Climate heroes for climate-resilient inclusive WASH in Lao PDR and Nepal

A woman from Lao PDR holds up a large poster during a meeting, you can only see her head above the poster as she smiles at participants. The poster displays drawings that relate to community WASH management as well as climate related impacts.

Local government in Lao PDR introduces the integration of climate risk indicators in community-led sanitation monitoring in Champhone district. (SNV Lao PDR / Bart Verweij)


Women are at the forefront of climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) and Nepal, where Water for Women partners are championing climate heroes in government and the community to inspire and lead inclusive action on climate change.


In Lao PDR, climate data shows increases in seasonal and annual rainfall and extreme rainfall events over the last 40 years, with most climate models indicating continued future increases that could contribute to a rise in flooding events. Similarly, historical climate and disaster trends show increased intensity and frequency of extreme rainfall events in the western region of Nepal, and increased drought and glacial lake outburst floods elsewhere in the country since 1960.[1]


Localised impacts of climate change are already resulting in disruptions to WASH services in communities, and while local governments are often best placed to respond to community needs, along with their civil society organisation (CSO) partners, they can struggle to know where to begin.


Cracking the code – innovation for a gender equal future

To help address this overwhelm and understand local government motivations and barriers to tackling climate change impacts on inclusive WASH services, Water for Women partners SNV Netherlands Development Organisation (SNV) and the University of Technology Sydney, Institute for Sustainable Futures (UTS-ISF) trialed an innovative Q-methodology research initiative in Lao PDR and Nepal, which is now supporting acceleration on climate change action in both countries. Q-methodology is a simple research approach that explores people’s opinions, viewpoints, sentiments, beliefs, attitudes, motivations, and goals related to a particular topic. The research initiative combined qualitative data collection and quantitative analysis.


In Lao PDR, SNV and ISF-UTS partners collaborated with researchers at the National University of Laos (NUol) to deliver a Q-methodology workshop involving 22 local government staff from seven different government agencies and one person from an organisation of people with disabilities in Savannakhet province. The 12 men and 11 women participants all had WASH-related responsibilities, including Community-led Total Sanitation (CLTS) implementation in their district or province. The workshop found most[2] participants agreed:

  • climate change will have a large impact on their community
  • government should take more action to address climate change impacts on WASH
  • marginalised people are worst affected by climate change impacts on WASH.


“In interviews, local government participants … explained that they feel climate change will have large impacts on their communities because community members directly depend on the natural environment for livelihoods and because they have already observed the effects of severe weather. However, they also explained that climate change feels like an overwhelming problem that their individual contributions are too small to make a difference to”


To accelerate action on climate change by the government staff, the research team determined that:

  • the majority[3] would benefit from learning how they can support meaningful adaptation efforts at the local level, and also gain a stronger sense of authority to act on climate change within their jobs
  • increased awareness of how climate change is likely to evolve in the future and its local implications for Lao PDR, as well as interventions with a focus on community-based activities that enable community members to identify climate risks and potential solutions were important for others.[4]


Turning these insights into action, SNV, with support from NUoL and UTS-ISF, held a workshop with 52 local government staff members from Atsaphone, Champhone and Palanxay districts and from Savannakhet province in August 2022. Among attendees were participants in the Q-methodology data collection.

The workshop aimed to:

  • raise awareness of how climate change effects are likely being felt everywhere in Lao PDR
  • establish a sense of mandate and responsibility among local government to act on climate change
  • build the confidence of local government participants to take incremental actions to address climate change impacts on rural sanitation within their CLTS programming.


Presentations from environmental science lecturers from NUoL explained how climate change is locally affecting the environment in Lao PDR, and local government participants were able to share their personal experiences with climate impacts in their communities. A representative from a local disabled people’s organisation was also invited to share how people with disabilities experience extreme weather. National policies and strategies from the Government of Lao PDR outlining government responsibilities for addressing climate change were also highlighted, including the Climate Change Adaptation and Health Strategy and the National Strategy on Climate Change of Lao PDR that explicitly prioritise adaptation actions for WASH. Local government participants identified actions they could take to achieve objectives of the strategy locally, and workshop participants learned and discussed ways they could identify and address climate impacts on rural sanitation. UTS-ISF demonstrated how climate risks could be integrated in CLTS triggering activities like community mapping and transect walks and presented other community-based activities from the Climate Change Response for Inclusive WASH project. SNV also facilitated participants to consider how flooding and drought risks could be accounted for in sanitation marketing activities.


