South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI)

The South Asia Water Initiative is a five-year (2013–2017) US$31 million multi-donor trust  fund (MDTF) that aims to increase regional cooperation in the management of the major Himalayan river systems in South Asia to deliver sustainable, fair and inclusive development and climate resilience. The program is funded by Governments of United Kingdom, Australia and Norway.

The major Himalayan river systems — the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra — span multiple countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan), landscapes (mountains, valleys, lowlands and deltas) and cultures. The program therefore works across basins and countries to support knowledge generation and sharing, capacity development, dialogue, participatory decision processes, and investment designs. In the context of water resources planning and management, the program promotes poverty alleviation, economic development, gender inclusion and climate change adaptation.

The trust fund program is structured into five Focus Areas (FAs): the three major Himalayan river basins of South Asia (Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra), the Sundarbans Landscape and Regional Cross-Cutting activities. The program has been designed to achieve the following results:

  • Increases in trust and confidence in regional or basin water management as a result of dialogue processes.
  • Strengthening of stakeholder inputs to government decisions as a result of participatory processes that facilitate transboundary knowledge generation and sharing.
  • Strengthening of the capacity of water resources organizations in areas relevant to transboundary cooperation
  • Increases in accessible regional basin or sub-basin-level knowledge
  • Design of regional, basin or sub-basin-level interventions that improve livelihoods and ecosystem sustainability

SAWI supports activities across multiple sectors such as Water, Environment and Energy in order to achieve the above mentioned results. The activities currently under implementation are:




•Punjab Groundwater Management
•Kabul/Kunar Basin Development
•Indus Basin Dialogue


•Strategic Planning for the Ganges in India
•Sustainable Water Resources Development of HEP in Nepal
•Managing Watersheds to Reduce Upstream Sediment for HEP
•Water Resources Management in Transboundary Basins
•Strengthening Flood Modeling and Capacity in Bihar
•Bihar FMIS Flood Forecasting
•Ganges Basin Dialogue


•Basin Modeling and Analysis (India and Bangladesh)
•Bhutan HEP Environmental and Social Planning
•River Management and Improvement, Bangladesh
•Hydro-met Modernization in the Brahmaputra Basin
•Bhutan Hydro-met Services and Disaster Improvement
•Brahmaputra Basin Dialogue


•Landscape-scale Joint Environmental Plan
•Sundarbans Dialogue
•Landscape Hydro-met Design
•Targeted Environmental Studies
•Delta Management Investment Planning


•Climate Change Risks in Water Resources Management
•Climate Change Knowledge Gaps
•Himalaya University Consortium Grant
•HEP Resilience Studies
•Capacity Building – Water Quality Monitoring and Analysis; Transboundary Water Governance; Water Governance; IWRM in Transboundary River Basins; Groundwater Management
•Improving Watershed Management
•Improving Flood Forecasting in South Asia
•Regional Dialogue

Given complex water challenges, high glacier dependency and growing per capita water scarcity, the Indus is the most vulnerable river basin in Asia. The relationship between riparian countries, different levels of capacity and the presence of a fragile, post-conflict country in the basin pose additional challenges to regional cooperation on water resources management. The Indus Basin FA seeks to improve water resources management and coordination among the riparian countries, Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan, to enhance water and energy security. Given the World Bank’s role in the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty and the importance of neutral engagement, maintaining transparency in World Bank engagement on the Indus is critical and focuses on issues not under the purview of the Indus Waters Treaty. Activities under the FA include: 

Pillar 1: Long-Term Basin Development and Investment Planning

• Punjab Groundwater Management: Unconfined aquifers in upper and central Punjab in Pakistan bordering neighboring Indian states are contiguous and continuous. Building on recent groundwater balance assessments, this activity will: (i) sensitize policymakers and provincial water managers to conjunctive surface water-groundwater management; (ii) provide technical assistance and capacity building on artificial recharge; (iii) undertake various environmental analyses of groundwater systems in the Punjab; and (iv) develop a comprehensive action plan to strengthen institutional and legal frameworks.

