South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI)

The South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI) is a trust fund supported by the United Kingdom, Australia, and Norway, and administered by the World Bank. SAWI activities are designed to increase regional cooperation in managing the major Himalayan river systems in South Asia to deliver sustainable, fair, and inclusive development and climate resilience. SAWI activities aim to:

  • strengthen awareness and knowledge about regional water issues;
  • enhance technical and policy capacity;
  • support dialogue and participatory decision processes to build trust; and
  • scope and inform World Bank investments.

SAWI's work is structured across four focus areas:  the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins and the Sundarbans. The work spans the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

Indus Basin Focus Area: 

The Indus is the most vulnerable river basin in Asia given its complex water challenges, glacier dependency, and growing per capita water scarcity. The relationship between riparian countries, different levels of capacity and the presence of a fragile, post-conflict country in the basin pose additional challenges to regional cooperation on water resources management. Indus Basin work seeks to improve management and coordination among the riparian countries, Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan, to enhance water and energy security. Given the World Bank’s role in the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty and the importance of neutral engagement, maintaining transparency in World Bank engagement on the Indus is critical and focuses on issues not under the purview of the Indus Waters Treaty. Activities under the FA include: 

Indus Basin Dialogue: Since 2013 the World Bank has supported a dialogue for Indus River Basin countries – the Indus Forum – to build confidence and trust in order to establish an enabling environment for basin-wide cooperation. This activity supports dialogue and focuses on technical collaboration on issues previously identified by the Indus Forum. This activity will strengthen links up to other Track II dialogue processes and research groups, including the Atlantic Council Indo-Pak Dialog, UIB Initiative, and the ICIMOD Himalayan Adaptation, Water and Resilience project.

Ganges Basin Focus Area

The Ganges Basin Focus Area aims to improve management and development of water resources in the Ganges Basin to support economic growth and improve resilience to climate variability and change. The strategy is based on the understanding that countries in South Asia are unlikely to cooperate for effective basin management if water resources are not well managed nationally. The Ganges Focus Area, therefore, supports improved water resources management nationally and facilitates connections between countries through technical dialogue and capacity building. As well as improving water management nationally for economic stimulation and poverty reduction outcomes, these connected efforts build confidence in transboundary engagement and increase trust around knowledge and information exchange. Activities in the Ganges Focus Area include:

Ganges Strategic Basin Planning: This activity aims to develop a comprehensive basin model for the Ganges in India to assess options to improve river health and to meet water demand and support inland waterway navigation. It has strong client engagement and clear linkages to multiple important lending operations such as National Hydrology Project (NHP), National Groundwater Management Improvement Project (NGMIP), National Ganga River Basin Project (NGRBP) and the Uttar Pradesh Water Sector Restructuring Project.

Bihar FMIS Flood Forecasting (BE): This recipient-executed technical activity builds on the outcomes of the regional scoping study on flood forecasting to strengthen institutional capacity in the Government of Bihar and to improve community outreach for flood management in the Baghmati-Adhwara Basin (a transboundary sub-basin of the Ganges River Basin spanning Nepal and India). The Bank executed component of this activity provides focused support to the Government of Bihar to improve flood forecasting capability. It supports travel of government officials to flood modeling centers of excellence, and supporting visits to Bihar, by experts and consultants to improve the existing flood risk model. 

Ganges Basin Dialogue: Building on the national level technical assistance in river basin modeling and planning in both India and Nepal, this activity supports basin-wide dialogue on hydrologic and water resources modeling. The activity connects technical institutions in the region with scientists and academics around the world that are actively engaged in modeling the Ganges river. 

Last Updated: Jun 18, 2019

Brahmaputra Basin Focus Area 

The Brahmaputra Basin Focus Area seeks to improve the shared understanding and management of the Brahmaputra Basin to strengthen resilience and economic growth for the riparian countries. Activities address water-related challenges (flooding and riverbank erosion) and assess economic opportunities, including from HEP and inland navigation. Knowledge exchange activities, study tours, and workshops and assessments conducted to support these issues demonstrate economic benefits from cooperative management and provide a platform for riparian countries to come together and build the case for regional cooperation. Activities under include:

Brahmaputra Basin Modelling and Analysis (India): This activity will develop a comprehensive basin-wide knowledge base and model suite for assessment of water resources considering climate change, basin-scale development pressures, and alternative investment scenarios for the Brahmaputra River Basin. Targeted studies on erosion and the role of embankment failures in floods and inundations will be commissioned. The activity links closely with the World Bank-financed National Hydrology Project (NHP) and the Assam Flood, Erosion and River Management Modernization Project.

Brahmaputra Basin Dialogue: This activity is increasing regional cooperation by providing a platform to discuss shared water challenges and opportunities. It is enhancing trust and working relationships between countries to manage the Brahmaputra, based on country-specific needs and priorities. Building on the recommendations of the Brahmaputra River Symposium 2017, this activity supports national and basin-level meetings and capacity building events, dialogue events, workshops, round tables, and study tours to help stakeholders share ideas, knowledge, and development plans for the Brahmaputra River Basin. 

Sundarbans Landscape Focus Area

The Sundarbans' extreme poverty, frequent natural disasters, and erosion of ecosystem services would be better managed if Bangladesh and India developed a joint policy, and increased collaboration on plans and programs. The aim of the Sundarbans Basin Focus Area, therefore, is to operationalize joint management of the Sundarbans for sustainable development that delivers mutual benefits for the two countries. Activities under the Sundarbans Focus Area include:

Landscape Hydromet Design: This activity supports design of a hydro-met system for the Sundarbans that would include climate stations, tide gauges, wave rider buoys and water quality monitoring. It will develop a strategy for establishing and operating hydro-met and local weather forecasting systems, and analyze bathymetry, salinity intrusion and conservation needs of the freshwater resources. Work has progressing satisfactorily including a data quality review and the preparation of draft reports on geomorphological setting and hydro-met setting.

Targeted Environmental Studies: This activity is undertaking hydrological, ecological and econometric studies for vulnerability assessment of the Sundarbans ecosystem in a changing climate to build momentum for the Sundarbans Joint Platform. It will enhance awareness about climate change risks, promote technical cooperation, build the knowledge base to support joint management, and facilitate planning a holistic approach to the sustainable management of this extremely fragile mangrove forest.

Landscape Scale Joint Environmental Plan: This activity aims to help Bangladesh and India establish appropriate information (collection, collation and dissemination) systems to support preparation and implementation of plans for the development and conservation of the Sundarbans.

Sundarbans Dialogue: This activity aims to build trust and a working relationship between India and Bangladesh to further sustainable management of the Sundarbans based on country-specific needs and landscape-level priorities. The dialogue process (through identification and implementation of specific cooperative activities) aims to create Sundarbans management ownership among government and non-government agencies and to operationalize the 2011 MoU on Sundarbans Cooperation signed between the two countries. The activity supports BISRCI, which in FY17, found significant traction at the highest policymaking levels in both Bangladesh and India, during the Joint Working Group on Conservation of the Sundarbans meeting held July 2016. The activity will continue to build support for the final organizational design of the Joint Platform. World Wildlife Federation, the International Water Association, and the Observer Research Foundation are key partners in this activity.

The Regional Cross-Cutting Focus Area aims to build knowledge and capacity across the region in support of transboundary basin dialogue and cooperation. The strategy has been designed to improve the quality and accessibility of regional water resources data sets and building water resources knowledge, undertake capacity building for shared water resources management and cooperation, and support broad-based regional dialogue to enhance cooperation and management of transboundary waters in South Asia.

Capacity Building – Groundwater Management

This activity is supporting improved groundwater management across South Asia by informing the design of the World Bank-financed National Groundwater Management Improvement Program, and by supporting India’s ongoing dialogue with Pakistan and Bangladesh to reduce reliance on groundwater and to better use the resource as a buffer against droughts.

Capacity Building – Water Quality Monitoring and Analysis

This activity is building capacity to use modern technology to monitor and analyze water quality across South Asia. It provides technical assistance to government agencies to design and implement real-time water quality monitoring networks, and supporting study tours for government officials to share knowledge.

Capacity Building – Transboundary Water Governance

This activity is enhancing the capacity for transboundary waters governance and hydro-diplomacy of current and future water leaders in South Asia. 

Climate Change Risks in Water Resources Management

This activity is compiling and reviewing the knowledge base and tools that could assist governments in South Asia to adapt to emerging climate change challenges in the water sector. It will identify knowledge gaps for potential program support.

Regional Dialogue

This ongoing activity will continue to support diverse opportunities to engage a broad set of stakeholders, including new and past dialogue participants. Major events supported under this activity include the Fulbright Water-Energy-Food Nexus Dialogue, held in Kathmandu in 2015; the South Asia Groundwater Forum held in Jaipur in June 2016; and the International River Symposium held in New Delhi in in September 2016. 

SAWI Phase II Publications: 






SAWI Phase I Publications: