Water Supply and Sanitation: Sector Results Profile

April 11, 2014

Allison Kwesell/World Bank

In World Bank client countries, access to improved water sources increased to 87.5 percent in 2012 from 70.9 percent in 1990, and access to improved sanitation to 57.5 percent from 37.0 percent. To continue delivering sustainable and efficient water and sanitation services, World Bank-financed projects will emphasize financial and environmental sustainability, impacts on poverty and gender, and address climate risk.


Much progress has been made in expanding water and sanitation services in the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) client countries.  Nonetheless, 768 million people worldwide are still without access to improved water sources and 2.5 billion without access to safe sanitation. Only 64 percent of the world’s population now has improved sanitation access, a figure projected to increase only to 67 percent by 2015, well below the 75 percent aim in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

However, even people who have access to water supply and sanitation services often have to cope with poor service provision. Improving utilities’ performance is crucial to ensure continuous service and lower levels of leakage, which affect both the quality and quantity of water available to end-users, the utilities’ revenue and its financial sustainability. Social and financial considerations must also be addressed in the design, planning and implementation of water and sanitation policies and facilities to keep the services affordable for the poorest. Tariff policies and strategic financial planning involving governments, service providers, end-users, and donors are key to ensure sustainable water and sanitation services for all.

Looking forward, these challenges will be exacerbated by growing competition for water resources as urban areas and populations grow, land use changes, and climate variability and change increases. All of these issues are at the core of the water-energy-food nexus.


The following elements define the World Bank’s approach:

Delivering development results. Offering a wide range of financial solutions, the Bank’s operations are tailored to the needs and capacities of specific countries. In fragile and affected states, the Bank together with partners ensures that vital services to the population are maintained or restored. For instance, in the new Republic of South Sudan, through the Bank administered Multi-Donor Trust-Fund for Southern Sudan (FY10-12), over 400,000 direct beneficiaries gained improved water supply and sanitation through the construction and rehabilitation of 586 water points. The project also involved support for establishment of a water committee and institutional strengthening in water management systems. In other countries, and with the ultimate goal to serve more people with sustainable water and sanitation services, Bank support is focused on longer-term efforts to strengthen institutional capacities, including at decentralized level, promote sustainable utilities for better service quality.

Innovative solutions to complex situations. In connecting global knowledge and operational experience, the Bank brings lessons and emerging good practices learned in one country or region to other parts of the world. For example, with support from the Water Partnership Program (WPP), the Bank has championed the innovative Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM) approach that was piloted in seven cities in Latin America over the last three years through investments and technical support. An IUWM approach was also recently used in Azerbaijan. IUWM was the focus of the 2012 World Bank’s flagship report for the water sector.

Analysis and advisory services.  Knowledge production and dissemination and cross-support activities allow a deeper understanding of crosscutting issues such as decentralization, community participation, private sector participation, as well as a renewed focus on countries where water may constrain growth. Key priorities include promoting inclusive, pro-poor solutions and enhancing gender-balanced interventions, sustainable financing at project and sector level and climate change impacts with a view to align the WSS portfolio with the new Bank corporate goals – to end extreme poverty by 2030 and build shared prosperity for the bottom 40%, while ensuring sustainability. For instance, the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), a multi-donor partnership administered by the Bank, gathered evidence from recent projects demonstrating that an enormous market potential remains untapped, representing business opportunities for the private sector, which will help bridge the investment gap, unlock service expansion to the poor and accelerate the water and sanitation targets achievement.

Value for money. The World Bank helps governments improve their monitoring and evaluation systems, in order to enhance transparency and accountability and report on results and progress. For instance, at the utility level, the International Benchmarking Network (IBNET) initiative maintains a database including standardized performance indicators for 2,000 water and sanitation utilities, covering more than a quarter of the world’s urban population in 85 countries, and provides customized technical assistance to utilities. At the government level, public expenditure reviews (PERs) are undertaken to help the Bank’s clients assess the effectiveness of public spending in the water and sanitation sector and prioritize policy options within and across sectors. An assessment of 15 PERs conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa highlighted capacity constraints and incomplete sector reform, opening the door for improvement in future activities.