Inspiring action in Lao PDR

Following the workshop, local government participants visited two communities to pilot some of the community-based activities they had learned about. One group carried out CLTS triggering activities incorporating the identification of climate risks. Another group visited a community to conduct sanitation marketing activities and share messaging around climate risks; using a community map, the local government staff encouraged community members to identify the low-lying areas in the village that are most impacted during floods, and to consider the experiences of households in these areas and how their sanitation needs are impacted during floods. This was followed by a presentation of different toilet design and cost options and how integration of flood risk considerations can help in constructing resilient toilets. The session concluded with the village committee members preparing an open defecation free action and monitoring plan for their village, incorporating climate risk considerations with support from the local government staff.


“Survey results indicate the local government participants increased their understanding of climate risks and how to plan for climate resilient WASH.”




In Nepal, the Q-methodology was carried out by SNV and UTS-ISF with 33 local government staff in Dailekh and Sarlahi districts. The 30 men and three women participants all had responsibilities related to delivery of rural water services, such as technical design of water supplies or rural development planning, in their respective districts. Most[5] agreed that:

  • involving women in decision-making about WASH is important because women have a major role in managing WASH at the household level and are more exposed to climate hazards
  • women and marginalised people are most affected by climate change impacts on WASH
  • the benefits of addressing climate change impacts on WASH are worth the investment for all.


“The Q-methodology process revealed high levels of motivation among local government staff in Dailekh and Sarlahi districts to tackle climate, albeit with barriers to overcome.”


The research team found the motivation and confidence of these government staff members could be leveraged to act on technical WASH resilience matters. However, they first needed a sense of responsibility that climate action was within the remit of their department and their personal roles. For those[6] who were less aware of the social dimensions of climate vulnerability and the value of inclusion, an intervention should support articulation of their vision for climate-resilient WASH within their districts, while crucially, building their knowledge and awareness in this area.

Based on these insights, SNV held a one-day workshop with local government staff members in each of Dailekh and Sarlahi districts in June and July 2022 to build their knowledge on:

  • causes of climate change and how it affects rural water services in Nepal
  • how gender and social inclusion are related to climate resilient WASH
  • policies and strategies by the Government of Nepal that give a mandate and guidance to local government for acting on climate change
  • low-cost, community-based methods for addressing climate resilient rural water services.


Inspiring action in Nepal

As a direct outcome, four motivated local government staff in each of Dailekh and Sarlahi districts were chosen as ‘climate heroes’ to demonstrate how considerations of climate change could be incorporated into their water services work. Each climate hero first visited a community in their district and conducted focus group discussions with community members about how climate hazards affect their water access and how the impacts are felt differently across diverse social groups. With the support of SNV, they also carried out a sanitation inspection of the water source to assess the level of risk that flooding poses.

Then, in Dailekh, the climate heroes worked with the community to implement risk control measures identified during the sanitation inspections, including building a spring box around a spring source, planting trees around the spring, and constructing a small check dam to prevent erosion around the spring. In Sarlahi, areas of a community most acutely affected by floods or water shortages were mapped out to identify suitable places to site tubewells. While other climate heroes focused on strategic policy improvements, examining Nepal’s National Adaptation Plan to identify which objectives pertaining to water services were most relevant for their district or working area and should receive resourcing to implement. They also discussed and listed changes to rules, practices, and narratives within their own departments that would create an enabling environment for climate-resilient water services.


To celebrate International Women's Day, we are pleased to invite you to our World Water Day event that will highlight Pacific voices for climate-resilient water and WASH and take these learnings and messages to the UN Water Conference 2023 in New York, a watershed moment for the water and WASH sectors.


Wednesday 22nd March

10am Melbourne | 11am Fiji | 6pm New York


Register now

A blue graphic tinted overlay of a scene of a rural village in PNG. There is an event title written in white: 'Women at the forefront: Valuing diverse voices, leadership and action on SDG6' along with event details


P Bohlinger and A Sorteberg, A comprehensive view on trends in extreme precipitation in Nepal and their spatial distribution, International Journal of Climatology, 38(4), 2018, pp.1833-1845 via

[2] Twelve government representatives from the 22 in the participant group in Lao PDR

[3] Twelve government representatives from the participant group in Lao PDR

[4] Nine government representatives from the participant group in Lao PDR

[5] Sixteen government representatives from the participant group in Nepal

[6] Twelve government representatives from the participant group in Nepal

A climate-resilient future needs #WomenUpstream


Women are at the forefront of change - Recognising and valuing the critical contributions of women, including Indigenous women, as decision-makers, stakeholders, farmers, educators, carers and experts across sectors and at all levels is key to a climate-resilient future. Recognition and meaningful action on this front is a “game-changer” and the key to successful and sustainable solutions to climate change and achieving SDG 6.


Climate change will escalate risks and exacerbate impacts, particularly on vulnerable populations. Inclusive and equitable water and WASH are critical connectors for community resilience, equipping communities to adapt and respond to increasing climate hazards.


On International Women's Day we call for diverse perspectives at the decision-making table to strengthen prospects for more holistic and sustainable solutions to climate related issues at all levels – from global to local.


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