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  • Water touches every aspect of development and it links with nearly every Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). It drives economic growth, supports healthy ecosystems, and is essential and fundamental for life itself.

    Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities. Gaps in access to water supply and sanitation, growing populations, more water-intensive patterns of growth, increasing rainfall variability, and pollution are combining in many places to make water one of the greatest risks to economic progress, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

    The consequences of such stress are local, national, transboundary, regional, and global in today’s interconnected and rapidly changing world. Consequences will be disproportionately felt by the poorest and most vulnerable.

    Safely managed water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services are an essential part of preventing and protecting human health during infectious disease outbreaks, including the current COVID-19 pandemic. According to a WHO/UNICEF technical brief on WASH and waste management for COVID-19:

    • Frequent and proper hand hygiene is one of the most important measures that can be used to prevent infection with the COVID-19 virus. WASH services should enable more frequent and regular hand hygiene by improving facilities and using proven behavior change techniques. 

    • WHO guidance on the safe management of drinking water and sanitation services applies to the COVID-19 outbreak. Measures that go above and beyond these recommendations are not needed. 

    • Many co-benefits will be realized by safely managing WASH services and applying good hygiene practices. Such efforts will prevent other infectious diseases, which cause millions of deaths each year.

    Climate change expresses itself through water.  9 out of 10 natural disasters are water-related. Water-related climate risks cascade through food, energy, urban and environmental systems. If we are to achieve climate and development goals, water must be at the core of adaptation strategies.

    To guide effective climate change adaptation, activities should reflect the importance of water management for reducing vulnerability and building climate resilience, prioritizing the following actions:

    • Expand beyond traditional integrated water resources management (IWRM). Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also depend on access to reliable water resources, as all mitigation actions need water to succeed.
    • Promote investment and solutions that incorporate management of ‘natural infrastructure’ – the ecosystem services provided by healthy watersheds and coasts – and their benefits for climate-resilient development of the food and energy sectors.
    • Support actions at scale to build climate resilience by combining watershed management, sustainable infrastructure, and empowerment and learning through adaptive institutions.

    Economic growth is a ‘thirsty business.’ Water is a vital factor of production, so diminishing water supplies translates into slower growth. Some regions could see their growth rates decline by as much as 6 percent of GDP by 2050 as a result of water-related losses in agriculture, health, income and prosperity. Ensuring a sufficient and constant supply of water under increasing scarcity is essential to achieving global poverty alleviation goals.

    • Optimizing the use of water through better planning and incentives will help to improve welfare and increase economic growth. Economic instruments such as water permits and prices, if well implemented and enforced, can improve stewardship of water resources.
    • Expanding water supply and availability where and if appropriate is vital. This includes investments in water storage, water reuse and recycling and, where viable, desalinization. These interventions must be accompanied by policies to promote water efficiency and improve water allocation.
    • “Water proofing” economies to limit the impact of extremes and uncertainties is also among the top priorities. Better urban planning, expanding crop insurance to protect farmers, and citizen engagement will build resilience and minimize economic impacts of adverse events.

    Water is crucial in determining whether the world will achieve the SDGs. The world needs a fundamental shift in how it understands, values and manages water.

    • Understanding Water means making evidence-based decisions about water using strengthened water data.
    • Valuing Water means recognizing the values that societies accord to water and its uses, taking these into account in political and business decisions including decisions about appropriately pricing water and sanitation services.
    • Manage Water means pursuing integrated approaches to water resource management across local, national, and regional levels.

    Smart investments in clean water and sanitation prevent needless deaths and transforms lives. Healthier children become healthier adults who contribute more to the economy. This principle is at the core of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project.

    Sanitation is critical to health, economic growth and the environment. Investing in sanitation is about preventing needless deaths, investing in people and transforming lives. 297,000 children under 5 years die due to diarrhea linked to inadequate WASH. Poor sanitation and contaminated water are also linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

    Political commitment and leadership, technological innovations, and breakthroughs in service delivery and financing models are all needed to support governments to deliver on their commitment to SDG 6.2 – achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030.

    Learn more about the different business lines of the water sector in these infographics: 

    Last Updated: Mar 01, 2021

  • In response to the water and sanitation crisis, the World Bank Water Global Practice (Water GP) envisions “A Water-Secure World for All.” The SDGs provide an opportunity for the World Bank Group and development partners to work together in support of this vision.

    And, in 2019, the Water GP launched its new Strategic Action Plan. Our vision remains a Water Secure World for All, to be delivered through three inter-related pillars: (1) sustain water resources, (2) deliver services, and (3) build resilience. The World Bank has played a key role in driving delivery when it comes to the SDGs. We continue to implement programs and projects across the world, convene a wide range of actors to achieve cross-sectoral solutions, and share our data, knowledge and know-how with others in service of a water-secure world for all.

