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Meeting the Global Water Challenge

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World Water Challenge

March 15, 2007— The world’s water challenges are daunting.

Some 1.1 billion people still don’t have access to safe drinking water.

Another 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation, i.e. a toilet.

And by 2025, some 3.5 billion people will live in places where water is scarce or becoming scarce, according to World Water Council data.

Water scarcity is the theme of this year’s World Water Day March 22. Scarcity is a major concern in places where water resources are already stretched practically to the limit.

The Middle East and North Africa, for instance, already uses 80 percent of the water that falls in the region, according to a new World Bank report, “Making the Most of Scarcity.” The report predicts population growth and climate change could cut available water in half by 2050.

And more than a billion people in South Asia may eventually be subject to droughts and floods if, as projected, the Himalayan glaciers melt from the effects of climate change.

India’s agriculture industry, for instance, could be seriously harmed by disruptions in the pattern of the monsoon rains, former World Bank Chief Economist Sir Nicholas Stern said in a recent interview (“Climate Change in South Asia: A Conversation with Sir Nicholas Stern”).

The World Bank lends money for projects that help countries deal with water problems. These projects range from building infrastructure to restoring the environment, managing water resources, and helping communities and countries adapt to the impact of climate change.

Bank lending accounts for 50 percent of non-domestic financing for water resources—about US$3.3 billion a year, and amounted to 16 percent of all Bank lending over the last decade. The Bank’s total portfolio in this sector is nearly US$7 billion.

The International Development Association (IDA), which extends zero-interest loans and grants, is now the largest source of financial assistance to the water supply and sanitation sector. By 2004, it had increased water-related lending to 18 percent of total official development assistance (ODA). IDA funds directly provided at least 25 million people with access to clean water and/or sanitation between 2000 and 2006.

The Bank’s overall goals are to help countries provide safe drinking water and sanitation to more people, and to achieve “water security”—a minimum platform of water infrastructure and management capacity—so that environmental shocks such as floods, droughts, epidemics and other water-related impacts don’t devastate the economy and jeopardize growth. These goals include:

  • Allocating increasingly scarce water across multiple uses (ranging from drinking water supply and sanitation to agriculture to energy to ecology and associated human services (e.g., fisheries) to ensure sustainable and equitable access to water and water services
  • Increasing efficiency and reducing over-use (which can cause water logging and salination of drinking water supplies and lands) and safeguarding water quality to ensure public health
  • Ensuring effective participation in the management of water (e.g., private and public sector participation in water supply and local level water user associations)
  • Managing transboundary rivers and promoting regional cooperation for effective water management
  • Building sustainable water infrastructure to reduce societies’ vulnerability to water-related shocks, especially as climate change affects hydrological cycles.

Visit the Bank's Water and Sanitation websitefor additional information on the Bank's water strategy.

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