Water is at the center of economic and social development; it is vital to maintain health, grow food, manage the environment, and create jobs. Despite water’s importance, over 663 million people in the world still lack access to improved drinking water sources.

However, increasing access is not enough. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposes a broader agenda as set out in the draft definition: By 2030, universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, and access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. This new goal reflects the growing importance of water and sanitation as a human right. Additional targets that go beyond access are also being considered, such as improving water quality by reducing pollution, and substantially increasing water-use efficiency.

The scale of the challenge is large and becoming more complex. Population and economic growth are pushing the limits of the world’s finite water resources. In some cases water scarcity is already constraining economic growth. Lack of access to improved water supply and sanitation services impose huge costs on society, and especially for the poor. Even where access exists, services have been characterized for decades by poor management, inadequate financing and low levels of investment. Very few water or wastewater utilities in the developing world recover adequate operation and maintenance costs from customers and only a handful recovers debt service and depreciation. Despite the importance of water for development, in a recent sample of 37 countries from Africa, 82% of governments indicated that financing was insufficient to reach national targets for drinking water. The uncertainties brought about by political economy and climate change only add to this sector’s already considerable challenges. Not surprisingly, world leaders now rank water as one of their top critical issues.

The World Bank Group (WBG) — the largest multilateral source of financing for water supply and sanitation (WSS) in developing countries — currently supervises a WSS lending portfolio of approximately US$11 billion which represents more than half of all its water-related operations. It also houses more than 340 water professionals who serve client countries from 58 different locations globally. This highly-skilled, diverse workforce brings many years of expertise across all water sub-sectors such as water resources management, urban and rural water supply and sanitation, irrigation and agriculture, flood and drought management, groundwater management, water economics, and several others.

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2015

The World Bank Group (WBG) has been addressing water issues globally with large-scale finance and technical assistance to countries. To meet the growing demand for investment financing driven by the best knowledge available, the WBG created a single, integrated Water Global Practice. Launched in 2014, the Global Practice brings together financing, implementation, and knowledge in one platform.

WBG water supply projects take a multi-sector and integrated approach across three broad areas:

1. Governance, the State and Citizen Engagement: the framework of behavior change, institutions, policies, and incentives that support or undermine achievement of Sustainable Development Goals;

2. Finance and Pricing: the ability of service providers to fully cover their operations and maintenance costs, and access investment funds as needed to expand and improve services and leverage markets; and

3. Capacity: the skills needed by managers and staff to deliver services efficiently and effectively. 

In addition, knowledge dissemination is at the core of WBG water projects. Besides the many publications, blogs, speaking engagements and learning events it produces annually, the World Bank Group regularly partners in a variety of forums at the global, regional and country levels with key agencies (UN Water, UNICEF, WHO, etc).

The World Bank Group is also an active partner in a number of water supply and sanitation networks — such as the International Water Association, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, Sanitation and Water for All, Stockholm International Water Institute, AMCOW, and others.

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2015

By combining global knowledge with country investments, the World Bank Group generates more firepower for transformational solutions to help countries grow sustainably into the 21st century. These are some highlights from our work on water supply:

• 42.2 million people provided with access to an improved water source from 2013 to 2015.

• In addition, the World Bank Group (WBG) is providing support to more than 360 urban water utilities and 10,400 rural service providers.

• The WBG Water and Sanitation Program in the FY14 provided technical assistance that allowed some 100 small and medium local private water supply and sanitation enterprises to leverage more than US$11.7 million. The initiative brought new access to water and sanitation services for nearly one million people.

• The current World Bank Group investment program is expected to benefit 75 million people, of which 32 million and 43 million beneficiaries are in urban and rural areas, respectively.  

Last Updated: Oct 09, 2015

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