Climate change has been affecting communities globally for decades. However, in the last few years, it has entered into public awareness and discourse in unprecedented ways. It is now clear that even with best efforts to reduce carbon emissions, major changes are underway that will affect all aspects of life on the planet.
Whilst climate change is often associated with emissions, it is mostly felt through changes to water. Changing weather patterns, extreme weather events and temperature increases change the conditions in which S&H infrastructure and services operate, and pose major threats to public health. They also add strains on sanitation infrastructure, technology, management systems and socio-economic dynamics, exacerbating the existing sanitation crisis. Already vulnerable populations are more likely to be impacted by climate change due to geographical location and existing lack or inadequacy of structures and services, whilst also being less resilient. Therefore, climate change considerations must be mainstreamed into S&H and vice versa.
The focus for S&H is two-fold: Adaptation of the sector and its human, institutional and technological systems to respond to changes in temperature, precipitation, disasters and rising sea levels. And mitigation to reduce the extent that S&H itself contributes to climate change via greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, for example through reuse-oriented systems.
More research is needed to understand how climate change is impacting S&H and how to address existing and emerging challenges. Attention is needed on human dimensions of the challenge as well as on resilient technologies and systems.
Existing local knowledge must be harnessed, and it is vital that communities are active participants in developing solutions. Overall, we must shift towards solutions that integrate ecosystem and resource sustainability whilst also meeting S&H and development objectives in ways that do not compromise the chances for future generations to survive and thrive.