Critical Connections: Mainstreaming climate resilience in rural WASH services

A Bhutanese woman stands by her pour flush latrine with a water bottle in hand

A Bhutanese woman stands by her pour flush latrine, which has become difficult to maintain due to scarce water supply (SNV / Aidan Dockery)

SNV’s Beyond the Finish Line projects in Bhutan, Nepal and Lao PDR focus on improving access to equitable and sustainable safely managed sanitation and hygiene services. Climate projections indicate that temperatures and wet season rainfall are increasing in these rural communities, while dry season rainfall is decreasing in Nepal and Bhutan. Climate hazards – floods, droughts, landslides and glacial lake outburst floods – are already impeding WASH services in the project areas. The most vulnerable people, including women, girls, people with disabilities and those that live in remote areas, will likely face the highest burden from climate change impacts.


Building climate resilience through inclusive WASH interventions for all

Government partners, primarily at the sub-national level, as the duty bearers, alongside small-scale operators, are the focus of capacity-building activities in the project. The work involves evidence-based advocacy, work with rights holder groups, and knowledge and learning to support adaptation and increase resilience in the face of climate change and enhance DRR.

Climate change vulnerability and resilience is a key learning topic for teams in close collaboration with SNV’s knowledge and learning partner ISF-UTS. In Lao PDR, ISF-UTS is supporting the SNV team and local government to integrate resilience into sanitation planning and governance at the district and province level. This included a co-designed workshop that trained local government staff in assessing climate change impacts on inclusive sanitation and hygiene and developing strategies to respond to climate impacts.


Towards transformation: focusing on gender equality and social inclusion in support of climate resilience for all

Across all three projects, the focus within capacity-building activities is on mainstreaming climate resilience within existing efforts and systems to support WASH access for all, with the emphasis on the needs of disadvantaged groups.

In Bhutan, this includes the use of evidence about climate related risks to sanitation to support decision-making and resource allocation, monitoring the sustainability of pour-flush toilets in areas with water scarcity risks and working with service providers to sensitise them to climate risks.

In Nepal, climate resilience objectives are being integrated into strategic rural water development plans, and determining budget needs for funding climate-resilient activities. These include preparing for climate hazards and funding disaster recovery and ensuring national policies and strategies relating to climate change, water, gender and social inclusion are disseminated to, and understood by, rural municipality staff.

In Lao PDR, SNV and ISF-UTS are developing practical guidance for local government to assess how climate impacts affect women and men differently, and how their existing sanitation plans can be modified to equitably build climate-resilient sanitation in rural communities.

In June 2021, SNV held a virtual global learning event and e-group discussion on equity, climate change and rural WASH. The event and discussion brought together 50+ government partners and practitioners from SNV’s Asia and Africa teams to exchange ideas and deepen understanding of the challenges to and potential strategies for realising rights to WASH in the context of climate change. This included an understanding of climate change in national and sub-national contexts, explored resilience and vulnerabilities, and defined ways forward.


Critical results for critical times: how inclusive WASH is contributing to more climate-resilient outcomes

The projects are strengthening the capacity of local governments to integrate climate change resilience within area-wide rural WASH services, systems, plans and budgets, with greater emphasis on the increasing vulnerabilities of disadvantaged groups. SNV are also increasing the capacity of private sector providers and supply chains to respond to climate risks and develop, stock and market climate-resilient sanitation products, and developing knowledge within partners and communities of the potential impacts of climate change on WASH services and behaviours. 


A blue graphic with the words and a thumbnail of the cover of this resource

Climate change disproportionately affects women, people living in extreme poverty, people with disabilities and socially marginalised groups, who often have little influence or control over resources or decisions that affect their communities. Social marginalisation, poverty and exclusion expose disadvantaged people to climate hazards.

However, women and marginalised groups have important knowledge and capabilities, as a result of this direct lived experience, that are critical to problem-solving and decision-making for climate-resilient WASH. Hence, gender and social transformation to strengthen these voices and reduce unequal vulnerabilities can be a powerful enabler of equitably strengthening resilience to climate change in the WASH sector.

For COP27, we are taking a look at working examples from Water for Women partners that are making the critical connections between climate resilience and inclusive WASH.


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