Overview

Water is truly one of the world’s most valuable resources.  It is a principal driver of economic and social development, and is vital to maintaining health, growing food, generating energy, and managing the environment. Water security, moreover, is considered to be among the top global risks in terms of development impact, and itself is integral to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Water security, however, remains a challenge for many countries coping with complex water issues that cut across economic sectors. Population growth and economic development 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. As a result, groundwater reserves are under increasing pressure around the world, with many being over-exploited. Moreover, the world will need more water for energy generation even as 1.3 billion people still lack access to electricity. The world’s fast-growing urban regions are also consuming more water for both domestic and industrial use.  As a result of these multiple pressures, by 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions or countries with absolute water scarcity.

Adding to these challenges, climate change will make water supplies 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 global warming, will paradoxically be most affected.

All of this is happening in a context where the crucial task of ensuring 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: Apr 14, 2016

The World Bank Group (WBG) places water resources management at the center of its efforts to help countries achieve water security as a platform to reach the SDGs. Through its Global Solutions Group on Water Security and Integrated Water Resources Management in the Global Water Practice (WGP), the Bank works with countries on an array of water security issues. The WGP focuses on Water Writ Large, leveraging improved water management and the services it delivers to achieve the range of water-related SDGs.

The Bank’s water resources management strategy is guided by the principle that water security is everyone’s business: programs ensure that water issues are effectively addressed in related sectors, such as agriculture, disaster risk management, energy, and health, and engage with diverse institutions and stakeholders in an integrated way.  This approach 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 for generations to come.

As one of the key global financiers of water programs and one of the leading providers of knowledge and technical assistance on water, the World Bank Group currently has a water portfolio of approximately US$23 billion in lending through more than 180 projects and about 300 knowledge products. The largest programs currently are in service delivery (urban and rural water supply and sanitation, as well as irrigation), with a fast-growing portfolio in water resources management that now accounts for about 50% of the WGP’s pipeline. Overall, water sector lending accounts for about 10% of the Bank’s entire portfolio.

World Bank Group funding has responded to the need to address both water development and management issues by promoting integrated water resources planning and by tackling institutional reforms along with infrastructure upgrades in various sectors. These sectors include flood management, hydropower, agriculture water management, pollution control, urban and rural water supply, environmental conservation, transboundary water management, and climate change adaptation and mitigation activities.

Last Updated: Apr 14, 2016

Robust water resource management solutions to complex water issues incorporate cutting-edge knowledge and innovation which are integrated into water projects to strengthen their impact. New knowledge that draws on the WBG’s global experiences as well as partner expertise are filling global knowledge gaps and transforming the design of water investment projects to deliver results. Multi-year, programmatic engagements in strategic areas are designed to make dramatic economic improvements in the long term and improve the livelihoods of millions of the world’s poorest people.

Working across sectors is ensuring that water considerations are addressed in energy, the environment, agriculture, and urban and rural development.

  • 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.
  • Working toward environmental sustainability in Croatia, the Bank supported 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.

The Bank also supports transformational engagements, which seek to optimize spatial, green and co-benefits among water and other infrastructure sectors.

A large proportion of World Bank-funded water resources management projects include institutional and policy components.

  • In Morocco, a Water Sector Development Policy Loan (US$100 million) in 2007 supported comprehensive water reform to address legislative, financing and planning gaps in the water sector. This work led to a reform program in which water-demand management, conservation, and resource management became new thrusts in Morocco’s water strategy.

With 263 international rivers in the world, support for cooperative transboundary water management can make an important contribution towards improving the efficient and equitable management of water resources. The Bank supports the cooperative management of transboundary watercourses in various ways:

  • In the Senegal River Basin, World Bank projects have contributed to more effective management of the resources of the Senegal River and to the inclusion of Guinea into the organization responsible for this management, allowing integrated water resources management in the entire basin.
  • In the Mekong River Basin, the Bank is supporting riparian states such as Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in strengthening their integrated water resource management and disaster risk management capacities, cooperating closely with the basin-wide Mekong River Commission.

The Bank follows an integrated flood management agenda, which includes well-functioning early warning systems, infrastructure, and institutional arrangements for coordinated action to address increased variability and changes to runoff and flooding patterns.

  • In Yemen, World Bank financing (US$80 million total) provided vital flood control structures in and around the city of Taiz. By the project's closing in 2008, major parts of Taiz had been transformed into livable and flash flood-secure neighborhoods. The project contributed to an increase in land values of more than 100% and a reduction in the number of damaged residential properties and businesses from 160 and 660 per year to zero. Flood structure and complementary wastewater connections helped to improve health and sanitary conditions by reducing the flow of wastewater into wadis (riverbeds), which had become breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

As part of its water security vision, the Bank follows an integrated urban water management strategy as well.

  • To promote green economic growth in Teresina, Brazil, the World Bank helped the government integrate the management of its urban water resources, supporting drainage and flood control, collection and treatment of wastewater, improving toilets and other sanitation facilities for poor families, and optimizing water use in the landscape.

Sustainable groundwater management is also a priority of the World Bank and central to water security in many countries.

  • Recognizing that groundwater is being depleted faster than it is replenished in many areas, the World Bank has collaborated with key global partners through years of consultations to develop a framework for groundwater governance. The 2030 Vision and Global Framework for Action represents a bold call for collectively responsible action among governments and the global community to ensure sustainable use of groundwater.

The primary challenge of achieving water security is the ability to make decisions that sufficiently account for uncertainties and for the needs of the future. This becomes particularly important in water projects that involve investments in long-lived infrastructure which must deliver benefits for many generations to come.

To strengthen water security against a backdrop of increasing scarcity, growing uncertainty, and greater extremes, the World Bank Group will continue to expand its work on integrated solutions to water resource management challenges, with a special emphasis on climate resilience and the systemic issues embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals. In close coordination with its partners, the World Bank will work toward a water-secure world in which all populations and all countries enjoy access to clean water, in which water resources are sustainably and effectively managed, and for which all water uses, including environmental needs, are provided.

Last Updated: Apr 14, 2016