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A woman walking by a riverbank holding two pots to collect water

Natural allies – health, water and climate resilience

As temperatures rise, the impact of climate change on human health becomes more damaging. Mott MacDonald’s health specialist Catriona Waddington discusses how an effective health response to climate change must include other sectors.

Mott MacDonald has rightly made a formal commitment to act on climate change. Working out how the health sector should step up to the mark is harder than you might think. Yes, we can talk about preparedness for new climate-related disease outbreaks and yes, we can design climate-resilient health facilities, but this is all rather reactive.

To really make a difference, the health sector also has to be pro-active. For example, addressing the risks of disease-carrying insects moving to new breeding sites as the climate changes.

My struggle to articulate the best health response pushed me to look for answers beyond my own sector. Initial conversations with my colleagues working in climate resilience and water grew into a paper discussing the intersection of climate change, water and health.

Climate change has significant impacts on the global hydrological cycle. Increases in extreme precipitation can cause the quality of drinking water sources to deteriorate through erosion and sedimentation. Impacts on sanitation can be even more profound if sewerage systems are flooded, resulting in widespread overflow of faecal matter into the environment and drinking water. This poses a serious risk of losing the public health gains made through improved water and sanitation services.

An effective health response to climate change must include advocacy for water and sanitation systems that are climate resilient. Our paper describes a project in Bangladesh that works across sectors to improve the lives of people living in a flood-prone area – combining work on flood defences, transport links, water and sanitation supplies, public health and forestry. Will other clients be equally ready to think across the sectors to respond to the climate change emergency?

My experience collaborating with my Mott MacDonald colleagues has shown me that the climate change, water and health sectors are natural allies. Cross-sectoral working can only strengthen our response to the challenges ahead.

Download our brochure on building a resilient and healthy society

Read our position paper on net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

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