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Coronavirus and Climate Change: Observing World Water Day

23/03/2020
A message from Dr. Jennifer Blanke Vice-President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development African Development Bank

The theme of this year’s World Water Day, observed on 22 March, is water and climate change. The issue has taken on greater urgency, given the global spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, responsible for over 13,000 deaths worldwide to date.

Hand washing with soap and water is the first line of protection against coronavirus. Scientists say soap renders coronavirus cells inactive and weakens the virus’ bonds to the skin.

As we commemorate World Water Day today, an estimated 400 million people in Africa still lack access to safe water, while 700 million lack access to proper sanitation.

Another factor compounding these dire statistics is extreme weather events associated with the impact of climate change. Africa bears the brunt of increased frequency and severity of drought, floods and cyclones – perhaps more than other regions of the world – due to the continent’s low capacity to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

For example, in the Horn of Africa, drought is exacerbating water scarcity and negatively impacting human health and productivity. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, drought in the Horn of Africa in 2019 left an estimated 11.7 million people severely food insecure and over 785,000 children severely malnourished. The Office notes that escalating food insecurity further heightens risks, especially for women and girls, who must travel longer distances to fetch clean water for household cleaning, washing, drinking and food preparation.

After two major cyclones tore through Mozambique last year, government officials said the extreme weather events and subsequent flooding had caused $2.8 billion in damages and losses. This included an estimated 190,000 damaged sanitation units and more than 211,000 people left with restricted water access.

World Water Day is an opportunity to look at Bank investments that support Sustainable Development Goal 6, which calls for the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, and Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate action.

Over the last decade, the Bank invested an estimated $6.2 billion in water supply and sanitation services. The Bank has also mobilized an estimated $150 million in climate finance from the Global Environmental Facility and the Green Climate Fund to co-finance water sector projects. The outcome: an estimated 52 million people getting access to improved water supply and sanitation services. Over the next 12 years, Bank water sector investments aim to provide an additional 154 million people with the same, across Africa.

The Bank also supports the development of climate-resilient, multipurpose water programs for storage and sectoral use – like hydropower, irrigation and river regulation – as well as investments that mitigate water-related disaster risk such as drought, flooding, cyclones and storm surges. For example, the Bank and development partners financed $210 million for the Program for Integrated Development and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Niger Basin. Covering nine countries, the project promotes investment in climate-resilient, hydro-agricultural infrastructure, sustainable land and water management as well as strengthened climate risk management.

We are committed to supporting climate action in the water sector and to scaling up climate finance to achieve water security, while pursuing an Africa with more sustainable and inclusive economic development.

Washing hands with soap is a major defense against COVID-19. It reminds us that water can be a matter of life or death. As we observe World Water Day, the coronavirus pandemic is a call upon all of us – member states, development partners and allies in Africa and beyond – to prioritize and invest in water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Happy World Water Day!