World Water Day: Take Action around the World to Tackle a Water Crisis

March 22, 2017


  • On World Water Day, we shine a light on the massive amount of work that is still to be done in the water and sanitation sector. People around the world are coming together to discuss solutions and call for action.
  • Poor water and sanitation is a major contributing factor to stunting in children; water insecurity can act as a ‘risk multiplier’ compounding the challenge of fragility.
  • World Water Day is also an opportunity to look back at actions countries are taking to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on water and sanitation for all (SDG6).

Today we celebrate World Water Day around the world.  

  • In Marseille, young people are coming together to promote innovative projects by entrepreneurs for recycling water in households, agriculture, industry and the environment, and to focus attention on the shared responsibility to build water security for the future of the Mediterranean Region.
  • In Durban, the UN is launching the 2017 World Water Development Report (WWDR) titled “Wastewater: The Untapped Resource” and the High Level Panel on Water is unveiling the initiative on "Access to water and sanitation for 10 billion people" to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • In Rome, an unprecedented conversation is happening at the Vatican to shift how the world values and understands its single most precious resource: water.
  • In Indonesia, national television is focusing on good practices in fecal sludge management, highlighting the link between poor sanitation and stunting, and discussing how to meet the country's target of universal access to water and sanitation by 2019. 

World Water Day is about taking action around the world to tackle a water crisis.

Twenty million people are facing famine in Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen and northern Nigeria, partly as a result of severe drought over recent years and general mismanagement of water. Two weeks ago the news reported that over 100 people (mostly women and children) in Somalia died because they were forced to drink unsafe water as a result of the drought. 

There is a direct link between water quality and health: The WASH Poverty Diagnostics demonstrate that poor water and sanitation is a major contributing factor to stunting in children. Children who suffer from malnutrition, dirty water and disease don’t develop properly and, as a result, are caught with stunted brain development for the rest of their lives, translating into lesser job opportunities and incomes. They don’t get a second chance at living their lives to the fullest potential.

Today, we shine a light on the massive amount of work that is still to be done in the water and sanitation sector. There are still over 3 billion people who lack basic access to clean water and proper sanitation – of those, 663 million people lack access to drinking water; 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation and 1.1 billion still practice open defecation, spreading disease. Water scarcity is a serious challenge in many countries and it accentuates already fragile situations and causes further conflict and violence. Recent analytical work by the World Bank Water Global Practice has provided empirical evidence to demonstrate the vicious cycle of water and fragility. Water insecurity can act as a ‘risk multiplier’, compounding the challenge of fragility by making it more difficult to deliver basic water services, which in turn causes increased fragility and migration.

Financing the SDG6 sub-targets for water supply and sanitation alone will cost triple historic financing levels - an estimated $114 billion per year between now and 2030. The shortfall for financing irrigation and water resource management sub-targets will likely be as large, if not larger. In a call to action issued at the Budapest Water Summit 2016, the High Level Panel on Water encouraged a shift toward a financing landscape catalyzed by public resources attracting untapped private finances to fill the gap.

How can countries tackle water challenges and reduce water stress? Recent World Bank country support demonstrated some solutions:

  • In Lebanon, the sudden increase in demand for water, driven by the influx of more than a million Syrian refugees, triggered new technologies and advanced thinking, including the use of monitoring technology and real-time management and leakage control to secure Beirut’s water supply. The water utility is now repairing leakages in real time. As a result, the total volume of water needed is less than when supplies were rationed to an average of eight hours a day.
  • In the Philippines, providing fresh, clean drinking water was part of relief, rehabilitation and development projects in the conflict-affected areas in Mindanao. “Before the water came, Christians and Muslims were a bit aloof from each other, but when the water came we could talk to each other,” says Nhor, reflecting on how her community has changed.
  • In China, integrated measures are being taken to reduce water use, such as tailoring cropping patterns for higher water productivity and changing behavior to reduce water consumption. For example, an irrigation forecast system in Hebei was set up to collect data on the temperature, humidity, wind speed as well as rainfall, soil moisture content and groundwater level. Wang Weizhen, a local farmer, used to rely on his experience to make irrigation decisions. Now he checks the soil moisture information. “I decide when and how much water to use based on the irrigation forecasts. It saves both water and labor,” says Wang.
  • In India, the government’s ambitious Swachh Bharat Mission – or Clean India initiative - can be a game changer in investing in a child’s early years by improving sanitation and combating the high occurrence of stunting among India’s children.
  • In Togo, residents at the Mono River basin came together to build infrastructure that controls flooding, and rainy seasons are no longer a source of fear but rather a source of wealth, as villagers now capture and make use of water.
  • In Argentina, 85,775 more people have access to water and 229,065 more people have access to sewerage in the poorest areas of the Province of Buenos Aires. Drainage was improved in the municipality of Ituzaingó, effectively eliminating the impact of floods from heavy rains. New drainage design guidelines take into account the whole watershed and its hydrological cycle, completely changing the way the province protects itself from urban flooding.
  • In Armenia, the government used a Public Private Partnership model to upgrade water services, resulting in increased operating efficiency, improved service provision, and greater customer satisfaction. As a result, the water supply to the capitol Yerevan increased from only 4 hours per day before the reforms to 23 hours on average in 2015.

Learn about Solar Water Pumping on World Water Day