Skip to Main Navigation
  • Today, most countries are placing unprecedented pressure on water resources. The global population is growing fast, and estimates show that with current practices, the world will face a 40% shortfall between forecast demand and available supply of water by 2030. Furthermore, chronic water scarcity, hydrological uncertainty, and extreme weather events (floods and droughts) are perceived as some of the biggest threats to global prosperity and stability. Acknowledgment of the role that water scarcity and drought are playing in aggravating fragility and conflict is increasing.

    Feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 60% increase in agricultural production, (which consumes 70% of the resource today), and a 15% increase in water withdrawals. Besides this increasing demand, the resource is already scarce in many parts of the world. Estimates indicate that 40% of the world population live in water scarce areas, and approximately ¼ of world’s GDP is exposed to this challenge. By 2025, about 1.8 billion people will be living in regions or countries with absolute water scarcity. Water security is a major – and often growing –challenge for many countries today.

    Climate change will worsen the situation by altering hydrological cycles, making water more unpredictable and increasing the frequency and intensity of floods and droughts. The roughly 1 billion people living in monsoonal basins and the 500 million people living in deltas are especially vulnerable.  Flood damages are estimated in $120 billion per year (only from property damage), and droughts pose, among others, constraints to the rural poor, highly dependent on rainfall variability for subsistence. 

    The fragmentation of this resource also constrains water security. There are 276 transboundary basins, shared by 148 countries, which account for 60% of the global freshwater flow. Similarly, 300 aquifers systems are transboundary in nature, meaning 2 billion people worldwide are dependent on groundwater. The challenges of fragmentation are often replicated at the national scale, meaning cooperation is needed to achieve optimal water resources management and development solutions for all riparians. To deal with these complex and interlinked water challenges, countries will need to improve the way they manage their water resources and associated services.

    To strengthen water security against this backdrop of increasing demand, water scarcity, growing uncertainty, greater extremes, and fragmentation challenges, clients will need to invest in institutional strengthening, information management, and (natural and man-made) infrastructure development. Institutional tools such as legal and regulatory frameworks, water pricing, and incentives are needed to better allocate, regulate, and conserve water resources. Information systems are needed for resource monitoring, decision making under uncertainty, systems analyses, and hydro-meteorological forecast and warning. Investments in innovative technologies for enhancing productivity, conserving and protecting resources, recycling storm water and wastewater, and developing non-conventional water sources should be explored in addition to seeking opportunities for enhanced water storage, including aquifer recharge and recovery. Ensuring the rapid dissemination and appropriate adaptation or application of these advances will be a key to strengthening global water security.

    Last Updated: Sep 20, 2017

  • The World Bank is committed to assisting countries meet their economic growth and poverty reduction targets based on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Particularly, water resource management is tackled in SDG 6.5, but other SDGs and targets require water resource management for their achievement.  Accordingly, the Bank has a major interest in helping countries achieve water security through sound and robust water resource management.

    Water security is the goal of water resources management. For a rapidly growing and urbanizing global population, against a backdrop of increasing climatic and non-climatic uncertainties, it is not possible to 'predict and plan' a single path to water security. To strengthen water security we need to build capacity, adaptability, and resilience for the future planning and management of water resources.

    Water Resources Management (WRM) is the process of planning, developing, and managing water resources, in terms of both water quantity and quality, across all water uses. It includes the institutions, infrastructure, incentives, and information systems that support and guide water management. Water resources management seeks to harness the benefits of water by ensuring there is sufficient water of adequate quality for drinking water and sanitation services, food production, energy generation, inland water transport, and water-based recreational, as well as sustaining healthy water-dependent ecosystems and protecting the aesthetic and spiritual values of lakes, rivers, and estuaries. Water resource management also entails managing water-related risks, including floods, drought, and contamination. The complexity of relationships between water and households, economies, and ecosystems, requires integrated management that accounts for the synergies and tradeoffs of water's great number uses and values.

