WHO’s climate-resilient WSP progress

Rory Moses McKeown gives an insight into the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) work on climate-resilient water safety plans, including their application in Ethiopia. Plus see main article here.


Water suppliers face increasingly severe and frequent effects from climate variability and change that will impact the provision of safe drinking water services. In the face of great uncertainty about future climate projections, water suppliers must plan for the unexpected. This is particularly challenging in resource-limited settings.

Water safety plans (WSPs) provide a practical framework for the assessment and management of risks within a water supply. This includes climate-related risks, which should be considered alongside all other water-quality and quantity risks faced by suppliers. Since their inception, WSPs have been implemented, to varying degrees, in more than 90 countries, in all regions of the world.

While consideration of climate-related impacts and emergency responses have always been an integral part of water safety planning, there has been a surge of interest in strengthening climate-related aspects of it in recent years. Climate resilience is a significant driver for the introduction and uptake of water safety planning in many regions around the globe, particularly those that are hardest hit by current impacts from a changing climate.

WHO response

WHO is responding to the needs of its member states by developing climate-resilient water safety planning programmes and tools. These include high-level government advocacy and sensitisation, through to the more technically focused capacity building and training programmes. We also include a strong focus on initiating climate-resilient WSP piloting programmes, so that success can be demonstrated through ‘model WSPs’, with critical lessons learned and the approach and guidance materials tailored to the local context in advance of national scale-up.

From this work, WHO is developing a number of global tools and guidance materials in response to the practical challenges that water suppliers face in accessing climate information and integrating it into local-level water safety planning. Much of our work on climate-resilient water safety planning is conducted in partnership with our international partners, including IWA and UNICEF.

Activity in Africa and Asia

To date, WHO has been supporting climate-resilient water safety planning – with the help of the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) – in various countries in the Asian and African regions, in particular Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Nepal. This has led to the initiation of several successful pilot programmes, and the development of national policy and guidance documents on climate-resilient water safety planning.

In Ethiopia, for example, 31 urban and rural pilot programmes were started between 2013 and 2018. These have resulted in the delivery of a more climate-resilient water supply to more than 1.2 million people across the country.

The work was part of the DFID-funded project ‘Building adaptation to climate change in health in least-developed countries (LDCs) through resilient WASH’.

Through this process, a national strategic framework for climate-resilient WSPs was developed, with practical guidelines to support development and implementation in the urban and rural subsectors, which has served as a model for other WHO member states.

Lessons and guidance

Some of the key lessons learned from this work to support sustainable climate-resilient WASH initiatives include the importance of ongoing advocacy at all levels – from national through to community – and the need to ensure adequate integration of climate-resilient WSPs into planning and budgetary cycles, with appropriate monitoring and reporting as per other WASH sector activities.

Overall, the lessons learned from this work in our project countries are being used to hone the approach and guidance for our climate-resilient water safety planning programmes globally, and a number of practical tools will be developed throughout this process.

In response to the needs of our member states, WHO has developed guidance to support various aspects of climate-resilient water safety planning, including the global guidance manual ‘Climate-resilient water safety plans’ (WHO, 2017). WHO and IWA are developing a revised global training package on WSPs, which includes a strengthened focus on climate resilience.

Through our DFID-funded work in Africa and Asia, we are also developing a number of tools for climate-resilient WSP auditing, as well as a framework to support the assessment of the impact of climate-resilient water safety planning.

In response to the challenges experienced by WSP teams at the local level, we are also developing guidance to assist water suppliers to access and integrate climate information into water safety planning.

This work also includes guidance to support national/regional stakeholders to develop climate-vulnerability assessments for water resources. Ultimately, this may support local-level climate-resilient WSP development and implementation, as well as broader climate-resilient WASH activities.

For more information, see www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/en/