Pillar 2: Investments and Capacity Building for Water and Energy Security 

• Kunar/Kabul Basin Development: This activity aims to strengthen capacity within the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan for establishing institutional frameworks for transboundary waters and infrastructure, and to facilitate dialogue between the two countries to enhance coordination and reach cooperation on the development and management of the Kabul River Basin (KRB). Based on the development of relationships between riparian countries in the Indus Basin, the activity will continue to conduct training workshops in transboundary water cooperation and policy development for riparian government officials to strengthen capacity for future dialogue. 

Pillar 3: Basin level dialogue

• Indus Basin Dialogue: Since 2013 the World Bank has supported a dialogue for Indus River Basin (IRB) countries – the Indus Forum – to build confidence and trust in order to establish an enabling environment for basin-wide cooperation. This activity aims to support dialogue in the IRB, including the Indus Forum, and it focuses on technical collaboration on issues previously identified by the Forum. This activity will strengthen links up to other Track II dialogue processes and research groups, including the Atlantic Council Indo-Pak Dialog, UIB Initiative and the ICIMOD Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience project, to build confidence and trust among riparian countries. 


Last Updated: Nov 07, 2016

The Ganges Basin Focus Area aims to improve management and development of water resources in the Ganges Basin to support economic growth and improve resilience to climate variability and change. The FA strategy is based on the understanding that countries in South Asia are unlikely to cooperate for effective basin management if water resources are not well managed nationally. The Ganges FA therefore supports improved water resources management nationally and facilitates connections between countries through technical dialogue and capacity building. As well as improving water management nationally for economic stimulation and poverty reduction outcomes, these connected efforts build confidence in transboundary engagement and increase trust around knowledge and information exchange. Activities in the Ganges Focus Area include:

Pillar 1: Valuing the Environment and Ecosystem Services

• Strategic Basin Planning for the Ganges in India: The activity aims to develop a comprehensive basin model for the Ganges in India that enables objective assessment of the likely effectiveness of different options for improving river health and the impacts these options have on the ability to meet consumptive water demands and support inland waterway navigation. The activity is highly relevant to the National Hydrology Project (NHP), National Groundwater Management Improvement Project (NGMIP), National Ganga River Basin Project (NGRBP) and the Uttar Pradesh Water Sector Restructuring Project.

• Sustainable Water Resources Development for Hydro-electric Power (HEP) in Nepal: This activity has a recipient and a Bank executed component. The RE activity, being executed by the Water And Energy Commission Secretariat, aims to strengthen the capacity of the Nepalese power sector to plan and prepare HEP and transmission line projects taking into account basin-wide water resource management issues; and to improve the readiness of the power and water sector for regulatory and institutional reforms. This activity is linked to the Power Sector Reform and Sustainable Hydropower Development Project. The Bank executed component is designed to enhance the Government of Nepal’s (GoN) water resources management and development capacity by: (i) increasing awareness of river basin planning as a mechanism to guide environmentally sustainable development hydropower balanced with water resource uses; (ii) facilitating institutional and regulatory reform in the water resources sector; and (iii) building capacity in environmental and social safeguards. 

• Managing Watersheds to Reduce Upstream Sediment for HEP: This activity is identifying and prioritizing investments in upstream catchments to reduce sediment inflow to the Kali Gandaki HEP plant in Nepal. It is also building capacity within the National Electricity Authority and other relevant departments to apply tools and processes for improved watershed management; and facilitate knowledge exchange and dissemination of upstream sediment management approaches to other countries

Pillar 2: Moving from Data to Information Services

• Water Resources Management in Transboundary Basins: This activity provides support to the preparation of the World Bank-financed NHP by facilitating access to international best practice to inform project design—especially relating to river basin planning and management in transboundary basins. 

