Written by: Hendra Gupta, GWSC
The challenges posed to water and sanitation systems are becoming increasingly complex due to the varying combinations of climate and environmental hazards. These hazards range from extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, to more subtle changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. These hazards can place immense strain on water and sanitation infrastructure, potentially compromising their functionality and effectiveness. This, in turn, could potentially reverse the progress made in improving access to water and sanitation worldwide. These hazards can disrupt water supply and sanitation services, endanger lives and livelihoods, and undermine the progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation by 2030.
To address these challenges, a panel session was held on 7 December, at the 3rd International Symposium on Disaster Resilience and Sustainable Development 2023: Sustainability through Development. The symposium was organized by Disaster Preparedness Mitigation and Management of the Asian Institute of Technology Thailand. The Global Water & Sanitation Center hosted the panel session.
The panel session aimed to examine the challenges posed by climate and environmental hazards on water supply and sanitation systems in Asia, and to explore the opportunities for enhancing resilience through technology, finance, policy, and innovation. The panel discussion, moderated by Ms. Isha Basyal, GWSC Deputy COO, covered six topics: understanding the impact of environmental hazards on water supply and sanitation systems, leveraging technology for disaster prevention and preparedness, strategic financing for resilience efforts, disaster risk reduction by integrating climate change projection into flood and landslide risk assessment, and adapting to climate change with climate-smart WASH technology.
The panelists were:
- Mr. Prakash Raj Lamsal from UNICEF EAPRO. According to Mr. Prakash from UNICEF, more than 700 million children in Asia-Pacific are at risk of floods, air pollution, and water contamination. The Children’s Climate Risk Index shows how these threats affect their well-being and the index can be accessed on the UNICEF website. UNICEF works with governments to ensure water and sanitation are included in their climate action plans, with an emphasis on building community resilience. Find more information here.
- Dr. Aida Karazhanova from ICT-DRR UNESCAP discussed how information communication technology (ICT) can improve data, impact, and resilience for water-related disasters. She said that IT supports policies and practices that foster water development and resilience. She also mentioned a geospatial database of best practices and a Digital Transformation Heatmap that show the IT readiness of countries in the region. Find more information here.
- Mr. JK. Singh from the Asian Development Bank highlighted the $100 billion climate fund for climate adaptation in Asia and the Pacific. He noted that private sector engagement remains limited due to various risks associated with fees, operations, maintenance, and politics. He mentioned that ADB provides financing packages to attract private sector partners, citing examples from four countries: Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, and Vietnam. ADB-managed trust funds to align with shared goals and are used to pilot projects and facilitate knowledge exchange among participating governments.
- Ms. Pimvadee Keaokiriya Bern from Institute for Global Environmental Strategies presented their current program in building community resilience in ASEAN member countries. The program assesses flood risks in the river basins of Laos and Myanmar, emphasizing capacity building and learning across local and national governments. The program focuses on risk and strategy development, institutional arrangements, and data management, predicting future climate scenarios, vulnerability and capacity assessments, and combining assessments of landslides and vulnerability to create detailed risk maps. For more info: ASEAN DRR Disaster Risk Reduction by Integrating Climate Change Projection.
- Prof. Thammarat Koottatep from AIT – GWSC mentioned AIT dedication to developing smarter, inclusive technologies that cater to the needs of women and children. However, the silent disaster of daily life, where access to water and sanitation is a challenge, cannot be overlooked. Identifying and implementing appropriate technology that serves the broader population is imperative. Climate smart WASH technology book can be downloaded here.
- Dr. Sizwile Khoza from Stockholm Environment Institute, who emphasized gender equality is crucial for ensuring equitable access to WASH services. Inclusive and transformative resilience requires recognizing the diverse identities within our communities, including various gender identities, people with disabilities, and the elderly. Effective water and sanitation solutions must be gender-inclusive to be truly smart and sustainable. Understanding the unique impacts of disasters on different genders is crucial for building transformative disaster resilience. Technology and services that fail to be adopted by all community segments, particularly marginalized groups, cannot be deemed smart. Therefore, it is essential to develop strategies that bolster the resilience of women and children and ensure no community group is left behind in our resilience-building efforts.
Mr. Hendra Gupta of GWSC, panel session’s co-chair, summarized the session. Water supply and sanitation systems are vital for human health and well-being, but they are also vulnerable to climate and environmental hazards that can disrupt their functionality and effectiveness. Technology can play a key role in improving disaster prevention and preparedness for water supply and sanitation systems, by providing data, information, communication, and innovation. Financing is a critical factor for ensuring the sustainability and scalability of resilience efforts for water supply and sanitation systems, and it requires innovative and collaborative approaches that involve multiple stakeholders. Climate change projections can help assess the future risks and impacts of floods and landslides on water supply and sanitation systems and inform integrated and adaptive strategies that balance structural and non-structural measures. Climate-smart WASH technology can help adapt to the changing climate conditions and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from water supply and sanitation systems, by using renewable energy, water efficiency, and resource recovery. Gender equality is essential for ensuring equitable and inclusive access to water supply and sanitation services, especially for women and girls who are more vulnerable to the effects of disasters and emergencies.