WASH constitutes a critical sector in sustainable development
WASH constitutes a critical sector in sustainable development

WASH considerations in key national climate change policies

Water Sanitation and Hygiene, popularly known as WASH, constitutes a critical sector in the national quest for sustainable development.

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The sector, however, remains threatened by the brutish impacts of climate change especially as they relate to water and its complex interactions with sanitation and hygiene services.

The challenge of climate change for the WASH sector has become increasingly evident as many communities across the country continue to experience the discomfort of changing climate conditions and its consequential impacts on water resources.

 The continuing manifestation of climate change impacts and its negative influences on WASH services provision have therefore emerged as a critical policy concern for urgent intervention action.

This is even more so because as Ghana continues to roll out key climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, water remains a central concern and has rightly been labelled as a key climate-sensitive sector.

 While the water sector has attracted the needed policy attention, that level of attention is yet to be given to the implication of water (availability or not) to the efficient and effective deployment of WASH services across Ghana.

This is against the backdrop of the existence of a ministry responsible for water resources and sanitation, and the fact that there has been some mention of WASH in some policy documents.

These mentions, however, are only made in passing, as subtexts, for the most part, to confirm the seeming lack of attention to the WASH sector as a critical policy concern.

WASH and National Climate Adaptation Planning (NAP)

Ghana is currently involved in National Adaptation Planning, known as NAP, and a major policy commitment to the international climate action agenda.

As part of the NAP processes, the government is using various approaches to develop a national plan to guide adaptation needs in key sectors and in diverse regions across the country.

Even though the NAP process is being implemented at the national level, it also has a special focus on subnational governance structures, which aims at ensuring that Municipal and District Assemblies across the country develop the requisite capacities to lead the development of district-specific adaptation plans.

The NAP process is also expected to develop sector-specific adaptation plans. These sectors are carefully chosen as prioritised sectors based on their critical importance to the national economy, contribution to the achievements of the SDGs, and their levels of exposure and vulnerabilities to climate change impacts.

Water, undoubtedly, is one such sector in the plan with its inclusion affirming its place and value to the national economy and sustainable development processes.

 A key component of the NAP process is the need to conduct climate risk and vulnerability assessments in all districts and in all the identified key sectors.

And, indeed, any effective adaptation planning process will have to be anchored on rigorous climate risk and vulnerability assessments.

The good news is that the current NAP process is doing all these and doing them right to create an inclusive and well-considered adaptation plan to guide resilience and adaptive capacity building across the country.

What is missing, however, is the lack of focus on the inextricable linkage that exists between water, sanitation, hygiene and climate, WASH, as a sector, is not centralised as part of current adaptation planning processes even though climate impacts on water have attracted significant attention.

Such an omission is worrying even though it is not entirely new nor surprising; it only goes to affirm how issues of WASH are treated largely as afterthoughts and given lowly treatments in policy considerations.

 It is also not surprising because not many understand the climate change phenomenon to appreciate the complex manifestation of impacts through water and what that means for WASH services provision.

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Integrating WASH considerations in climate policies in Ghana

The current policy environment and the goodwill to create an all-inclusive climate adaptation plan for the country possibly present an opportunity for proactive consideration and integration of WASH related issues in policy decisions.

Thankfully, the NAP process is still ongoing and has every opportunity to centralise issues of WASH in the process. This, as has been indicated, should involve the conduct of WASH climate risk assessments in all the districts to inform the development of district-specific climate-resilient WASH adaptation plans.

It is interesting to note that WaterAid Ghana, as a leading WASH advocate in Ghana, has even before the NAP process independently initiated climate risk and vulnerability assessments in the water sector in their operational regions in Ghana to facilitate understanding of current and future risk and vulnerabilities and what that means for WASH services provision.

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Such an initiative is not only encouraging but also instructive. The dependency of the WASH sector on water resources and the centrality of WASH services makes it critically imperative that such proactive actions as demonstrated by WaterAid Ghana become status quo practice to inform policy decisions on WASH.

While the NAP is only one of such policies, there is also the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which serve as one major policy avenue that highlights Ghana’s climate action efforts and how that contributes to internationally agreed ambitions.

If for nothing else, the NDCs, NAPS, and Ghana’s different climate change and sustainable development policies and strategies, must be seen to be projecting the importance of WASH as a critical and climate-sensitive sector, which requires an enabling and proactive policy environment to support WASH services provision.

The writer is a Senior Research Fellow, Climate Resilience and Sustainable Development, Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies, University of Ghana

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