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A woman in a hard hat pointing at a blue sign next to a man in a green high-visibility vest.

Changes in the frequency, intensity, duration, and distribution of rainfall, extreme temperature, and extreme weather events, along with rising sea levels, are already having an impact on water supply and sanitation infrastructure, particularly across the Asia-Pacific region.

Responding to these challenges and building resilience at a local level is the focus of three recent international projects undertaken by the Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF).

In one project, partnering with UNICEF and the University of Indonesia, the international development team at ISF set out to analyse climate impacts on sanitation in Indonesia. Alarmingly, the results showed that access to sanitation was already being disrupted quite considerably.

ISF Research Principal Jeremy Kohlitz says, “During extremely wet or dry weather, toilets don’t work or there is not enough water to flush and services – such as emptying septic tanks and treating waste – grind to a halt. It then becomes quite common for people to resort to open defecation.”

Working with organisations such as UNICEF makes a difference by enhancing our ability to influence major players in the sector.

— Jeremy Kohlitz, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures

WASH specialist at UNICEF, Maraita Listyasari, based in Indonesia, says the study has initiated dialogue in the country about water and resilience at national and sub-national (provincial and district) levels. As a result, the team is now developing recommendations for every level of government on how to address these issues. 

“We needed to partner with organisations who had a good reputation and good knowledge, not just about climate change and WASH, but had experience and understanding of how urban sanitation works in Indonesia. Not many institutions besides ISF have that,” says Listyasari.

In another project, UTS is part of a consortium of research institutions worldwide, led by the University of Bristol and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, measuring greenhouse gas emissions from sanitation infrastructure. 

The SCARE project (Sanitation and Climate Change; Assessing Resilience and Emissions) will also develop metrics to assess the resilience of on-site sanitation facilities in four low- and middle-income countries: Senegal, Uganda, Ethiopia and Nepal.

ISF’s Kohlitz says SCARE aims to provide these countries – and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – with a more realistic picture of how sanitation facilities are contributing to GHG emissions. Out of that will come improved understanding for better management of climate resilient sanitation services.

During extreme weather events that have the potential to disrupt sanitation services, the SCARE team’s objective is to develop a standard approach that can be applied in a particular locality.

“The idea is that we can provide decision-makers with a picture of which areas are most likely to be affected and so guide their assessment on where they most need to apply funding,” says Kohlitz. 

Water pipes in Indonesia

Photo: University of Indonesia

Collaborating with other academics and institutions on the ground in each country has worked well, says Kohlitz because “we draw on each other’s knowledge and build consensus. We are all experts in sanitation and climate change but we have different areas of specialisation. UTS has a lot of expertise around social and gender equality whereas our partners are more engineering and technically focused”. 

Running in parallel is an ISF-led project also funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, canvassing current knowledge and policy on climate change impacts on urban sanitation. The objective is to develop a tool for assessing impacts of sea-level rise on sanitation in low- and middle-income countries, and analyse the climate resilience of new sanitation technologies funded by the foundation.

At a time when the urgency of climate change action is constantly reiterated, the research in all these projects is strongly focused on practical solutions. 

“Activities for pilot projects can be realistically put into practice in the short and medium term. And we provide support to our partners working in places such as Ethiopia and Uganda. Ultimately, they are the ones implementing in the field and we are there to help them troubleshoot when they come up against problems,” says Kohlitz.

ISF’s research leadership, or partnership in major sanitation and climate change projects, adds to its reputation and prestige, says Kohlitz.

“It strengthens ISF’s position as a global influencer and thought leader – both through improving sanitation services in low and middle income countries and improving climate resilience. Working with organisations such as UNICEF, Global Green Growth Institute or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which have global reach, makes a difference by enhancing our ability to influence major players in the sector.”

Researchers

Years

  • 2019-2023

Location

  • Ethiopia
  • Uganda
  • Senegal
  • Nepal
  • Indonesia

Clients

  • UNICEF
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Global Green Growth Institute

 

    Partners

    • Bristol University
    • University of Leeds
    • Kathmandu University
    • Haramaya University
    • Kyambogo University
    • Global Green Growth Institute
    • University of Indonesia

    SDGs  

    Icon for SDG 6 Clean water and sanitation
    Icon for SDG 11 Sustainable cities and communities
    Icon for SDG 13 Climate action

    This project is working towards UN Sustainable Development Goals 6, 11 and 13

    Read about ISF's SDG work

    Contact us

    t: +61 2 9514 4950
    e: isf@uts.edu.au

    Level 10, UTS Building 10
    235 Jones Street
    Ultimo NSW 2007, Australia
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