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  • Water is at the center of economic and social development; it is vital to maintain health, grow food, manage the environment, and create jobs. Despite water’s importance, over 663 million people in the world still lack access to improved drinking water sources.

    However, increasing access is not enough. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Water and Sanitation proposes a broader agenda: By 2030, universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all, and access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. This new goal reflects the growing importance of water and sanitation as a human right. Additional targets that go beyond access are also being considered, such as improving water quality by reducing pollution, and substantially increasing water-use efficiency.

    The scale of the challenge is large and becoming more complex. Population and economic growth are pushing the limits of the world’s finite water resources. In some cases water scarcity is already constraining economic growth. Lack of access to improved water supply and sanitation services impose huge costs on society, and especially for the poor. Even where access exists, services have been characterized for decades by poor management, inadequate financing and low levels of investment. Very few water or wastewater utilities in the developing world recover adequate operation and maintenance costs from customers and only a handful recovers debt service and depreciation. Despite the importance of water for development, in a recent sample of 37 countries from Africa, 82% of governments indicated that financing was insufficient to reach national targets for drinking water. The uncertainties brought about by political economy and climate change only add to this sector’s already considerable challenges. Not surprisingly, world leaders now rank water as one of their top critical issues.

    The World Bank Group (WBG) — the largest multilateral source of financing for water supply and sanitation (WSS) in developing countries — currently supervises a WSS lending portfolio of approximately US$13.5 billion which represents more than half of all its water-related operations.

    Last Updated: Jun 23, 2017

  • The World Bank Group (WBG) has been addressing water issues globally with large-scale finance and technical assistance to countries. 

    WSS has traditionally been a very large part of the water portfolio, and currently accounts for about 60% of the total portfolio, with about one-third of the portfolio devoted to urban water supply and 24% on rural water supply. 

    WBG water supply projects take a multi-sector and integrated approach across three broad areas:

    1. Governance, the State and Citizen Engagement: the framework of behavior change, institutions, policies, and incentives that support or undermine achievement of Sustainable Development Goals;
    2. Finance and Pricing: the ability of service providers to fully cover their operations and maintenance costs, and access investment funds as needed to expand and improve services and leverage markets; and
    3. Capacity: the skills needed by managers and staff to deliver services efficiently and effectively.

    In addition, knowledge dissemination is at the core of WBG water projects. Besides the many publications, blogs, speaking engagements and learning events it produces annually, the World Bank Group regularly partners in a variety of forums at the global, regional and country levels with key agencies (UN Water, UNICEF, WHO, etc).

    The World Bank Group is also an active partner in a number of water supply and sanitation networks — such as the International Water Association, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, Sanitation and Water for All, Stockholm International Water Institute, AMCOW, and others.

    Last Updated: Apr 04, 2017

  • By combining global knowledge with country investments, the World Bank Group generates more firepower for transformational solutions to help countries grow sustainably into the 21st century. These are some highlights from our work on water supply:

    • 42.2 million people provided with access to an improved water source from 2013 to 2015.
    • In addition, the World Bank Group (WBG) is providing support to more than 360 urban water utilities and 10,400 rural service providers.
    • In the last five years, the WBG Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) supported governments to scale up access to sanitation services for approximately 43 million people. WSP has also influenced approximately US$2.9 billion in investments for rural sanitation.
    • The current World Bank Group investment program is expected to benefit 75 million people, of which 32 million and 43 million beneficiaries are in urban and rural areas, respectively.  
    • In Benin, in collaboration with IFC, the World Bank helped develop Public-Private Partnerships to extend water supply into rural areas to increase access for the poor.  For the first time in Benin, bankable long-term commercial agreements allowed private operators to raise private funding to undertake the necessary investments. In Senegal, WSP strengthened capacity of regulators to effectively manage PPPs to support water sector reforms. Meanwhile in Liberia, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Republic of the Congo, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, WGP worked to assess and strengthen rural water service delivery pathways.

    Last Updated: Jun 23, 2017

Additional Resources


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