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World Bank, U.S. Pledge to Work Together to Address Global Water Challenges

March 22, 2011


Men draw water from a well built as part of the National Solidarity Program in Afghanistan.

Imal Hashemi/Taimani Films/World Bank

  • U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick marked World Water Day 2011 with an agreement to collaborate on water.
  • The accord enables greater knowledge- and resource-sharing between the Bank and U.S. agencies.
  • Civil society groups joined in support, and the Conrad Hilton Foundation announced a $50 million pledge for water projects.

To mark World Water Day, March 22, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick and United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an agreement making it easier for the U.S. Government and World Bank to work together to address global water challenges.

While the Bank and the U.S. have partnered before on water issues, this provides the World Bank access to experts in 17 U.S. government agencies and departments to address issues such as lack of safe drinking water and sanitation, diminishing aquifers, drought, flooding, and climate change impacts.

“Look at almost any poverty issue: you will find water,” said World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick. “The World Bank Group is helping countries balance competing water demands for agriculture, energy, people and the environment. The enhanced partnership we are launching with the United States will give a real boost to this work."

Secretary Clinton said the agreement was part of an initiative in which the US government will take a "whole-of-government approach" to the water issue, and also "identify strategic opportunities for working with private firms, and bring their technical skills and capital to bear in addressing the challenges facing the water sector."

The signing was preceded by presentations by Steve Hilton of the Conrad Hilton Foundation, who announced a $50-million pledge for water projects, and Jeff Seabright, Vice President of Coca Cola, who announced a $6 million for water and sanitation projects.

Also participating the Bank event were other CSO leaders in the US, and at a video-linked UN Water conference in Cape Town, South Africa, where they were joined by His Royal Highness Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange, South African Environment and Water Minister Edna Molewa, and Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat.

" Look at almost any poverty issue: you will find water. "

Robert B. Zoellick

President, World Bank

World Water Day 

In 1993, the United Nations designated March 22 World Water Day to help focus attention on delivering better service to the billions of people who still don’t have access to a toilet or safe drinking water.

Others marked Water Day in remarkable ways. Dutch cyclists Joost Notenboom and Michiel Roodenburg are riding their bikes from Alaska, U.S. to Ushuaia, Argentina to raise awareness of the need for action on the global water crisis.

The two cyclists are halfway through their 18-month journey, and their goal of raising awareness of the water and sanitation crises is bearing fruit. They stopped in Nicaragua this month to visit World Bank-financed projects. In Managua, a crowd turned out to greet them as they learned from residents how the project will bring clean water and sanitation services to the city’s low-income barrios.

Across the Pacific, the African Ministers' Council on Water (AMCOW) joined UN-HABITAT and UN-Water in co-organizing the official World Water Day 2011 event in Cape Town, South Africa. The venue provided an opportunity to address this year’s theme, ‘Water and Urbanization’, as well as a timely occasion to announce innovative activities, such as the WaterHackathon.


Results of Bank Group support include Kazakhstan’s restoration of the Aral Sea ecosystem and livelihoods of those depending on it, and China’s use of technology to draw less water from aquifers while increasing the productivity and incomes of 360,000 farmers. Technical assistance worth $7 million from the Bank-managed Water and Sanitation Program leveraged over $70 million from public, private, and community sources to provide eight million people with access to improved sanitation.

The Bank Group is the largest single external source of financing and technical assistance to governments for water and sanitation. In 2010, it provided US$5.7 billion in water financing, $40.8 million in knowledge and technical assistance through the Water and Sanitation Program, and $754 million in guarantees for water investments through the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). The International Finance Corporation has provided $1.4 billion in water financing to private corporations since 2003, and also provided advisory services on public-private partnerships for bulk water, distribution, wastewater management and irrigation.