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CLIMATE RESILIENCE: Community, household decisions key to ensuring water quality during extreme weather

March 16, 2022
CLIMATE RESILIENCE: Community, household decisions key to ensuring water quality during extreme weather
A snip from the publication's page.

Scientists from three African and Asian countries have called for consideration of infrastructure and management decisions at the community and household levels to ensure resilience to climatic changes for water supplies if they wanted to ensure quality during times of extreme weather.

In their first study to demonstrate the impact of rainfall and temperature extremes on water quality at the sources (point of collection) and where water is used (point of use), the researchers confirm that water quality at the sources was vulnerable to changes in weather, which affects quality. They also report that water quality was being compromised at the point of use (communities and households) due to changes in management behaviours, such as safe storage, treatment and cleaning.

The researchers from Tanzania, Bangladesh and Nepal issued these recommendations in their report of findings of their study “Infrastructure alone cannot ensure resilience to weather events in drinking water supplies” published in the February 2022 edition of journal of Science of the Total Environment.

Findings from the study demonstrated that both rainfall and temperature significantly influence microbial water quality outcomes at the source and at point of use with extreme events such as heavy rainfall and cold and hot temperatures affecting water quality.

Based on experiments done in selected study areas in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Tanzania, the results obtained revealed that to ensure climate resilience for water supplies, consideration of infrastructure and management decisions, at both community and household levels, are essential.

The role of the lay water managers in small and community water supplies, including managers within households, who make decisions about sourcing water, payments for water and maintenance, cleaning sources and storage equipment, and treating water, needs to be considered and better understood to improve resilience, the study recommends. The study also suggests that impacts of weather on water quality vary by local climate and context, highlighting the complexity of understanding the impact of climate change on water quality and health.

Water is a necessity of human life, and everyone deserves access to clean and safe water. After all, humans are made up of approximately 60 percent water. Unfortunately, climate change jeopardizes the quality and safety of our water and can contribute transmission of waterborne and water-related diseases if appropriate and effective measures are not taken.

By comparing the effects of water quality in retrospect of both water infrastructure and water management, it is clear that understanding the interactions between the environment, infrastructure and management is crucial to make the development of more climate-resilient water services and inform how to measure climate resilience and water security. Additionally, the scientists also suggest that people should learn more about how climate change is going to affect the water in their region and start taking action locally.

Joining the article publication team from Ifakara Health Institute are Alfred Lazaro, Dickson Lwetoijera and Fatuma Matwewe. The three partnered with 21 other researchers in the three-country observational field study, which tracked 2353 households clustered around 685 water sources across seven different geographies for a period over 14 months.

The study represents one of the largest partnerships involving 13 research and public health institutions from across the globe. Authors of the publications were drawn from the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, UK; Department of Civil Engineering and Cabot Institute of the Environment, University of Bristol, UK; World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland; Center for Effective Global Action, University of California, Berkeley, US; Bangladesh Meteorological Department; Institute of Epidemiology Disease Control and Research (IEDCR), Bangladesh; and World Health Organization, Nepal.

Other authors who contributed to the study and the publication came from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh; World Health Organization, Bangladesh; University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh; Kathmandu University, Nepal; and University of Sydney, Australia.

The study was funded by UK Aid Direct from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) for the benefit of developing countries.