    With a portfolio of water investments of almost US$30 billion and a staff of hundreds of water experts across the world, the Water GP is uniquely positioned to address these themes, developing and sharing global knowledge while amplifying the impact of lending through technical assistance on the ground.

    The World Bank has identified five priority themes to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal in the water sector (SDG 6). To address the challenges of increasing water scarcity and variability and to ensure that results are maintained in the future, a renewed focus on the multiple facets of resilience and sustainability is needed. However, without new efforts to improve inclusion, many will still be unable to reap the benefits of water and will be disproportionately impacted by water-related disasters.

    Helping countries achieve greater sustainability and inclusion in the water sector requires investment in institutions, to complement the traditional focus on building infrastructure. Building the institutions and infrastructure needed for universal access and more sustainable water management practices also demands a vast increase in financing for the water sector, which can only be achieved by improving financial viability and leveraging donor funding to tap other sources of finance.

    These five priority themes form the core of a partnership for a water-secure world, supported by the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP). This is a Multi-Donor Trust Fund, launched in 2017 that enables the Water GP to address the five themes across its global portfolio.

    To more effectively bring critical resources to the front lines, the GWSP has been designed as a Water GP core asset—its “think-tank”—which expands and deepens the impact of its lending program.

    In 2018, the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) — a public-private-civil society partnership — became part of the Water GP family. 2030 WRG supports government-accelerated reforms with the aim of ensuring sustainable water resources management for long-term development and economic growth.

    To respond to COVID-19, action in the WASH sector is critical for both containing the virus and lowering its immediate impact and aftermath. Three priority areas are identified as part of the emergency response:

    1. MedicalSafe WASH services in health care facilities (HCFs) to deliver quality health services; protect patients, health workers, and staff; and to prevent further transmission. The WASH in Health Care Facilities Global Baseline Report (JMP, 2019) highlighted that one in four HCFs lacks basic water service (affecting more than 900 million people), one in five HCFs has no sanitation service (affecting about 1.5 billion people), and one in six HCFs has no hygiene service. During an infectious disease outbreak, services should meet minimum quality standards and should be separated for infected vs. non-infected patients. Support should ensure services are not disrupted and products such as soap and alcohol-based hand rubs are available. These services should also be available in temporary HCFs and quarantine sites. 

    2. Sign LanguageImproving handwashing behavior, food hygiene, and safe water practices. Materials for handwashing and hygiene may include provision of fixed and portable handwashing facilities, purchase of soap and alcohol-based hand rubs, provision of water supplies for handwashing, and point of use water treatment. Schools, workplaces, markets, transport stations, and other areas where people gather all require easy access to handwashing facilities and water and soap for handwashing. Proven behavior change techniques can help increase the frequency and improve the practice of critical hygiene behaviors. Resources such as the Global Handwashing Partnership can be tapped to mobilize private, public, and civil society actors to support developing messaging and materials to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks in country. 

    3. Emergency support to secure and extend water and sanitation service provision, including:

    • SinkRapid and low-cost water service and sanitation provision for communities, health care facilities, and schools is critical to enable handwashing, hygiene, and disinfection. According to UN Habitat, COVID-19 will hit the world’s most vulnerable people the most, many of whom live in informal settlements and rural community settings. Providing quick, just-in-time community water access points/water kiosks (including provision of soap) in unserved urban and rural areas, and for unserved HCFs and schools is critical. This could include: (i) provision and operation of compact water treatment plants; (ii) construction and operation of water points and sanitation facilities to deliver water in strategic urban or rural points; and/or (iii) provision and operation of trucks for water delivery (bottled, sachets) and water tankers, including adequate water storage to service operators.

    • Support to water supply and sanitation (WSS) service providers to prepare emergency plans and ensure continuity of service delivery through inter alia: provision of water treatment chemicals and spare parts, availability of fuel for pumps and treatment, maintaining staffing levels, providing protective equipment for utility staff and salary supplements to compensate for the additional work-loads.

    Last Updated: Apr 09, 2020

  • In FY16-18, the World Bank contributed to providing more than 47 million people with access to an improved water source and provided more than 24 million people with access to improved sanitation facilities. Below are some specific results from the World Bank-supported projects in countries.

    India: Andhra Pradesh and Telangana State Community Based Management

    The World Bank-supported Andhra Pradesh and Telangana State Community Based Management (APCBTM) project in India benefitted 605,052 people by strengthening the capac­ity of community-based institutions. The project developed and equipped 116,164 hectares (ha) of land with irrigation and drain­age services. In addition, the project developed and rehabilitated tank irrigation infrastructure, supported farmers to improve their productivity, and increased cropping intensity by over 30%.