    Water security is achieved when water's productive potential is leveraged and its destructive potential is managed. Water security differs from concepts of food security or energy security because the challenge is not only one of securing adequate resource provision – but also of mitigating the hazards that water presents where it is not well managed. Water security reflects the actions that can or have been taken to ensure sustainable water resource use, to deliver reliable water services, and to manage and mitigate water-related risks. Water security suggests a dynamic construct that goes beyond single-issue goals such as water scarcity, pollution, or access to water and sanitation, to think more broadly about societies' expectations, choices, and achievements with respect to water management. It is a dynamic policy goal, which changes as societies' values and economic well-being evolve, and as exposure to and societies' tolerance of water-related risks change. It must contend with issues of equity.

    The Water Security and Integrated Water Resources Management Global Solutions Group (GSG) supports the Bank's analytical, advisory, and operational engagements to help clients achieve their goals of water security.  Achieving water security in the context of growing water scarcity, greater unpredictability, degrading water quality and aquatic ecosystems, and more frequent droughts and floods, will require a more integrated and longer-term approach to water management. Key areas of focus will be ensuring sustainability of water resources, building climate resilience, and strengthening integrated management to achieve the Global Practice's (GP) goals and the SDGs. The GSG will work with a multiple GPs and Cross Cutting Solutions Areas (CCSAs) directly through water resources management or multi-sectoral projects and indirectly through agriculture, energy, environment, climate, or urban projects. 

    Last Updated: Sep 20, 2017

  • Robust water resource management solutions to complex water issues incorporate cutting-edge knowledge and innovation, which are integrated into water projects to strengthen their impact. New knowledge that draws on the World Bank Group’s global experiences, as well as partner expertise, are filling global knowledge gaps and transforming the design of water investment projects to deliver results. Multi-year, programmatic engagements in strategic areas are designed to make dramatic economic improvements in the long term and improve the livelihoods of millions of the world’s poorest people.

    The Water Security Diagnostic Tool is an analytical instrument to examine the status and trends related to water resources, water services, and water-related risks, including climate change, transboundary waters, and virtual water trade. The tool helps countries to determine if and to what extent water-related factors impact people, the economy, and the environment, and determine if and to what extent water-related factors provide opportunities for development and well-being.

    The World Bank is proactively working to address new global challenges, by adapting its operations to reach those that most need it today.

    • Under International Development Association (IDA) 18 the Bank has committed to doubling its support to fragile states. A global framework report is being completed to guide the Water Global Practice effort in Fragility, Conflict, and Violence. A new report, Turbulent Waters: Pursuing Water Security in Fragile Contexts, describes what happens when institutions in fragile countries fail to manage the range of challenges related to water

    Working across sectors is ensuring that water considerations are addressed in energy, the environment, agriculture, urban and rural development, and within new global challenges.

    • For example, the Thirsty Energy initiative, is addressing the world’s increasing water and energy challenges by helping countries better integrate water and energy resource planning. In South Africa, for example, a country with complex water issues and large energy expansion plans, the Bank is working with partners to incorporate economic data about water in energy optimization tools. In China, Thirsty Energy is helping to incorporate potential water constraints in the country’s energy plan.
    • Working toward environmental sustainability in Vietnam, the Bank is supporting Global Environment Fund Mekong Delta Integrated Climate Resilience and Sustainable Livelihoods Project. Growing investments within the delta and  upstream developments in the Mekong Basin, coupled with climate change, make the Mekong Delta one of the most vulnerable system to the impacts of climate change. To make the region more resilient to climate change, there is an increasing demand for improved research and innovation to transition from the traditional practices and livelihoods to ones that are more climate-resilient, and contribute to climate change mitigation. The project aims at strengthening research and innovation capacity of research institutions and communities for developing and applying climate-smart and climate-resilient natural resources management practices in selected provinces in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta.

    The Bank also supports transformational engagements and initiatives, which seek to optimize spatial, green, and co-benefits among water and other infrastructure sectors.

    • The Mozambique Water Resources Development project, for example, combines multi-purpose use of water and governance components to enhance the benefits of the Corumana Dam.
    • To scale up consideration of nature based infrastructure (NBI), the Bank will establish a knowledge base to build the case for using the NBI approach, and support Bank operations to build with nature in disaster risk management, environment, and water management projects. 

    A large proportion of World Bank-funded water resources management projects include institutional and policy components.

