Water is one of the drivers of economic and social development. It is vital to maintain health, grow food, generate energy, and manage the environment. 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).

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

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, the Bank works with countries on an array of water security issues.

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; also, water is placed 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 external 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. Overall, water 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 contributions to flood management, hydropower, agriculture water management, pollution control, transboundary water management, and climate change adaptation and mitigation activities.  

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2015

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.

The Bank’s Thirsty Energy initiative is analyzing the economic impact and tradeoffs to help the energy sector increase its awareness and improve management of the massive amounts of water needed for energy production.

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.

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, supporting cooperative water management is an important contribution for fostering gains from water resources to alleviate poverty. The Bank supports the joint management of transboundary watercourses in various ways, especially in Africa.

- 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 Mekong River Commission that cooperatively manages the basin.

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 damages to 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.

- In China, the Hai Basin Integrated Water and Environment Management Project, completed in 2011, promoted an integrated approach to water resource management and pollution control and contributed to the restoration and protection of marine environments, ecosystems, and biodiversity in the Bohai Sea. It was implemented in 16 counties in northern China, benefitting over 20 million people. Better water use and pollution control in the Basin has improved resident health and living standards. Farmers also benefited from more efficient consumption-based irrigation management, which increased water productivity, crop yields, and incomes.

Sustainable groundwater management is also a priority of the World Bank. With groundwater being depleted faster than being replenished, the World Bank has collaborated with key global partners through years of consultations to putting together 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 in the present that sufficiently account 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. Innovative analytical work such as the recent report on Confronting Climate Uncertainty in Water Resources Planning and Project Design is helping global development experts and country clients deal with climate related risks. Other work focuses on innovative tools such as Remote Sensing for water resources management to bridge data gaps for sound decision-making.

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2015