    China: Water Conservation Project II

    The Water Conservation Project II tackled water scarcity issues through a series of interlinked operations in the Chinese prov­inces of Hebei, Shanxi, and Ningxia – three of the most wa­ter-scarce provinces in the Northern region of the country. To reduce net water consumption, the project reduced water with­drawal for irrigated agriculture in Ningxia and Shanxi Provinces, and groundwater overdraft in Hebei Province. In addition, the project also provided incentives to farmers to lower the agricul­tural production costs and increase the agricultural yield and val­ue in all three of those provinces. Water withdrawal in Ningxia was reduced by 22.67 million cubic meters (MCM) per year; groundwater overdraft in Hebei was reduced by 16.52 MCM per year; groundwater withdrawal in Shanxi was reduced by 5.80 MCM per year. New or improved irrigation and drainage services reached 594,200 beneficiaries, of whom 48 percent are women. Altogether, 290 WUAs in the three provinces have been created or strengthened by the project, comprising over 800 staff and more than 760,000 members (around half are women).

    Tajikistan: The Second Public Employment for Sustainable Agriculture and Water Resources Management Project

    The Second Public Employment for Sustainable Agriculture and Water Resources Management Project is helping address critical issues in irrigation and water resource management with the overall goal of improving food security for Tajikistan’s most vulnerable communities. Thanks to the project, 6,525 km of an on-farm irrigation network have been manually cleaned, which created income opportunities for almost 24,000 citizens. In addition, irrigation and drainage services have been improved on almost 190,000 ha of arable land. 580 km of secondary and tertiary irrigation canals have been manually cleaned, 44 km of irrigation and drainage canals have been rehabilitated, three major pumping stations have been restored, and riverbank reinforcement works have been completed. Consequently, irrigation has been improved in 920 ha of land.

    North Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment Project

    In Gaza, despite the extremely volatile environment, the long-awaited construction of the new North Gaza Wastewater Treatment Plant is now complete and ready for operation, thanks to the World Bank-supported North Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment (NGEST) Project. It will provide a long-term, sustainable wastewater management solution for over 400,000 Gazan citizens. The project also helped address the immediate threat to the 52,000 inhabitants living adjacent to the Beit Lahia sewage lakes that flooded the nearby village of Um Al Nasser, killing five, causing countless injuries, and displacing approximately 2,000 people.

    Panama: The Metro Water and Sanitation Improvement Project

    The Panama Metro Water and Sanitation Improvement Project helped improved the quality of water service for 80,382 beneficiaries in Colón and provided the National Water and Sewer Agency with a replicable model, using performance-based contracts, for effectively piloting and implementing new methods of doing business. The project increased water supply continuity from 13 percent in 2014 to 71 percent in 2017. The quality of service was also significantly improved. The project supported the extension of piped water to 2,115 households and rehabilitated water connections for 12,500 households.

    Burkina Faso: The Urban Water Sector Project 

    Significant results have been achieved through the IDA financed Urban Water Sector Project (UWSP: 2009–2018): about 700,000 people have gained access to improved water supply; about 440,000 people have gained access to improved sanitation; and about 120,000 students have benefited from improved school sanitation. And the utility’s performance has dramatically improved: ONEA (Office National de l’Eau et de l’Assainissement), Burkina’s state-owned urban water and sanitation utility, is today ranked among the top performing water utilities in Sub-Saharan Africa, with full recovery through revenues of operation and maintenance cost and debt service and partial contribution to capital expenditures, with a staff productivity of 2.9 staff per 1000 connections and a bill collection ratio of 97.7 percent. These achievements, along with the strengthening of the ONEA’s governance, has contributed to paving the way for opportunities to tap into commercial capital and private engagement, for the expansion of needed investments required to respond to increasing water scarcity and fast urbanization.

    Last Updated: Apr 10, 2019



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Trust-Funded Programs

Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP)

The GWSP supports client governments to achieve the water-related SDGs through innovative global knowledge and country-level support.


2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG)

2030 WRG helps countries achieve water security by 2030 by facilitating collective action on water between government, the private sector, and civil society.

Cooperation in International Waters in Africa (CIWA)

The CIWA assists riparian governments in Sub-Saharan Africa in cooperative water resources management and development.

South Asia Water Initiative

The SAWI aims to increase regional cooperation in the management of the major Himalayan river systems in South Asia.

Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program

The CAEWDP builds energy & water security by leveraging enhanced cooperation in all five Central Asian countries plus Afghanistan.

Additional Resources


World Bank Group Water Global Practice