    • In Peru, the Integrated Water Resource Management Project (IWRM) aims at strengthening the capacity of targeted water resources management related institutions to plan, monitor and manage water resources at the national level and in 10 selected river basins in Peru.
    • The “Approaches to Water Re-Allocation and Lessons Learned” knowledge piece will empirically address re-allocation approaches. The piece will contribute to the discussion on the effectiveness of demand/supply mechanisms seen in re-allocation practices, as well as other allocative and entitlement aspects of the overall water resources management system.

    With 263 international rivers in the world, support for cooperative transboundary water management can make an important contribution towards improving the efficient and equitable management of water resources. The Bank supports transboundary waters through Multi-Donor Trust Funds (MDTF), knowledge pieces, and its lending portfolio:

    • Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program (CAEWDP) is a MDTF administered by the World Bank and financed by the European Commission, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, USAID, and DFID. The MDTF is building energy and water security by leveraging the benefits of enhanced cooperation in Central Asia, including all five Central Asian countries plus Afghanistan.
    • The Cooperation for International Waters in Africa (CIWA) is a MDTF administered by the World Bank and financed by Denmark, European Commission, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The trust fund finances upstream work in African International Rivers, 75% of which go to four priority basins – Nile, Niger, Volta, and Zambezi.
    •  The South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI) is a MDTF administered by the World Bank and financed by the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia, and Norway in South Asia. The trust fund provides recipient executed grants to initiatives in the major Himalayan River systems – the Indus, the Ganges, and the Brahmaputra.
    • In the Mekong River Basin, the Bank is supporting riparian states such as Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Vietnam in strengthening their integrated water resource management and disaster risk management capacities, cooperating closely with the basin-wide Mekong River Commission.
    • The Bank is also investing in knowledge pieces such as ROTE (Retooling Operations with Transboundary Impacts) to identify tools that promote riparian country coordination aimed at mitigating transboundary harm and leveraging benefits of investments in transboundary basins.

    The Bank follows an integrated flood management agenda, which includes well-functioning early warning systems, infrastructure, and institutional arrangements for coordinated action to address increased variability and changes to runoff and flooding patterns.

    • In Madagascar, the Bank is investing in improving the living conditions of the poor in selected low-income neighborhoods of Greater Antananarivo through enhancing basic service delivery and flood resilience; and to strengthen the Government’s capacity for integrated urban management and effective response to eligible crises and emergencies.
    • In Argentina, the Bank is enhancing flood protection and strengthening the capacity of the responsible institutions for integrated water resources monitoring and management in the Salado River Basin
    • In Poland, the Bank has been engaged since 2007, assisting to build resilient flood protection infrastructure and information systems for the Odra and Vistula basins.

    Similarly, water scarcity is also addressed in:  

    • The Water Scarce Cities Initiative, initially focusing on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, seeking to bolster the adoption of integrated approaches to managing water resources and service delivery in water scarce cities as the basis for water security and climate resilience.
    • Small Island States. The challenges and innovations of water management in small island states can be particularly vivid. These countries warrant particular attention not only because they are often neglected, but also because they provide an opportunity to focus on intensive reuse and non-conventional water resources development, which will be increasingly important knowledge for implementation in megacities and extremely water scarce settings. A scoping study is proposed on the state-of-the-art and the Bank’s portfolio.

    Sustainable groundwater management is also a priority of the World Bank, and central to water security in many countries.

    • Recognizing that groundwater is being depleted faster than it is replenished in many areas, the World Bank has collaborated with key global partners through years of consultations to develop a framework for groundwater governance. The 2030 Vision and Global Framework for Action represents a bold call for collectively responsible action among governments and the global community to ensure sustainable use of groundwater.

    The primary challenge of achieving water security is the ability to make decisions that sufficiently account for uncertainties and for the needs of the future. This becomes particularly important in water projects that involve investments in long-lived infrastructure which must deliver benefits for many generations to come.

    Last Updated: Sep 20, 2017

  • Partners

    We partner with other institutions to enhance the quality of our work, and to build up the Global Development Agenda. Our partners include the Rockefeller Foundation, the High Level Panel on Water (HLPW), Oxford University, International Water Management Institute (IWMI), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), World Resources Institute (WRI), among others.  Examples of these shared initiatives are:

    Last Updated: Sep 20, 2017


VIDEO Jun 05, 2017

With or Without Water

Additional Resources


For general inquiries, please contact:
World Bank Group Water Global Practice
For media inquiries, please contact:
Meriem Gray