2022 RIC Award Winner: Hannah Marcus

Hannah Marcus was awarded the 2022 RIC award for her project, Climate Adaptation in the WASH Sector of East Africa’s Lake Victoria Basin.

About project

Climate change is having increasing impacts on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) worldwide, rendering health-friendly behaviours less achievable in low-resource settings, disrupting WASH service provision, and reversing global progress on improving WASH infrastructure and controlling waterborne diseases. Much of these impacts are mediated through climate-driven changes in rainfall, which lead to both intensified and lengthier droughts, alongside heavier bouts of rain, and more frequent storms and extreme weather events. The Lake Victoria Basin (LVB), which encompasses parts of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi, is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change on rainfall patterns, and faces key challenges to meeting WASH targets for sustainable development. Hannah’s study sought to assess current achievements in integrating WASH and climate adaptation agendas in the LVB, and outstanding barriers to progress. A secondary objective was to better understand how lakeside communities are adapting their own WASH behaviours and practices in response to the new threats posed by climate-driven changes in rainfall, so that any positive adaptations could be documented, and associated innovations later tapped in regional climate adaptation planning efforts. Through a collaboration with a community-based organization in Western Kenya named Kar Geno- Center for Hope, Hannah conducted a quantitative WASH practice survey, followed by 17 qualitative interviews and 17 focus groups with community members residing in the lakeside village of Mabinju. She also conducted 13 interviews with knowledgeable WASH sector stakeholders working in the region. The findings of Hannah’s research offer useful insights for regional climate adaptation planning efforts. Most notably, they provide global lessons on how governance structures can be made more conducive to climate-WASH integration and on how community knowledge, insights, and innovation potential can be better tapped in the development of novel climate resiliency-building measures in the WASH sector.

About award recipient

Hannah Marcus is a Master’s student at the University of Alberta School of Public Health, and is currently doing a summer fellowship with Grand Challenges Canada. Hannah is scheduled to defend her MSc thesis on “Climate Adaptation in the WASH Sector of East Africa’s Lake Victoria Basin” in July 2022, after having completed field work in Kenya and Uganda. 

As a co-chair for the Environmental Health Working Group of the World Federation of Public Health Associations, Hannah also contributes to ongoing research, policy, and advocacy on climate change and human health, and is currently leading a sub-committee on climate-related displacement and migration, with a focus on public health implications. Hannah has also conducted and published prior research on infant and young child feeding and nutrition, maternal health in fragile settings, and disaster risk management for public health preparedness, among other humanitarian and global health topics. 

Hannah hopes to continue her career in the field of environmental health and international development more broadly, playing an active role in the global planetary health movement, through contributions in research, scholarship, and practice, to improve the lives of vulnerable populations globally.