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: Sep 16, 2016

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’s Water Global Practice (GP) was established in 2014 to confront the complexities of the 21st century. Based on the notion that water security should be everyone’s business, the GP decided to move beyond the traditional lens to embrace Water Writ Large, linking improved water management and the services it delivers as an input to achieving the SDGs in other sectors.

The WBG’s strategy 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.
    • Working on a global level, closely integrated with the other 13 Global Practices at the World Bank Group and the 5 Cross-Cutting Solutions Areas, the Water Global Practice brings together, for the first time, both the knowledge and operational service delivery arms of the water family — from irrigation and water resources management, to water and sanitation service delivery — into one integrated global practice: Water. 
    • 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.
    • The World Bank Water Global Practice is currently responsible for the supervision of a portfolio of approximately US$25 billion in lending through 177 projects and country, regional and global packages of economic and technical expertise. 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. The Water Global Practice includes World Bank Group operations, the Water and Sanitation Program, the Water Partnership Program, 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 also complement Water Global Practice projects and programs.

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: Sep 16, 2016

From FY13 to FY15 World Bank Group commitments to developing countries towards water and sanitation solutions contributed to 42 million people accessing improved water sources and 17 million people accessing improved sanitation.

  • The World Bank is working with the Government of India on a US$1.5 billion project in support of the country’s national flagship program “Swachh Bharat Mission” (Clean India Mission). This support aims to ensure all citizens in rural areas have access to improved sanitation, such as a toilet or latrine, with a focus on changing behaviors and ending the practice of open defecation by 2019. The World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) is supporting the effort through technical assistance to strengthen the capacity of institutions tasked with delivering on the program goals. It is expected that more than 500 million rural people to gain access to toilets and other sanitation facilities.
  • Working together with other Global Practices, the Water GP’s new approach to rural sanitation in Egypt, Haiti, India, and Vietnam – currently $2.5 billion in financing - focuses on supporting government systems, leveraging national programs, promoting more locally accountable delivery, and influencing behavior change.
  • In Indonesia – the Water GP helped improve water supply access to 4.8 million people and improved sanitation access to 5.5 million people.
  • In Vietnam, the Red River Delta Rural Water Supply and Sanitation project (IDA, $110 million, 2005-2013) provided access to clean water in four project provinces through community-based approaches. Almost 1.3 million people, accounting for 80% of the total population in the project provinces, gained access to improved water sources and 100% of poor households had access to water supply and sanitation services. Through a revolving fund managed by the Women's Union, households received access to low-interest loans to build or rehabilitate more than 48,000 sanitation facilities, increasing the percentage of households with adequate toilets from 25% to 87%.

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

  • In Lake Chad, a new action plan, developed by the Lake Chad Basin Commission and its six member countries, with support from the World Bank and the French Development Agency, aims to empower Lake Chad communities to adapt to the urgent development challenges exacerbated by climate change, and to consolidate Lake Chad’s contribution to regional food security. The plan was approved by the Basin’s Council of Ministers in November 2015 and it is part of the World Bank’s Africa Climate Business Plan, presented at the recent COP21 climate change conference.
  • In Kenya, the World Bank is helping the government move beyond basic access to water and sanitation to longer term water security with a series of 4 projects on flood management, irrigation, water security and a dam that supplies water to Mombasa.
  • In Lesotho, the new, World Bank-financed Metolong Dam is now open, providing water to two-thirds of the country’s population.
  • 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 Conservation Project in China is helping to improve water resources management in the Turpan Basin, the hottest and driest place in China. The integrated approach has increased income for 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 World 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. 
  • Working across sectors is ensuring that water considerations are addressed in agriculture, energy, the environment and cities.
    • For example, the Thirsty Energy initiative, is addressing the world’s increasing water and energy challenges by helping countries better integrate water and energy resource planning. In South Africa, for example, a country with complex water issues and large energy expansion plans, the Bank is working with partners to incorporate economic data about water in energy optimization tools. In China, Thirsty Energy is helping to incorporate potential water constraints in the country’s energy plan.
  • New initiatives are filling global knowledge gaps and transforming the way the World Bank provides water advice to its clients. The Bank’s Water Partnership Program is building expert platforms on remote sensing, climate change, and disaster risk management. These platforms are developing new tools to help the World Bank, its clients, and practitioners improve project design.
    • For example, a new decision framework is helping project managers to confront climate uncertainty and water resources planning and project design. This decision framework is already being applied to the Arun Dam in Nepal to ensure climate change uncertainties are taken into account.
  • Working toward environmental sustainability through water projects helps safeguard the ecosystem.
    • In Croatia, a coastal cities pollution control project strengthened the provision of efficient and sustainable wastewater services and improved the quality of seawater entering the Adriatic Sea. This is safeguarding the region’s tourism, maritime and ecosystems.

Last Updated: Sep 16, 2016

More Photos »