" During periods of extreme water shortage, I have to walk to a nearby suburb two kilometers away to fetch water at KSh 50 [US60 cents] per 20-litre container "

Isaac Ndirangu

Teenager in Kayole Soweto village outside Nairobi

From 2002 to 2012, Bank-supported projects have provided 123 million people with improved access to water and 5.8 million people with improved access to sanitation. Some examples of results achieved with IDA and IBRD support are listed below:

In Indonesia, the WBG has moved towards a programmatic approach to support the Government’s efforts to achieve WSS MDG targets, by the mainstreaming and scaling-up of a nationwide community-driven approach. It started in 2007 with WSP support to an at-scale rural sanitation pilot program in the Province of East Java, which helped about 1 million people gaining access to improved sanitation and 1,700 communities becoming open defecation free. This success encouraged the government to roll out this strategy nationwide, with support from the WBG Water Supply and Sanitation for Low Income Communities Project (PAMSIMAS III, FY2005-2016). The project has already reached nearly 7,000 villages, directly providing improved water supply to more than 5 million people and improved sanitation facilities to more than 5.5 million.

In Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh City Environmental Sanitation Project (FY2002-2012) provided better sanitation conditions to 1.2 million people, and reduced the risk of flooding for 400,000 people. In this technically complex and challenging environment, the lessons learned from this project are now being applied to other drainage basins in the country, showcasing successful capacity building in urban water management.

In Azerbaijan, a Rural Investment Project (FY2004-2012) expanded access to safe water to the previously worst served 150,000 rural populations through potable water supply systems managed by 71 communities. 30 communities rehabilitated irrigation systems, benefitting approximately 70,000 people. As a result, weighted average productivity increased by 46 percent for potatoes, 40 percent for maize, 38 percent for cotton and 31 percent for wheat.

In Nepal, the Second Rural Water Supply & Sanitation Project (FY2004-2012) improved access to drinking water for more than 1 million people through over 1,400 operational water schemes with community operation and maintenance, all of them with at least three women members. The project also helped decrease the prevalence of diarrheal disease morbidity among young children by over 80 percent in the project area, and mainstream the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Fund Development Board approach in the Nepalese Government's system.

In Haiti, the Rural Water and Sanitation Project (FY2007-2014) funded by the Peace and Security Fund increased access to and use of water supply and sanitation services. The management model piloted under the project has been successful in establishing itself in 9 participating rural communities. The project has also rehabilitated systems to be managed by local water committees or drilled boreholes in another 5 communities, serving drinking water to 52,277 people in total. In a context of very weak capacity, the project succeeded in strengthening the capacity of the implementing agency, local water committees, and professional operators working in cooperation with local governments, leveraging support from the Inter-American Development Bank for similar efforts in other regions. The Government requested the Bank to prepare a new project to build on the results achieved, in the framework of its strategy to eradicate cholera.

In India, a blend IDA/IBRD country, the Karnataka Urban Water Improvement Project (FY2004-2011) was path breaking in demonstrating that 24/7 water delivery could be a reality in urban India. The project supported the installation of water mains with 24/7 supply in five urban demonstration zones, supplying 230,000 people directly, quickly gaining strong satisfaction and support from end-users. The revenue from billing covered and even exceeded the costs for Operations &Maintenance and bulk water delivery—a rarity for India.

In Zambia, the Water Sector Performance Improvement Project (FY2007-2013) improved the technical efficiency and financial sustainability of the Lusaka Water and Sanitation Corporation. At the end of the project, the utility exceeded 100% recovery of operational costs through operational revenues. In Lusaka, it reduced interruptions to water supply from 5000 in 2007 to 333 in mid-2013, reduced energy consumption in water production by 15%, provided 99 standpipes for 5000 people, doubled the number of metered connections and increased collection ratio from 70% to 90%. Overall, the utility is now generating revenues to provide better quality service to more people.

In the ongoing Morocco Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (FY2006-2015), IBRD supports the government program to increase sustainable access to potable water supply in rural areas, while promoting improved wastewater management and hygiene practices. As of end 2013, 171,000 people in the project areas have gained access to potable water supply through 1,025 standpoints, 87% of which with O&M contracted out to local operators. More than 90 percent of villages already provide a financial contribution to the project capital costs for production and conveyance, and an increased number of households now have adequate water quality in household water storage facilities.

Bank Group Contribution

The World Bank Group is the world’s largest external source of finance for water-related interventions. The total IBRD and IDA financing approved for water supply and sanitation in the past five years (FY2009-13) was over US$16.9 billion. Both water supply and sanitation (including wastewater, sewerage, basic sanitation and fecal sludge management, lending and non-lending activities) commitments increased over the years. Notably, focus on basic sanitation appears to be becoming more prominent within WSS projects as indicated by increase in the average share of commitments since FY2009 – the sanitation active portfolio reaching a cumulative amount of US$1.8 billion in FY2013.     

