• 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.

    However, 4.5 billion people lack safely managed sanitation services and 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. And water-related hazards, including floods, storms, and droughts, are responsible for 9 out of 10 natural disasters. Climate change is expected to increase this risk, in addition to placing greater stress on water supplies.

    The Millennium Development Goals helped rally the world around the challenges of water supply and sanitation. Billions of people have gained access to basic drinking water and sanitation services since 2000, but these services do not necessarily provide safe water and sanitation. Some 3 in 10 people worldwide lack access to safe, readily available water at home, and 6 in 10 lack safely managed sanitation, according to a new report by WHO and UNICEF.

    Of the 2.1 billion people who do not have access to safely managed water, 844 million do not have even a basic drinking water service. Of the 4.5 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation, 2.3 billion still do not have basic sanitation services. As a result, every year, 361,000 children under 5 years of age die due to diarrhea related to poor sanitation and contaminated water, which are also linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

    Water supply and sanitation is just one aspect of the broad­er water agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) build on the success of the last 15 years, while challenging donors and gov­ernments to address issues of water quality and scarcity to balance the needs of households, agriculture, industry, energy, and the envi­ronment over the next 15 years.

    Water security is 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 remains a challenge for many countries today coping with complex water issues that cut across sectors. Population and economic growth have placed unprecedented pressures on water.

    • Estimates show that with current population growth and water management 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 already 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.

    Last Updated: Sep 20, 2017

  • As the world’s largest multilateral source of financing for water in developing countries, the World Bank is committed to achieving the vision of “A Water-Secure World for All”. Under this vision, water is effectively managed as a critical resource for devel­opment to support agriculture, manufacturing, job creation, house­holds, and the environment. The entire population should be able to share this limited resource and have access to safe and sustainable sanitation and water services to enable healthy lives. In a water-secure world, countries are able to reduce and adapt to the impacts of a changing climate on water, while ensuring that each drop is consumed more efficiently.

    This work contributes to the World Bank’s twin goals — ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity — by in­vesting in effective and sustainable water solutions that enable uni­versal access to sanitation and water, promote water security, and build resilient societies.

    The World Bank’s water portfolio currently covers 175 projects worth US$27 billion in lending and technical expertise. Around 70% of lending is for services such as water supply and sanitation and irrigation projects. Since 2014, lending for water resources management has also shown rapid growth, rising to 30% of the portfolio in 2017. In addition, projects with a water sector-related component managed by other global practices of the World Bank total approximately $10 billion, meaning the Bank’s total water-related investments are $37 billion.

    Five priority themes have been identified where action is critically needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for water. These themes do not exist in isolation and need to be operationalized simultaneously so that actions under each of these themes can mutually reinforce each other and can contribute to the many other SDGs which are so closely interlinked with the achievement of a water-secure world for all:


    Sustainability is ultimately about ensuring that available resources today can continue to deliver benefits to future generations. The partnership focuses on two critical as­pects: 1) the sustainable management of water resources to secure long-term avail­ability, considering the impacts of population growth, rapid urbanization and climate change; 2) adequately built and maintained infrastructure assets.


    Inclusion is the process of improving the terms for individuals and groups disadvantaged based on their identity to take part in society. Water belongs to everyone and yet many are excluded from its benefits. So, ensuring that a project enhances the inclusion agenda requires better knowledge on the nature of water inequality, enhancing the capacity of clients and putting in places incentives to enable better outcomes. Underlying such design of course requires strong institutions that will hold state and service providers accountable.


    Expanding access to and improving the quality of services can only be achieved and sustained if the institutional arrangements provide the right incentives and resources and the organizations tasked with service delivery also have the requisite capacity. Institutions comprise the formal and informal ‘rules of the game’ within which these organizations operate and, through this, impact the quality and sustainability of services. To strengthen institutions and accountability for service provision, GWSP works to understand the rules of the game and incentive structures to facilitate a pragmatic change process that is grounded in local cultures, economies, and political circumstances.


    The SDGs come with new and very significant financing needs. For water supply and sanitation, they have been estimated at US$1.7 trillion, or three times the amount historically invested in the sector. US$960 billion will be required between 2005/07 and 2050 to ensure water for agricultural production in 93 developing countries. Failure to address water resources management could diminish national growth rates by as much as 6 percent of GDP by 2050. A two-pronged approach is needed to achieve the SDGs on water: 1) improving the financial viability of the water sector to ensure that “water can pay for water” whilst ensuring affordability of services for the poor; 2) leveraging commercial and non-state sources of financing.


    Management of water resources and water-related services (water and sanitation, irrigation, etc.) will increasingly be subject to shocks in years to come, because of increased climate variability and extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts. Resilient solutions call for strategies and tools at the country, basin, and project level capable of incorporating not only climate and disaster risk consideration, but also innovative solutions to ease water scarcity constraints as well as socioeconomic and environmental considerations. Building climate resilience will require developing tools and approaches that can help save lives and livelihoods.

    Last Updated: Sep 20, 2017

  • In Fiscal Year15-17, the World Bank contributed to providing more than 47 million people with access to an improved water source and more than 20 million people with access to im­proved sanitation facilities.

    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: Sep 20, 2017



Water Sanitation
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In Depth

Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP)

The GWSP supports client governments to achieve the water-related SDGs through innovative global knowledge and country-level support.

Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program

The CAEWDP builds energy & water security by leveraging enhanced cooperation in all five Central Asian countries plus Afghanistan.

Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA)

The CIWA assists riparian governments in Sub-Saharan Africa in cooperative water resources management and development.

South Asia Water Initiative

The SAWI aims to increase regional cooperation in the management of the major Himalayan river systems in South Asia.

Additional Resources


For general inquiries, please contact:
World Bank Group Water Global Practice
For media inquiries, please contact:
Martin Hall