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 emerging as the number one global risk in terms of development impact and 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 who are 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 forecasted 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.

Climate change will make water more unpredictable. 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.

All of this is happening in a context where the crucial agenda of access to services is still an unfinished agenda. 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. About 700 million people lack access to safe drinking water. Poor sanitation, water, and hygiene lead to about 675,000 premature deaths annually, and the lack of access to safe water results in up to 7% of GDP in equivalent economic losses in some countries every year.

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2015

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 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 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. It 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.
    • 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, but progress has been uneven, with a number of countries in Africa not meeting their MDG. 
    • Although the world will not meet the sanitation MDG, progress has being made: Nearly 2.3 billion people gained access to sanitation since 1990. However, there is still a long way to go.
  • 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. 
    • The World Bank Water Global Practice is currently responsible for the supervision of a portfolio of approximately US$22 billion in lending through 187 projects and country, regional and global packages of economic and technical expertise. Around 77% of lending is for services: water supply and sanitation and irrigation. Annual new lending is expected to be in the range of US$4-5 billion per year.
    • In FY14, IFC invested US$222 million in water and waste management projects. 
    • 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, including the domestic private sector, and through public-private partnerships.

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2015

  • In the last 3 years (FY12-14) World Bank Group commitments to developing countries towards sustainable water and sanitation solutions reached an average of 40 million people for water and 15 million people for sanitation.
    • 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 in Vietnam 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 in project areas 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 hygienic toilets and sanitation facilities, increasing the percentage of households with hygienic toilets from 25% to 87%. The successful model of this project is now being expanded into a national program supported by a "Program for Results" project with $131.5 million IDA credit.
    • In India, the Punjab Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (IDA, $90m, 2006-2014) adopted a sector-wide approach to deliver a community-driven approach to improve access to, and sustainability of, rural water supply and sanitation services. The community-driven development approach was implemented in 4,000 villages across the State of Punjab, leveraging both IDA and government funds. The IDA financing reached more than 2 million people across the State and demonstrated the viability of higher levels of service for rural consumers by increasing supply times to 10 hours per day in more than 100 villages, and increasing supply to 24 hours a day to a further 90 villages. This compares to the norm of just 1-2 hours of supply/day. 
  • The World Bank Group’s Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) helps developing countries expand access to water and sanitation services for the poor through technical assistance, knowledge and partnerships. Under the current five-year business plan, WSP activities in 38 countries are supporting efforts to provide water and sanitation for millions of people.
    • In India, WSP is applying global knowledge through technical assistance to strengthen institutional capacity to achieve the sanitation goals set by the national flagship program “Swachh Bharat Mission” (Clean India Mission). 
  • The World Bank Group’s Water Partnership Program (WPP) anchored in the Water Global Practice is currently implementing 151 activities in 50 countries through its expanded $45 million Phase II.
    • New initiatives are filling global knowledge gaps and transforming the way the World Bank provides water advice to its clients. The WPP 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.
    • Multi-year engagements in strategic areas are expected to make dramatic economic improvements in the long term. In the Mekong, the WPP supports a large group of stakeholders in quantifying trade-offs of various development scenarios for the delta region. In the Sahel, efforts to integrate water resources considerations in a regional economic development plan will dramatically improve the livelihoods of millions of farmers, herders, and communities, and help boost shared prosperity.
  • 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. It also seeks to ensure that water issues are effectively addressed in related sectors, such as agriculture, disaster risk management, energy, and health.
    • In the Senegal River Basin (IDA, $110 million, 2006-13), the IDA-financed Multi-Purpose Water Resources Development (APL) Project for Mali, Mauritania, Senegal and Guinea contributed to more effective management of the resources of the Senegal River and to the inclusion of Guinea into the organization responsible for its management, enabling integrated water resources management in the entire basin. All four countries are now working together through the regional body to manage water resources. 
    • 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 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 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 five-year energy plan.
  • The World Bank Water Global Practice 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.

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2015

50 percent
Amount of additional water required to feed a planet of nine billion by 2050
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