Rural sanitation and climate change

Climate change is a major concern for the rural sanitation sector. In a context where more than two billion people still do not have access to basic sanitation facilities, climate change adds complexity that deepens existing inequalities and vulnerabilities in terms of sanitation access and usage. Notably, the effects of climate change have a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged and marginalised groups.

Over the past few years, evidence bases have been built around climate change and water, and climate change and urban sanitation, but little attention has been paid to rural sanitation.

Therefore, our work on climate change, in partnership with the Institute for Sustainable Futures, has two overarching objectives:

  1. To build evidence of climate impacts on rural sanitation, with a focus on the experience by local people, not necessarily technology or infrastructure.
  2. To document innovations by practitioners, as well as what they are not doing.

We began with a desk-based study and interviews with practitioners, which came together into seven principles, published in our Frontiers of Sanitation edition. Working with partners in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso and Lao PDR, we have since been documenting climate impacts, coping strategies and innovations, using participatory methods.

Our emerging findings include:

  • There are climate impacts on sanitation, and it is challenging ODF statuses. But this is not yet documented and there are gaps in knowledge.
  • Evidence of direct and indirect climate impacts in Burkina Faso.
  • Direct impacts: Droughts and flooding causes problems with access to markets, a lack of handwashing during droughts, when it also becomes hard to maintain toilets.
  • Indirect impacts: cattle dying, crop failure, livelihoods are affected which means sanitation isn’t a priority.
  • In Laos – the research is showing that adaptation can happen but needs to be climate transformative.
  • There is a clear message that climate change is another complex issue in a sector that is already grappling with complexity, but that means practitioners are better equipped than they realise, and expensive, complicated technical innovations are not necessarily the answer.

YouTube playlist: Ruhil Iyer (SLH) and Jeremy Kohlitz (ISF) introduce the key themes from this work


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