Water supply and sanitation services are of the utmost importance for IDA countries, as improved access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene is highly relevant to achieve all the MDGs, from health and education to food security and environmental sustainability. Between 2002 and 2012, 123 million people in IDA countries gained access to improved water sources, and 5.8 million people were provided with access to improved sanitation facilities. IDA countries have received over US$7 billion of commitment over the last six years (FY2008-13), or 38%, of the overall IBRD-IDA lending for water supply and sanitation services operations. IDA commitments for this period have benefitted mostly to Sub-Saharan African countries (49%), followed by South Asian (23%) and East Asian (18%) countries.


The World Bank is a leading contributor to the international dialogue on water and sanitation and is widely acknowledged for its ability to leverage funding.  At country level, it works with clients and other donors and stakeholders to ensure efforts are aligned to national development priorities and led by national authorities. For instance, in Tanzania, the Water Sector Development Program has adopted a sector wide approach program to support the government’s poverty alleviation strategy through improved sector governance and increased access to safe drinking and sanitation services. The client’s strong financial and institutional commitment, coupled with an IDA investment of US$200 million helped leverage investments from several bilateral donors and the African Development Bank, for a total of US$1,300 million, giving access to improved water to over 4 million people in rural areas and 2.7 million in urban areas and providing over 24,000 household latrines, in addition to capacity strengthening and institutional reforms in water resources management as well.

At regional and global level, the Bank has engaged in multi-stakeholder global initiatives to share knowledge and build partnerships, such as the 6th World Water Forum in March 2012 with a focus on access to water for all or finance for water, UN-led events on water cooperation in 2013 and on water and energy in 2014, and other conferences such as the International Water Association Congress in October 2013 in Kenya to promote the Integrated Urban Water Management approach. It also builds on its convening power to support global advocacy on sanitation, with an ongoing campaign targeting high level decision makers to accelerating access to sanitation with a goal to end open defecation by 2025 and reach sanitation for all by 2030, and will host the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership High Level Meeting in Washington in April 2014, with the aim to convince Ministers of Finance that smart investments in water pay back.  

Through several multi-donor trust funds and alliances hosted by the Bank, including the Water Partnership Program (WPP) and the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP), as well as the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) and the Global Partnership on Output-Based Aid (GPOBA), the Bank partners with governments, donors and other stakeholders including United Nations agencies to ensure country ownership and understand bottlenecks and drivers for progress in each client country. 

Moving Forward

The Bank’s Water Vision, aligned with the new corporate goals – to end extreme poverty by 2030 and build shared prosperity for the bottom 40%, while ensuring sustainability – provides strategic guidance to ensure that the Bank’s Water Practice activities prepare client countries for the future in the best possible way. The Vision focuses on how to work increasingly across sectors, both in investments and through analytical and advisory services, and ensure that all relevant projects address water sustainability issues on a holistic basis.

Water is essential for human health and human settlements, food and agriculture, energy and industry, and the environment. All future water investments will systematically consider how they address financial and environmental sustainability, poverty, gender, and climate risk. The Bank will aim to be a convener on problems of global significance, to test and implement solutions adapted to local contexts in order to ensure sustainable access to water supply and sanitation for all.


In early 2012, the Kenya government received an additional US$300 million credit from the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) to increase access to water and sanitation services in fast-growing cities and towns, including Nairobi. In addition, the World Bank’s WSP initiated a social connections program to help extend access to the poorest. In the outskirts of Nairobi, almost two-thirds of the city’s four million people live in informal settlements. Like other low-income settlements, Kayole Soweto village, home to 90,000 residents, is sparsely served by a piped water network and people rely on water kiosks and boreholes, paying 10 times the tariff charged by the Water Utility for connected clients. For Isaac Ndirangu, 18, a high school student, the responsibility of fetching water falls on him, as he is the eldest sibling in a household of four. “During periods of extreme water shortage, I have to walk to a nearby suburb two kilometers away to fetch water at KSh 50 (US60 cents) per 20-litre container,”Isaac says. The social program piloted an innovative financing scheme helping households to borrow, through micro-loans, the money needed for the initial cost of installing a metered stand pipe within their residential compound. Upon connection to the piped water network, the beneficiaries have to pay off the loan in installments and are entitled to a 50 percent rebate through an output subsidy from the World Bank’s Global Partnership on Output-based Aid. Now, Isaac’s family can get affordable piped water all year long from a standpipe just down the street from the family home.

123 million
people with improved access to water and 5.8 million people with improved access to sanitation through Bank-supported projects between 2002 and 2012