South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI)

The South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI) is a multi-donor trust fund supported by the United Kingdom, Australia, and Norway, and administered by the World Bank. 

SAWI supports a rich portfolio of activities to increase regional cooperation in managing major Himalayan river systems to deliver sustainable, fair, and inclusive development and climate resilience. SAWI aims 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.

In the context of water resources planning and management, the program promotes poverty alleviation, economic development, gender inclusion, and climate change adaptation.

SAWI works in three river basins (Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra) and one landscape (Sundarbans). Together, those focus areas span seven countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. SAWI also is involved in regional cross-cutting work that supports non-basin specific activities such as groundwater management.


Indus Basin

The Indus Basin is one of the most vulnerable river basins, with complex water challenges, glacier dependency, and growing per capita water scarcity.

SAWI activities focus on efforts where client demand is clear. One is identifying the need for and providing technical assistance at the national level to enhance transboundary (including inter-provincial boundaries) water resources management capacity. A second area is SAWI's continued support for the Indus Basin dialogue, which began in 2013, and developing joint research activities about climate change impact in the basin. 


Ganges Basin

SAWI aims to improve Ganges Basin management and development to support economic growth and improve resilience to climate variability and change.

The Ganges work supports improved water resources management nationally and promotes technical dialogue among countries in the basin as well as capacity building. These connected efforts build confidence in transboundary engagement and increase trust through knowledge and information exchanges. For example, in India, work to improve data sharing between the central government and the states is a necessary precursor to broader public and international transparency.

SAWI supports river basin planning in Nepal through accelerating development of hydropower, with associated work on watershed management for sediment control. In India, SAWI supports river cleanup and environmental flows for healthy rivers, cross-sectoral water allocation, and inland navigation.

Other Ganges Basin work supports the design and implementation of the World Bank-financed National Hydrology Project in India that includes more open data access and sharing, in addition to informing other Bank lending.

SAWI also is involved in operationalizing flood forecasting in the Ganges Basin with activities in the Baghmati sub-basin to build technical competence and improve forecasting skill, and to strengthen Bihar and Nepal cooperation in flood management. The work will guide larger and longer-term efforts in flood forecasting planned under the National Hydrology Project.


Brahmaputra Basin 

SAWI's Brahmaputra Basin work promotes shared understanding and management of the basin to strengthen resilience and economic growth.

Activities address flooding and riverbank erosion, and assess economic opportunities such as hydroelectric power and inland navigation. SAWI-sponsored knowledge exchange activities, study tours, and workshops and assessments provide a platform for basin countries to build the case for regional cooperation that leads to economic benefits.

The program's Pillar 1 activities aim to develop a shared knowledge base for the Brahmaputra Basin to support investment planning and decision-making. This includes assessments and modeling, decision support tools to help policymakers make informed, analysis-driven decisions, and capacity building activities in government agencies to operationalize these tools. The knowledge base will fill critical knowledge gaps and support basin-wide river management, investment planning at a national or basin level, adaptive management in deltas, flood and sediment management, and exploring cross-sector opportunities such as hydropower and navigation.

SAWI's Pillar 2 activities focus on building community resilience to water and climate-related risks. An adaptive management framework is used to strengthen countries’ capacity to respond and adapt to changes in the basin. Activities include (1) improvements in investments and instruments, including early warning systems and flood mitigation measures; (2) improving the understanding of river morphology and sedimentation and erosion trends; and (3) capacity building, training and knowledge exchange activities, particularly focused on flood and erosion management.

Pillar 3 provides a platform for Brahmaputra Basin countries to discuss challenges and promote collaboration through study tours, workshops, and conferences. The overarching aim is to improve cooperation through opportunities to engage and discuss common challenges.

Sundarbans Landscape 


Challenges in the Sundarbans, a vast wetlands shared by Bangladesh and India, include extreme poverty, frequent natural disasters, and erosion of ecosystem services. The fragile Sundarbans could be better managed if both countries agreed on a joint conservation and development policy, and collaborated more on plans and programs.

SAWI's Sundarbans work supports implementation of bilateral agreements for collaboration on international waters, information sharing, disaster management and climate change, and country actions based on a landscape perspective. 

SAWI is developing a stronger analytical basis to help governments move toward integrated planning and management. Bilateral dialogue and information exchange support the analytical work and build technical capacity. SAWI also supports advocacy work to generate public support for cooperation, governance for joint planning, and shared policies for conservation and sustainable development.


Blogs and feature stories about our Sundarbans work:

Increasing salinity in a changing climate likely to alter Sundarban’s ecosystem

Climate change drives up river salinity in Bangladesh

When cyclones strike: Using mangroves to protect coastal areas

Protection from cyclones: Benefits of integrating green and gray infrastructure

Bangladesh: Can mangroves mitigate catastrophic consequences of cyclone-induced storm surges?

Will availability of fish decline in Sundarbans with climate change? (in Bengali language)

May our children always have fish and rice (in Bengali language)


The Bangladesh India Sundarban Region Cooperation Initiative (BISRCI), supported by the World Bank, has a web site with news and information generated by EnGIO and The Third Pole. 

In addition to activities in the three major river basins and the Sundarbans, SAWI also has regional cross-cutting work to build knowledge, capacity, and transboundary basin dialogue and cooperation.

SAWI's strategy is to improve the quality and accessibility of regional water resources datasets. The program also aims to build  water resources knowledge and capacity for shared water resources management, and to support broad-based regional dialogue to enhance transboundary waters cooperation in South Asia.


SAWI-funded Knowledge Products

The South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI) funds technical assistance and analytical work that strengthen awareness about regional water issues, enhance water management, support dialogue to build trust among stakeholders, and inform related World Bank investments. Reports, briefs, and other products funded by SAWI are listed below.


Indus River Basin


Ganges River Basin


Brahmaputra River Basin




Groundwater Management


Flood Risks


Regional Work


Related research (the following work paved the way for SAWI-funded research about the Sundarbans and was supported by the Knowledge for Change trust fund and the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund)