FEATURE STORY March 21, 2019

Putting Nature to Work: Integrating Green and Gray Infrastructure for Water Security and Climate Resilience


"Integrating Green and Gray – Creating Next Generation Infrastructure" is a joint report from the World Bank and the World Resources Institute (WRI) that aims to advance the integration of green and gray infrastructure solutions on the ground. It places a spotlight on the world’s growing infrastructure crisis, driven by climate change and growing populations. It proposes insights, solutions and examples for putting nature to work. It examines the technical, environmental, social and economic dimensions of a typical project assessment but also outlines, with new clarity and detail, the enabling conditions required to facilitate successful implementation of green-gray projects. Harnessing the collective analytical and technical expertise of the World Bank and WRI, it aims to build momentum in both policy and practice.

When it comes to tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges, nature can be one of our strongest allies. That is one of the main takeaways from a World Bank and WRI report ‘Integrating Green and Gray – Creating Next Generation Infrastructure.’ The report – which will be released on March 21st, on the eve of World Water Day - shows how putting nature to work can help deliver infrastructure services with greater impact and lower cost, all the while reducing risks from disaster, boosting water security and enhancing climate resilience.

Greg Browder, World Bank Global Lead for Water Security and Lead Author: explains why this report comes at such a crucial time: “21st century challenges require innovative solutions and utilizing all the tools at our disposal. And integrating ‘green’ natural systems like forests, wetlands and flood plains into ‘gray’ infrastructure system shows how nature can lie at the heart of sustainable development. ‘Integrating Green & Gray – Creating Next-Generation Infrastructure’ provides guidance on how to do just that.”

And Jennifer Sara, Senior Director for the World Bank Group's Water Global Practice, agrees: “It is clear that nature can offer innovative solutions to the challenges the world faces today, as we approach World Water Day on March 22.”

Already across the World Bank portfolio, there are powerful examples of what this looks like in practice:

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 The Mekong Delta Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Project is just one project where the World Bank is putting these ideas into practice, as Anjali Acharya, Senior Environmental Specialist, explains:

"Nature-based solutions were embedded into the design of this project from the very beginning –shifting away from only using traditional ‘hard’ infrastructure towards solutions that work to adapt to natural conditions in the Mekong Delta. The government of Vietnam is moving strongly towards initiating such climate-resilient projects, that involve combinations of green and grey infrastructure, and corresponding changes in livelihoods.

“In the coastal province of Ca Mau, for example, the project is working to restore and expand mangroves in conjunction with rehabilitating existing sea dikes.

“This has a double-dividend for local communities. Firstly, it helps protect them from flooding and coastal erosion. Secondly, it also offers new and innovative economic opportunities, better aligned with the subregion’s natural soil and water conditions. This includes promoting mangrove-shrimp systems– which are less intensive, more organic, and can help farmers become internationally certified as sustainable seafood operations. This means they can fetch a premium price in the market, therefore increasing their revenues.”

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 And Senior Economist with the World Bank’s Water Global Practice Dominick Revell de Waal believes nature can provide a platform for fresh ideas.

"In Somalia, the Water for Agro-Pastoral Livelihoods Pilot Project illustrates how the use of green solutions can work even in fragile environmental conditions. The project showcases the innovation of sand dams. This is where sand effectively serves as a temporary reservoir cover, protecting the water underneath from evaporating under the sun.

“Because deep wells are expensive to drill and maintain, these green solutions provide a more dependable and sustainable source of water, making these communities more resilient to drought. So sand dams provide a comparatively low-cost and low-maintenance solution. 

“What’s more, as part of the ongoing transition from humanitarian to development interventions in Somalia, implementation was managed by Somali civil servants. Not only does this demonstrate the emerging capability of the country’s institutions, it also shows how developing country governments are seeing and implementing the power of nature-based solutions for themselves.”

Exploring and amplifying the power of nature-based solutions is a key priority for the World Bank. That’s why the Bank is working with partners including GFDRR (Global facility of Disaster Reduction and Recovery) and GWSP (Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership) on the Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) initiative.

Denis Jordy, Lead Disaster Risk Management Specialist for GFDRR, says that such efforts are essential:

“If we want to scale-up nature-based solutions, we need to support those who are trying to harness the power of nature to reduce disaster risk and strengthen climate resilience in development projects. We are currently doing this across multiple teams and disciplines within the World Bank. We have provided a platform to share best-practices, produce innovative knowledge products, create partnerships, and assist the implementation of nature-based solutions through financial and technical support. We are currently supporting country engagements in Seychelles, Panama, Madagascar, and Senegal in our efforts to mainstream these nature-based solutions”

“Through this strategic capacity building and support of innovative solutions, we hope to encourage nature-based solutions champions here at the bank and position the World Bank as a leader in these next generation solutions”

And through this work, the World Bank is aiming protect the most vulnerable and deliver on the ambition needed to solve 21st century challenges.

‘Integrating Green & Gray – Creating Next-Generation Infrastructure’ was funded in part by GFDRR and the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP).