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Water Overview

The world will not be able to meet the great development challenges of the 21st century – human development, livable cities, climate change, food security, energy security – without improving how countries manage their water resources and ensuring that people have access to reliable water and sanitation services.

The world is facing increased water stress, driven by population and economic growth, land use changes, increased climate variability and change, and declining groundwater supplies and water quality.

Water is at the center of economic and social development:  it is vital to maintain health, grow food, manage the environment, and create jobs.  Water impacts whether poor girls are educated and whether poor villages can withstand flood or drought.

But mismanagement of this basic element of life has led to millions of deaths and billions of dollars in lost economic growth potential annually, severely constraining countries’ development potential.

Today, 2.5 billion people remain without basic sanitation. Poor sanitation impacts health, education, the environment, and industries such as tourism. It means that girls are more likely to drop out of school or fall victim to attacks while seeking privacy.  At least 760 million people lack access to safe drinking water. This causes 4,000 child deaths and up to 7% of GDP in economic losses in some countries every year.

The global population is growing fast. Analysis suggests that with current practices, the world will face a 40% global shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water by 2030.

Feeding a planet of 9 billion by 2050 will require approximately 50% more water in 2050.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. And the number is growing fast. How will cities where safe drinking water is already scarce cope with increased demand?

Currently, 2 billion people live in countries with absolute water scarcity and the number is expected to rise to 4.6 billion by 2080.  

A World Bank report suggests that in a 4°Celsius warmer world, water stress will increase in areas around the world. The roughly 1 billion people living in monsoonal basins and the 500 million people living in deltas are especially vulnerable. Poorer countries, which contributed least to the problem, will be most affected. 

Last Updated: Mar 24, 2014

Ensuring poor people are included. The World Bank aims to help governments ensure basic access to water and sanitation services for even the poorest people. The Bank also seeks to increasingly ensure its water projects explicitly factor poverty into project development.

  • The world has met early the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe water. Between 1990 and 2010, over 2 billion people gained access to safe water. However, Africa will likely not attain its water MDG.
  • Although the world will likely not meet the sanitation MDG, progress is being made: 1.9 billion people gained access to sanitation in 1990-2010 and 500 million gained access just in the last 2 years. However there is still a long way to go, with 2.5 billion people remaining without access to sanitation.

Securing sustainable financing for the Water sector. 

  • The World Bank is the largest external source of financing for water projects. In FY13, the World Bank Group committed US$3 billion for the water sector.  In the last three years (FY11-13), the World Bank’s commitment for water projects totaled US$17 billion, comprising 56% for water supply and sanitation, 16% for hydropower, 15% for irrigation and drainage, and 13% for flood protection.  In FY13, IFC lent US$214 million for water infrastructure projects.  MIGA provided guarantees totaling US$704 million for water supply, water treatment, and hydropower investments in Ghana, Jordan, and Angola, respectively. 

However, with massive water challenges, financing from the public sector and development aid is not enough.  The Bank seeks to leverage financing from other sources, including the domestic private sector, and through public-private partnerships.

A strategic review of the Bank Group’s involvement in the water sector, Sustaining Water for All in a Changing Climate (2010), reaffirmed the relevance of core business themes: infrastructure for access, integrated water resources management, and capacity-building for results-based decision-making. In this context, the World Bank is defining a new vision for water that places increased emphasis on:

  • Preparing client countries for the “known future” as well as we can – a future of higher food and energy prices, more volatility, and more extreme weather.
  • Helping countries to get water right in other sectors, such as energy, agriculture, and the environment.
  • Adopting an integrated, “nexus” approach to water, initially in six geographic areas:  India, Kenya, megacities in Latin America, the Mekong Delta, Nigeria, and the Western Balkans.
  • Advancing global knowledge on water and building stronger institutional frameworks for water management across sectors, as well as national and regional boundaries.
  • Committing to longer-term engagements, focusing at the basin level.
Last Updated: Mar 24, 2014

Between 2002 and 2012, IDA activities provided 123 million people with access to improved water sources and, between 2004 and 2013, IDA activities provided 8.7 million people with access to more than 660,000 sanitation facilities and household sewer connections. Bank-supported projects approved since FY 2011 will provide an estimated 16.8 million people with access to improved water sources and 8.3 million people with access to improved sanitation.

In FY13 the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program helped some 70 small and medium local private enterprises to develop nearly US$10 million in assets to expand their reach in water and sanitation. The initiative brought new access to water and sanitation services for 400,000 people. WSP has helped communities in 13 countries improve access to sanitation for 22 million people since 2007 through a combination of enabling environment, marketing and behavior change, and knowledge-sharing activities.

The World Bank places water management at the center of its efforts to help countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change. It also seeks to ensure that water issues are effectively addressed in related sectors, such as agriculture, disaster risk management, energy, and health.

  • In 2002-11 the Bank supported provision of irrigation services for about 3.6m hectares of arable lands.
  • The Bank also supports transformational engagements which seek to optimize spatial, green and co-benefits among water and other infrastructure sectors. The Mozambique Water Resources Development project, for example, combines multi-purpose use of water and governance components to increase the yield of the Corumana Dam. 

Greater innovation and integrated approaches in Water are yielding great benefits.

  • The Xinjiang Turpan Water Conversation Project in China is helping to improve water resources management in the Turpan Basin, the hottest and driest place in China. The integrated approach is increasing income of local farmers as innovative water-saving approaches reduced groundwater overdraft by almost 25 million m3, water supply capacity increased by 2.35 million m3, and 42,100 meters of irrigation canals were rehabilitated.
  • The Bank engaged in Armenia with a series of operations that supported appropriate private utility engagement in water supply. Since 1998, water supply hours have more than doubled, payment rates have improved from 20% to 79%, and energy use for water supply has halved.
  • The World Bank’s new Thirsty Energy initiative aims to address the world’s increasing water and energy challenges by helping countries better integrate water and energy resources planning. In South Africa, for example, a country with important water issues and large energy expansion plans, the Bank is working with partners to incorporate economic data about water in energy optimization tools.

The World Bank Water practice creates significant impact through partnerships with donors that leverage advisory and operational assistance for client countries.

  • The Water practice includes World Bank operations, the Water anchor unit, the Water and Sanitation Program, the Water Partnership Program, the Cooperation in International Waters in Africa, and the Southern Africa Water Initiative.  The International Finance Corporation, the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility and the Global Partnership for Output Based Aid also complement Water practice projects and programs.
Last Updated: Mar 24, 2014

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