A photo of a typhoon from space
A photo of a typhoon from space. The Western Pacific is particularly vulnerable to typhoon activity, which may become more frequent or intense due to climate change. | Credit: NOAA

Four Ways USAID is Taking Action on Climate Change through Water

By Ann Vaughan, Maura Barry Boyle

The global climate crisis is also a water crisis. Throughout the world, the impacts of climate change threaten the water security of regions, countries, communities, and households. Water security means that people and nations have access to sufficient quantities and quality of water to live healthy, prosperous, and resilient lives.

Unfortunately, nearly half of the world’s population already experience some periods of water insecurity. This number could grow to more than 5 billion people by 2050.

Nearly 75 percent of disasters are water-related, from either too little or too much water. Droughts, floods, and rising seawater will reduce and contaminate water supplies, making it more difficult for billions of people to access safe drinking water, for businesses to operate, and for farms to get the water they need for crops and livestock — all of which undermine economic growth and well-being.

USAID’s Water for the World programs support our partner countries to become more climate resilient. Water security is an underlying element of the U.S. Government Global Water Strategy and USAID’s Water and Development Plan in the strategy. Because water impacts nearly every sector of USAID’s work, we’re working to strengthen water security and establish access to a sustainable water supply in the face of a changing climate. Here are four ways we’re doing this.


Three people stand around a communal water pipe
The USAID-supported Safe Water Project aims to improve access and levels of service from communal faucets to piped services.
1. Confronting Climate Uncertainty Head On

The Philippines is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries and loses up to $5 billion every year due to storms, floods, and droughts. Floods, storms, and rising sea levels that damage and contaminate water systems are forcing utilities to pay more for water treatment and infrastructure maintenance. Increased costs mean utilities struggle to maintain water services that are critical for people, businesses, and communities to survive and respond to climate shocks.

Drawing on guidance from USAID’s climate risk assessment and planning tools, USAID/Philippines helps utilities and local water authorities integrate climate considerations in water-system designs. USAID/Philippines also helped water service providers conduct financial stress tests to assess revenue loss due to the COVID-19, to ensure financial stability.

USAID has helped over over 1.86 million Filipinos gain access to climate-resilient, improved drinking water services, including over 900,000 people who live in conflict-affected areas, and over 1 million access to climate-resilient, improved sanitation services. Read more.


Aerial shot of the neighborhood of Cristo Rey in Guarabo, Santiago
The neighborhood of Cristo Rey in Guarabo, Santiago, is densely built, which is typical for the Dominican Republic, demonstrating the need for small-scale household wastewater treatment solutions.
2. Reimagining Infrastructure

Inthe Dominican Republic, only 25% of households are connected to regulated wastewater and sewage services. Households with inadequate septic systems also discharge waste into local streams, rivers, and bays. Storms and flooding events mix wastewater with rainwater, which not only contaminates households and the local environment, but also facilitates the spread of disease.

Because the Dominican Republic has little space for large-scale treatment facilities, USAID supports the design of small artificial backyard wetlands to treat household wastewater. In this system, household wastewater flows through pipes into an underground anaerobic tank, specialized plants, and layers of sand, gravel, and rock that breakdown and filter out pollutants. Read more.


Two men stand near a lake and mountains
The Resilient Waters program protects and preserves biodiverse hotspots such as the Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Biosphere through support to community-based environmental monitors.
3. Strengthening Governance

In Southern Africa, USAID improves water security, resilience, and natural resources management in the transboundary Limpopo River Basin. This region supports more than 18 million people across Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Pollution from both poor sanitation and industries, water shortages from prolonged droughts and rainfall variability, and population growth severely limit water resources. This is detrimental to livelihoods, wildlife preservation, and food production.

The USAID Resilient Waters program addresses a range of water challenges to strengthen institutional connections and build up partnerships to address the shocks and stresses of climate change that will help mitigate the pressures on the Limpopo River Basin for years to come. USAID provides expertise on waste management within municipal governments and grants to local organizations to conserve and protect catchment areas.

USAID also builds climate-resilient livelihood strategies to create jobs and boost income, all while supporting regional water management institutions and planning processes within the Southern African Development Community. Read more.


Tree men install a water connection in South Africa
Installing a water connection. USAID is working in South Africa to improve the creditworthiness of its water service providers to expand sustainable water access.
4. Closing Financing Gaps

USAID helps cities and water utilities in South Africa mobilize greater financial resources for climate-resilient water and sanitation delivery and critical infrastructure. In 2017, severe water shortages in Cape Town threatened to bring a “Day Zero,” in which the city’s reservoirs would run out of water.

During the crisis and its post-drought recovery, USAID helped the city’s Water and Sanitation Department to improve revenue collection. The ability to collect and retain this revenue, which provides 80% of all funding for the water and sanitation sector, is key for enhancing the city’s resilience to address future crises. Through its Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Finance activity, USAID is helping South Africa generate more than $25 million in additional revenue, which will enable Cape Town to invest in more sustainable and climate-resilient infrastructure and services. Read more.

Investing in a Blue-Green Future

Climate change affects nearly everything we do at USAID. Water for the World invests in solutions that increase climate resilience and reduce climate-related risks.

Going forward, amplifying climate adaptation and mitigation within water and sanitation service is our priority. This means working with partner countries to ensure that water security and sanitation are prioritized in national climate plans and mobilizing new sources of climate finance.

This blog was originally published on USAID's Medium page.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Mitigation
Climate Change, Climate Finance, Climate Risk Management, Climate Strategy, Resilience, Water and Sanitation

USAID’s 2022-2030 Climate Strategy

USAID’s 2022-2030 Climate Strategy takes an unprecedented “whole-of-Agency” approach that calls on all corners of USAID to play a part. USAID will work on the ground with partner governments and local actors to set the global trajectory toward a vision of a resilient, prosperous, and equitable world with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

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Ann Vaughan Headshot

Ann Vaughan

Ann Vaughan is Special Advisor for Climate in the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security.

Maura Barry

Maura Barry Boyle

Maura Barry is the Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator in USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security and interim Global Water Coordinator

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