• Strengthening Flood Management Information System (FMIS) Capacity in Bihar: This recipient-executed technical activity builds on the outcomes of the regional scoping study on flood forecasting to strengthen institutional capacity in the Government of Bihar and to improve community outreach for flood management in the Baghmati-Adhwara Basin (a transboundary sub-basin of the Ganges River Basin spanning Nepal and India). The Bank executed component of this activity provides focused support to the Government of Bihar to improve flood forecasting capability. It supports travel of government officials to flood modeling centers of excellence, and supporting visits to Bihar, by experts and consultants to improve the existing flood risk model.

Pillar 3: Basin level dialogue

• Ganges Basin Dialogue: Building on the national level technical assistance in river basin modeling and planning in both India and Nepal, this activity supports basin-wide dialogue on hydrologic and water resources modeling. The activity connects technical institutions in the region with scientists and academics around the world that are actively engaged in modeling the Ganges river.


The Brahmaputra Basin Focus Area seeks to improve the shared understanding and management of the Brahmaputra Basin as a means to strengthen resilience and economic growth for the riparian countries. Activities under the focus area are designed towards addressing water-related challenges (flooding and riverbank erosion) and assessing economic opportunities, including from HEP and inland navigation. Knowledge exchange activities, study tours and workshops and assessments conducted to support these issues demonstrate economic benefits from cooperative management and provide a platform for riparian countries to come together and build the case for regional cooperation. Activities under the FA include: 

Pillar 1: Knowledge and Capacity Building for Basin Management and Investment Planning

• Basin Modeling and Analysis: This activity will develop a comprehensive basin-wide knowledge base and model suite for assessment of water resources considering climate change, basin-scale development pressures, and alternative investment scenarios for the Brahmaputra River Basin. Targeted studies on erosion and the role of embankment failures in floods and inundations will be commissioned. The activity links closely with the World Bank-financed NHP and the Assam Flood, Erosion and River Management Modernization Project/

• Delta Management Investment Planning and Basin Analysis: This activity is supporting the Government of Bangladesh in the preparation of the investment plan for BDP 2100 – a long-term holistic and integrated plan for the Bangladesh Delta. The activity will build on the State of the Basin Assessment to identify interventions or capacity building areas that assist in investment planning. The work will explore a range of issues, including the climate change impacts; options analysis for investment planning; impacts from development scenarios including HEP development and interventions to improve irrigation productivity; and recommendations for improving basin-wide water management. This activity is co-financed under the Sundarbans FA.  

• Environmental and Social Management of Sustainable Hydropower: In response to a request from the Government of Bhutan this activity was established to improve the environmental and social planning and management of HEP in Bhutan. The study included a gap analysis, including a nationwide assessment of the potential environmental and social impacts of HEP, analysis of existing policies, guidelines and practices, and assessment of one HEP project using the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol. 

• Bhutan HEP Environmental and Social Planning: In response to a request from the Government of Bhutan, this activity builds on the trust fund-supported activity Environmental and Social Management for Sustainable Hydropower, which was completed in FY16. The activity will improve the environmental and social planning and management of HEP in Bhutan, including developing guidelines for basin planning and cumulative impact assessments.

Pillar 2: Reducing Vulnerability to Floods and Erosion:

• Hydro-met Modernization in Brahmaputra Basin: This activity is strengthening institutions, facilitating knowledge exchange and enhancing cooperation in the management of hydro-meteorological risks within the South Asian countries. The activity undertakes analytic work and provides technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of key institutions in the Brahmaputra River Basin countries to respond to cross-border water related hazards and climate risks. The activity has developed a roadmap to modernize hydro-meteorological monitoring, to improve the accuracy and lead time for weather and flood forecasting and to enhance community-based early warning systems. The activity is part of a broader World Bank South Asia Regional Hydro-met Program building national and regional capacity for disaster risk management and weather and climate based services.

