• Water is at the center of economic and social development: it is vital to maintain health, grow food, generate energy, manage the environment, and create jobs. Water availability and management impacts whether poor girls are educated, whether cities are healthy places to live, and whether growing industries or poor villages can withstand the impacts of floods or droughts.

    Water security is still considered to be among the top global risks in terms of development impact. It is also an integral part to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The world will not be able to meet the sustainable development challenges of the 21st century — human development, livable cities, climate change, food security, and energy security — without improving management of water resources and ensuring access to reliable water and sanitation services.

    Water security, however, still remains a challenge for many countries today coping with complex water issues that cut across economic sectors. Population and economic growth have placed unprecedented pressures on water. Estimates show that with current practices, the world will face a 40% shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water by 2030. Today, 70% of global water withdrawals are for agriculture. Feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 60% increase in agricultural production and a 15% increase in water withdrawals. The world will need more water for energy generation but today over 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity. More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. And the number is growing fast. Groundwater is being depleted at a rate faster than it is being replenished. By 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions or countries with absolute water scarcity.

     A World Bank report published in May 2016 suggests that water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP, spur migration, and spark conflict. The combined effects of growing populations, rising incomes, and expanding cities will see demand for water rising exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain.

    All of this is happening in a context where the crucial agenda of access to services is still unfinished. Despite impressive gains over the past several decades, today, 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, of which 1 billion practice open defecation. At least 663 million people lack access to safe drinking water. Poor sanitation, water, and hygiene lead to about 675,000 premature deaths annually, and estimated annual economic losses of up to 7% of GDP in some countries.

    Last Updated: Apr 04, 2017

  • Helping countries achieve water security for all lies at the core of the World Bank Group’s goals: to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030 and boost shared prosperity for the poorest 40%. 

    The World Bank Group’s strategy for the water sector is based on the following guiding principles:

    • Ensuring that delivery of water services is done within the context of sustainable water resources management. 
      • Achieving water security for all means that service delivery and management of water resources cannot be addressed separately and that water becomes intricately linked to development more broadly. 
      • As water security is everyone’s business, the World Bank seeks to ensure that water issues are effectively addressed in related sectors, such as agriculture, disaster risk management, energy, and health, and engages with diverse institutions and stakeholders in an integrated way.
      • The World Bank also places water at the center of adaptation strategies to help countries cope with the effects of climate change and build a more resilient future.
    • Ensuring poor people are included.
      • The World Bank Group aims to help governments ensure basic access to water and sanitation services particularly for the poorest people. The Bank also seeks to increasingly ensure its water projects explicitly factor poverty into project development.
    • Deliver Cutting-Edge Knowledge
      • The World Bank Group is helping governments solve complex water development challenges through transformational finance, knowledge and innovation.
      • In close coordination with partners, the Bank is constantly looking for ways to deliver the most innovative, effective, and sustainable solutions to its clients.
    • Securing sustainable financing for the Water sector. 
      • As the world’s largest multilateral source of financing for water in developing countries, with a total portfolio of water investments of US$35 billion, the World Bank is uniquely positioned to support countries reach the ambitious objectives they have set themselves.
      • Around 72% of lending is for services: water supply and sanitation and irrigation. Since 2014, lending in water resources management has shown rapid growth and is set to grow to 31% of the portfolio in 2017. In addition, projects with a water sector-related component managed by other global practices total US$10 billion.
      • IFC has provided $2.9 billion for nearly 100 water and municipal infrastructure projects since 2005, through financing, advisory services and project development support for private sector companies as well as municipal and regional governments.
      • However, with massive water challenges, financing from the public sector and development aid is not enough. The Bank seeks to help clients leverage financing from other sources.
    • Building global partnerships for water
      • The World Bank creates significant impact through partnerships with donors that leverage advisory and operational assistance for client countries, including Global Water Secruity and Sanitaiton Partnership, the Cooperation in International Waters in Africa, the Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program, the Danube Water Partnership, and the South Asia Water Initiative. The International Finance Corporation, the Public Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility, the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, and the Global Partnership for Output Based Aid.

    The World Bank and the UN call on global leaders to put water at the top of the political agenda. Since January 2016, the Water Global Practice is supporting a High-Level Panel on Water to maximize global efforts towards the sustainable development goal for water and sanitation (SDG 6). The Panel is comprised of a group of ten heads of state and is expected to play a crucial role in promoting stakeholders’ participation and mobilizing greater financial resources across countries.

    Last Updated: Jun 23, 2017

  • Recent World Bank country support demonstrated some solutions to tackle water challenges and reduce water stress:

    In Lebanon, the sudden increase in demand for water, driven by the influx of more than a million Syrian refugees, triggered new technologies and advanced thinking, including the use of monitoring technology and real-time management and leakage control to secure Beirut’s water supply. The water utility is now repairing leakages in real time. As a result, the total volume of water needed is less than when supplies were rationed to an average of eight hours a day. 

    In the Philippines, providing fresh, clean drinking water was part of relief, rehabilitation and development projects in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. “Before the water came, Christians and Muslims were a bit aloof from each other, but when the water came we could talk to each other,” says Nhor, reflecting on how her community has changed.

    In China, integrated measures are being taken to reduce water use, such as tailoring cropping patterns for higher water productivity and changing behavior to reduce water consumption. For example, an irrigation forecast system in Hebei was set up to collect data on the temperature, humidity, wind speed as well as rainfall, soil moisture content and groundwater level. Wang Weizhen, a local farmer, used to rely on his experience to make irrigation decisions. Now he checks the soil moisture information. “I decide when and how much water to use based on the irrigation forecasts. It saves both water and labor,” says Wang.

    In India, the government’s ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission – or Clean India initiative - can be a game changer in investing in a child’s early years by improving sanitation and combating the high occurrence of stunting among India’s children.

    In Togo, residents at the Mono River basin came together to build infrastructure that controls flooding, and rainy seasons are no longer a source of fear but rather a source of wealth, as villagers now capture and make use of water.

    In Argentina, 85,775 more people have access to water and 229,065 more people have access to sewerage in the poorest areas of the Province of Buenos Aires. Drainage was improved in the municipality of Ituzaingó, effectively eliminating the impact of floods from heavy rains. New drainage design guidelines take into account the whole watershed and its hydrological cycle, completely changing the way the province protects itself from urban flooding.

    In Armenia, the government used a Public Private Partnership model to upgrade water services, resulting in increased operating efficiency, improved service provision, and greater customer satisfaction. As a result, the water supply to the capitol Yerevan increased from only 4 hours per day before the reforms to 23 hours on average in 2015. 

    Last Updated: Apr 04, 2017



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In Depth


Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program

Central Asia is endowed with water and an abundance of rich and varied energy resources that can support increased agricultural ...


Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA)

The Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA) is a multi-donor trust fund established in 2011 and represents a partnership ...


Danube Water Program

The Danube Water Program supports policy dialogue and capacity development to achieve smart policies, strong utilities, and sustainable ...


South Asia Water Initiative

South Asia is home to about a quarter of the global population, but has less than 5 per cent of the world’s annual renewable water ...

Additional Resources


For general inquiries, please contact:
World Bank Group Water Global Practice
For media inquiries, please contact:
Isabel Hagbrink