South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI)

The South Asia Water Initiative is a US$31M multi-donor trust fund (MDTF) that aims to increase regional cooperation in the management of the major Himalayan rivers of South Asia to deliver sustainable, fair and inclusive development and climate resilience. The program, funded by the Governments of United Kingdom, Australia and Norway, was initially set to run for five years (2013-2017) but has since been extended by one year to December 31, 2018.

SAWI’s outcome indicators relate to measures of improved governance and the value and quality of new investments informed by SAWI activities. The targets set in the SAWI Results Framework are: inform six bilateral or multilateral governance processes (new or improved existing processes) and inform $1.5B of investment through improved planning processes. The expected intermediate results are: (i) trust and confidence in regional or basin water management increased by dialogue processes, (ii) stakeholder input to government decision making strengthened by participatory processes that facilitate transboundary knowledge generation and sharing, (iii) capacity of water resources organizations strengthened in areas relevant to transboundary cooperation, (iv) regional, basin or sub-basin-level knowledge increased and accessible to stakeholders including decision makers, and (v) regional, basin or sub-basin-level interventions designed to improve livelihoods and ecosystem sustainability. Indicators and target values have been defined for each of these intermediate results.

SAWI supports activities across multiple sectors such as Water, Environment and Energy in order to achieve the above mentioned results. It is a flexible hybrid MDTF with a broad set of allowed expenditures; both Bank-Executed and Recipient-Executed activities can be financed. The program is structured into five Focus Areas (FAs) – Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra Basins; the Sundarbans Landscape; and Cross-cutting Regional work. The activities in these FAs focus on: (i) systematic dialogue, (ii) capacity building, (iii) knowledge generation and sharing, and (iv) scoping interventions and investments, including investment design support.

While most of the SAWI funds have already been allocated across different activities, a critical review by the Secretariat in FY17, resulted in a net ‘savings’ of over US$ 3M. Based on a strategic analysis that explored key trends in cooperation in transboundary waters in South Asia, including shifting priorities and emerging entry points – these funds have been allocated to six broad thematic areas under which new activities will be developed, namely:

  • Indus (including assessment of hydrological knowledge base, dam design and operation issues, and a social / poverty assessment)
  • Inland navigation in BBIN
  • Hydropower development (Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan)
  • Groundwater management
  • Climate change, including impact on glaciers
  • Non-monetary value of water, with a focus on gender

The SAWI activities currently under implementation are: 




•Kabul/Kunar Basin Development
•Indus Basin Dialogue


•Ganges Strategic Basin Planning
•Ganges Basin Dialogue
•Bihar FMIS Flood Forecasting (BE)


•Brahmaputra Basin Modelling and Analysis (India)
•Brahmaputra Basin Dialogue


•Landscape Hydro-met Design
•Targeted Environmental Studies
•Landscape-scale Joint Environmental Plan
•Sundarbans Dialogue


•Capacity Building – Groundwater Management
•Capacity Building – Water Quality Monitoring and Analysis
•Capacity Building – Transboundary Water Governance
•Climate Change Risks in Water Resources Management 
•Regional Dialogue

Indus Basin Focus Area: 

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: 

Kabul / Kunar 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. Approved in FY15, this activity is progressing well and has recently been extended.

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: Feb 06, 2018

Ganges Basin Focus Area

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:

Ganges Strategic Basin Planning: 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. It has strong client engagement and clear linkages to multiple important lending operations such as National Hydrology Project (NHP), National Groundwater Management Improvement Project (NGMIP), National Ganga River Basin Project (NGRBP) and the Uttar Pradesh Water Sector Restructuring Project.

Bihar FMIS Flood Forecasting (BE): 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. Implementation for this activity accelerated in FY17 and will continue in FY18 with the calibration of the developed rainfall and flood forecasting model for operational rollout before the 2018 monsoon season.

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. This activity has been slow on progress. The FY18 workplan for this activity will involve scoping of opportunities for advancing 

Last Updated: Feb 06, 2018

Brahmaputra Basin Focus Area 

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

Brahmaputra Basin Modelling and Analysis (India): 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 National Hydrology Project (NHP) and the Assam Flood, Erosion and River Management Modernization Project.

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. Building on the recommendations of the Brahmaputra River Symposium 2017, this 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. 

Sundarbans Landscape Focus Area

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:

Landscape Hydromet 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. Work has progressing satisfactorily including a data quality review and the preparation of draft reports on geomorphological setting and hydro-met setting.

Targeted Environmental Studies: This activity is undertaking hydrological, ecological and econometric studies for vulnerability assessment of the Sundarbans ecosystem in a changing climate to build momentum for the Sundarbans Joint Platform. It 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.

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. The activity supports BISRCI, which in FY17, found significant traction at the highest policymaking levels in both Bangladesh and India, during the Joint Working Group on Conservation of the Sundarbans meeting held July 2016. The activity will continue to build support for the final organizational design of the Joint Platform expected by January 2018. WWF, IWA and the Observer Research Foundation are key partners in delivering this activity.

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.

Capacity Building – 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.

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. The activity will close in FY18.

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. The activity will close in FY18.

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. The activity will conclude in FY18.

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. Discussions are ongoing with the US State Department and other partners on the possibility of co-hosting a regional dialogue event in FY18. 

SAWI Phase I Publications: 

SAWI Phase II Publications: 





Recent Events

Resilience in Hydro-electric Power

The first draft of the Guidelines for Climate Change Resilience in HEP was introduced at the International Congress on Hydropower 2017 in Addis Ababa. The SAWI supported activity has undertaken small number of South Asian case studies of new global guidelines that are being developed for building climate resilience into HEP design. The work links closely to the ongoing technical assistance in support of HEP basin planning and the environmental and social sustainability work in Bhutan.

Vulnerability of the Sundarbans in a Changing Climate

The regional management protocols for the Sundarbans have not yet incorporated the concerns put forth by climate change. In its bid to address the gap, SAWI supported a large scale technical knowledge exchange between Bangladesh and India, on February 3rd and 4th in Kolkata (India). The workshop was held as a part of the World Bank’s work to assess the implications of climate change in the Sundarbans through a number of multidisciplinary studies in collaboration with several research organizations in Bangladesh and India. The event was well attended by researchers and policymakers to understand the physical and economic effects of climate change on the Sundarbans. On the first day, studies completed in Bangladesh and India as well as those in progress were presented. On the second day, a hands-on training session on modeling of physical impacts of climate change on the Sundarbans was held. Feedback from the participants on the workshop was positive with the majority appreciating the scope and usefulness of information provided, quality of presentations and value in improving professional effectiveness of the participants. Ms Farhin Sultana, Research Scholar, Vidyasagar University (India) said “If more and more these kind of workshops are being held then it will definitely help in our respective research work.”

Upcoming Events




2nd week of July

Inter-country cooperation agenda

Dhaka, Bangladesh

July 3rd – July 28th

State Level Consultations (Ganges Strategic Basin Planning activity, India)

Various states, India

Aug 20th – Aug 24th

China Country Level Workshop(Brahmaputra Dialogue)   Beijing, China

Sept 24th – Sept 26th

Brahmaputra River Symposium

New Delhi, India