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How climate change exacerbates sanitation problems in the rural areas

  • Published at 02:34 pm July 11th, 2021
Climate change

And why you should give a crap

I had been tracking cyclone Yaas with anxiety as it formed as a low depression in the Andaman seas, with the hope that it won’t make landfall in Bangladesh. It gave me anxiety for good reasons. The people in the coast are yet to recover from Amphan, with places in Assasuni, and Satkhira still waterlogged. Cyclone Yaas proved not much forgiving either. It ended up directly affecting 1.5 million people and destroyed 26,000 houses in different districts of Bangladesh.

Working with WaterAid showed me how vulnerable people of the coastal belt really are. Inadequate water supply, not enough latrines and overall despair are the daily reality of the people living below the poverty line. So, amidst these numerous problems why worry about sanitation? 

Over 50% of the population in Bangladesh do not have access to basic sanitation which is over 85 million people and 2,000 children under five die from diarrhoea which is caused by dirty water and poor toilets (WaterAid, 2020). This means several thousand tonnes of faeces are unsafely dumped into the environment each day. 

Climate change is now widely recognized as a major global health risk multiplier and frequent disasters add to the problem. The burden share is not proportionate. This enormous health burdens and economic costs are disproportionately borne by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, particularly women and girls. 

On a global scale that is 2 billion people around the world who don’t have access to toilets or 673 million people around the world who have no choice but defecate in the open (WHO/UNICEF, 2019) and climate change is definitely not helping the numbers.

"Inadequate water supply, not enough latrines and overall despair are the daily reality of the people living below the poverty line"

Environmental Issues

Unfortunately, the effects of sewage and faeces on the environment are largely negative. It needs to be properly treated before it can be disposed of – usually into the ocean. There are two problems, however. If sewage is only partially treated before it is disposed of, it can contaminate water and harm huge amounts of wildlife.

Alternatively, leaking or flooding can cause completely untreated sewage to enter rivers and other water sources, causing them to become polluted. The most recent example of this crisis is being faced in Turkey in the form of sea snot. Unmanned treatment plays a huge role however experts argue that the rise in sea temperatures are incubating this sewage. These consequences aren’t great. Especially on health.

Health Issues

Unmanaged sewage poses a huge health burden on the vulnerable communities, especially women and children. If you have access to this article, most likely your child is safe. Unfortunately, access to safe drinking water or a latrine are a luxury good for most marginalized communities. In marginalized communities (comprising around 800 children) one child dies every two minutes due to diarrhoeal diseases (WaterAid’s calculation is based on Pruss-Ustun et al 2014 and 2018). 

Safeguarding Issues

Frequent cyclones have the capability to hamper infrastructures, especially latrines. This creates a multitude of problems for women and adolescent girls who have to travel through waist deep water or long distances to find a safe place. With increasing storm surges that were seen during cyclone Yass, it is evident the coastal infrastructures will continue to be damaged by cyclonic storms, which includes local households, water sources and latrines.

"Climate change is now widely recognized as a major global health risk multiplier and frequent disasters adds to the problem"

Affordable infrastructures

Climate Resilient infrastructures have become a necessity in the climate prone areas. Storm surges, frequent flooding and salinity intrusion creates multiple challenges for the vulnerable people. So, what are climate resilient infrastructures? Something fancy? Not really. Interventions are as simple as raising the latrines platform a few feet above the flood /storm surge level. However, why do we continue to see people suffer? As frequency and intensity of unpredictable storm surges increases so does the resiliency of these interventions. Secondly, most communities in hard to reach areas are still not getting support.

How can you help?

Your communities need support! WaterAid has successfully implemented the Shakipur Co-Composting Plant and have promoted how to safely manage faece. 

However, we can do more. And we want you to get involved. Do you have a brilliant sustainable solution to solving the water, sanitation, and health crisis? Do you have a fancy idea for a toilet design? Do you have an idea that can empower our economy? Then, it is time for you to put your creative knowledge to use.


Adnan Qader is working as Advocacy Officer at WaterAid Bangladesh