• Bhutan Hydro-met Services and Disaster Improvement: This recipient-executed activity builds on the Hydro-met Modernization in the Brahmaputra Basin activity to strengthen Bhutan's capacity for hydro-met services and disaster preparedness through: (i) strengthening the capacity of Bhutan’s Department of Hydro-met Services to improve hydro-met monitoring, forecasting and service delivery to priority sectors; (ii) strengthening capacity for disaster preparedness and response (working through the Department of Disaster Management); and (iii) funding the design of an agro-met decision support system, development and delivery of agro-met information products in two administrative and judicial districts, training and capacity building (working through the Department of Agriculture). This is a US$3.3M activity co-financed by the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery.

Pillar 3: Basin Level Dialogue 

• Brahmaputra Basin Dialogue: This activity is increasing regional cooperation by providing a platform to discuss shared water challenges and opportunities. It is enhancing trust and working relationships between basin riparian countries to progress consideration of river basin management of the Brahmaputra, considering country-specific needs and priorities. The activity will support national and basin-level meetings as well as capacity building events, dialogue events, workshops, round tables, and study tours to facilitate the exchange amongst stakeholders of ideas, viewpoints, knowledge and development plans for the Brahmaputra River Basin. 


The challenges of the Sundarbans (extreme poverty, frequent natural disasters and erosion of ecosystem services) would be better managed if Bangladesh and India developed and implemented a joint conservation and development policy, and increased collaboration on plans and programs. To date the formal dialogue and collaboration between the two countries has been inadequate. The aim of the Sundarbans Basin Focus Area therefore, is to operationalize joint management of the Sundarbans for sustainable development that delivers mutual benefits for the two countries. Activities under the Sundarbans FA include: 

Pillar 1: Enhancing Bilateral Cooperation

• Landscape-scale Joint Environmental Plan: This activity aims to help Bangladesh and India establish appropriate information (collection, collation and dissemination) systems to support preparation and implementation of plans for the development and conservation of the Sundarbans. 

• Sundarbans Dialogue: This activity aims to build trust and working relationships between India and Bangladesh to further sustainable management of the Sundarbans based on country-specific needs and landscape-level priorities. The dialogue process (through identification and implementation of specific cooperative activities) aims to create Sundarbans management ownership among government and non-government agencies and to facilitate the operationalization of the MoU on Sundarbans Cooperation signed between the two countries in 2011. WWF, IWA and the Observer Research Foundation are key partners in delivering this activity.

Pillar 2: Technical Cooperation to Support Joint Management

• Landscape Hydro-met Design: This activity supports design of a hydro-met system for the Sundarbans that would include climate stations, tide gauges, wave rider buoys and water quality monitoring. It will develop a strategy for establishing and operating hydro-met and local weather forecasting systems, and analyze bathymetry, salinity intrusion and conservation needs of the freshwater resources.

• Targeted Environmental Studies: This activity is undertaking hydrological, ecological and econometric studies for vulnerability assessment of the Sundarbans ecosystem in a changing climate. This activity will enhance awareness about climate change risks, promote technical cooperation, build the knowledge base to support joint management, and facilitate planning a holistic approach to the sustainable management of this extremely fragile mangrove forest.

• Delta Management Investment Planning: This co-finances the Delta Management Investment Planning and Basin Analysis activity under the Brahmaputra FA. 


The Regional Cross-Cutting Focus Area aims to build knowledge and capacity across the region in support of transboundary basin dialogue and cooperation. The strategy has been designed to improve the quality and accessibility of regional water resources data sets and building water resources knowledge, undertake capacity building for shared water resources management and cooperation, and support broad-based regional dialogue to enhance cooperation and management of transboundary waters in South Asia.

Pillar 1: Knowledge and Related Activities

• Climate Change Impacts on HEP: This activity supported trialing in South Asia various methods for screening climate change and disaster risks, and for integrating resilience measures into HEP projects.

• Snow/Glacier Contributions to Stream-flows and Climate Change Impacts: This activity aimed to establish a methodology and develop quantitative estimates of the contribution of snow and glaciers to river flow in selected basins/sub-basins across the Himalayas, and to assess how these contributions will be affected under climate change scenarios. The case study used for the activity was the Arun River in Nepal — part of the Kosi River Basin — motivated by the Upper Arun HEP development. The estimates are the first of their kind in distinguishing glaciers from snow, and snow from rainfall. They served as inputs to the detailed hydrological assessments of the basin and decision tree analysis for investment planning, as well as the Upper Arun design studies. The method developed is low-cost and efficient for estimating glacier hydrology in data-scarce areas; it could easily be replicated in similar settings. The work is complete and the report is being disseminated.

• Climate Change Risks in Water Resources Management: This activity is compiling and reviewing the knowledge base and tools that could assist governments in South Asia to adapt to emerging climate change challenges in the water sector. It will identify knowledge gaps for potential program support.

• Climate Change Knowledge Gaps: This activity is under preparation and will guided by the recommendations emerging from the Climate Change Risks in Water Resources Management activity, listed above.

• Himalayan University Consortium Grant (RE): This activity will enhance the partnership of research institutions participating in the Himalayan University Consortium (HUC) and strengthen their joint capacity for collaborative research. It will establish the HUC as a vibrant and active South-South forum of knowledge generation and sharing, mountain curricula development, and capacity building among regional members, who will be able to leverage HUC participation and resultant benefits to provide water and mountain-related policy and technical advice to their respective governments.

• HEP Resilience Studies: Building on the successful Trust Fund-supported Climate Change Impacts in HEP activity that concluded in FY16, this activity will undertake a small number of South Asian case studies of new global guidelines that are being developed for building climate resilience into HEP design. The work will link closely to the ongoing SAWI technical assistance in support of HEP basin planning and the environmental and social sustainability work for HEP in Bhutan. This activity is part of a larger global World Bank effort on resilience in HEP.  

Pillar 2: Capacity Building Activities

• Capacity Building—Water Quality Monitoring and Analysis: This activity is building capacity in the use of modern technologies for water quality monitoring and in techniques for water quality data analysis across South Asia. It is providing technical assistance to government agencies for design and implementation of real-time water quality monitoring networks, and supporting study tours for government officials to facilitate regional knowledge sharing on the real-world application of modern technologies and tools for real-time water quality monitoring, analysis and dissemination of information.

• Capacity Building—Transboundary Water Governance: This activity is enhancing the capacity for transboundary waters governance and hydro-diplomacy of current and future water leaders in South Asia. 

• Capacity Building—Water Governance (RE): This recipient-executed activity will support the design of short training modules and curriculum in water diplomacy and basin governance for uptake by participating universities and other institutions for long-term teaching of the topics. 

• Capacity Building—IWRM in Transboundary River Basins: This activity supports activities relating to building capacity of water engineers, basin managers and policy/decision makers on holistic river basin approaches for effective water resources planning and management across the South Asia region. Capacity building activities include international study-cum exposure visits; customized training programs; and international workshops for sharing best practices. 

• Capacity Building for Groundwater Management: This activity is supporting improved groundwater management across South Asia by informing the design of the World Bank-financed NGMIP, and by supporting India’s ongoing dialogue with Pakistan and Bangladesh to reduce reliance on groundwater and to better utilize the resource as a buffer against droughts.

Pillar 3: Regional Dialogue:

• Regional Dialogue: This ongoing activity will continue to support diverse opportunities to engage a broad set of stakeholders, including new and past dialogue participants. Major events supported under this activity include the Fulbright Water-Energy-Food Nexus Dialogue, held in Kathmandu in 2015; the South Asia Groundwater Forum held in Jaipur in June 2016; and the International River Symposium held in New Delhi in in September 2016. 


SAWI Phase I Publications: 

SAWI Phase II Publications: