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What is non-revenue water? How can we reduce it for better water service?

Bill Kingdom's picture
A water tap in Rwanda.
Photo credit: A'Melody Lee / World Bank

Also available in 中文

In developing countries, roughly 45 million cubic meters of water are lost daily with an economic value of over US$3 billion per year.

A World Bank study puts the global estimate of physical water losses at 32 billion cubic meters each year, half of which occurs in developing countries. Water utilities suffer from the huge financial costs of treating and pumping water only to see it leak back into the ground, and the lost revenues from water that could have otherwise been sold. If the water losses in developing countries could be halved, the saved water would be enough to supply around 90 million people.

We refer to it as non-revenue water (NRW), or water that is pumped and then lost or unaccounted for.

The need to manage NRW better and protect precious water resources has become increasingly important. Non-revenue water (NRW) management allows utilities to expand and improve service, enhance financial performance, make cities more attractive, increase climate resilience and reduce energy consumption.

How can water utilities provide reliable water to poor people in African cities?

Chris Heymans's picture
Urban Africa: Rapidly growing and densifying.
Photo Credit: Kathy Eales / World Bank

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 targets “universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all”. However, in Africa’s fast-growing cities, just accessing water is a daily struggle for many poor families. While Africa’s urban population is expected to triple by 2050, the proportion of people with improved water supply has barely grown since 1990, and the share of those with water piped to their premises has declined from 43 percent in 1990 to 33 percent in 2015. Poor families bear the brunt of these inadequacies through poor health, the long time required to collect water, and higher costs when purchasing from on-sellers’.

However, some cities stand out as exceptions. What can we learn from cities and utilities that successfully provide reliable and safe water to almost all of their inhabitants? A study I led recently, Providing Water to Poor People in African Cities Effectively: Lessons from Utility Reforms, analyzed how the water utilities in Kampala, Nyeri, Dakar, Ouagadougou and Durban achieved stand-out performance, and how this made a difference for the poor people in these cities.

3 ways countries can improve water supplies in small towns

Fadel Ndaw's picture

Also available in: Français

A public faucet that serves 1,000 families in
el Alto, Bolivia.
Photo credit: Stephan Bachenheimer / World Bank

Small towns* typically have not been well served by national or regional water utilities. Decentralization has become increasingly widely adopted, but even if local governments at the small town level have the power to operate a water utility, they often lack the capital and skills to do so. In response, some local governments and public institutions concentrate improvements on upgrading public utilities’ operations or strengthening community based management. In other cases, they choose to bring in the private sector knowledge of how to get clean water and sanitation services to more people more efficiently, affordably or sustainably. There is no one solution to addressing often very complex water and sanitation challenges.

There are many ways in which the public sector can leverage its own resources through partnering with the private sector. For the domestic private sector to fully realize its potential at scale in the small town sub-sector, we found they need capable and enabled public institutions to structure the market and regulate private operators.

Lessons learned from case study countries (Colombia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Uganda, Cambodia, Niger and Senegal) in a new global study published by the Water Global Practice’s Water and Sanitation Program suggest the following three key ways to support public institutions in order to build a conducive business climate for market players in small towns Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) service delivery:

In the market for good practices on performance-based contracts for non-revenue water management

Jemima Sy's picture

As water specialists, we care a lot about our clients being able to provide good water service to their customers on a sustained basis, but many utilities in the countries we work for struggle to provide consistent service.  Imagine how much more challenging this will become in the next two decades, when two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. [1] By 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in areas with absolute water scarcity. [2]
Non-Revenue Water (NRW) is water that is placed into a water distribution system and not billed because of leaks or commercial failures. Efficient management of NRW offers significant financial benefits to utilities while bringing economic and environmental benefits to societies around the world. Why, then, does NRW still present governments with such intractable problems?

World Water Day: Transforming lives through better water and jobs

Jennifer J. Sara's picture

The largest sphere represents
all of Earth's water. The next
smallest sphere represents the world's
liquid fresh water. The smallest
one represents fresh surface water
in all the lakes and rivers on the planet.
Source: US Geological Survey

Water covers 70% of Earth’s surface, but if you live in Sana’a, Sao Paolo, California, or the many other areas where drought or chronic water scarcity has affected daily life, you know that abundance can be relative.

This image from the US Geological Survey shows that only a tiny fraction of Earth’s water is the accessible freshwater we need to live, grow food, sustain the environment, and power our cities and jobs.

Growing cities and populations and a changing climate are placing unprecedented pressures on water. According to the World Economic Forum, water crises are among the top risks to global economic growth. For at least 650 million people, even the water they are able to find is unsafe.

But this also offers an opportunity to provide safer water and better manage our water resources for a more resilient future.

This year, #worldwaterday focuses on the connection between water and jobs, and these connections primarily fall under two categories: productivity and sustainability.

Where water and climate change meet

Water Communications's picture

This week, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, or COP21, will gather countries that want to take action for the climate. A central topic of these discussions will focus on the intersection of water and climate change.

Combating climate change is everyone’s business. Reducing emissions and investing in renewable energy, improving city planning and building design standards, developing more efficient transportation, and reducing deforestation (among others) all play key roles in mitigating the effects of climate change. At the same time, countries, and industries, will also need to adapt to changes in the climate as they unfold. Since climate change will significantly increase the variability of rainfall, different parts of the world will become more vulnerable to floods or droughts. 

“Water scarcity and variability pose significant risks to all economic activities, including food and energy production, manufacturing and infrastructure development,“ said Laura Tuck, World Bank Group Vice President for Sustainable Development during a recent press conference at COP21. “Poor water management can exacerbate the effects of climate change on economic growth, but if water is managed well it can go a long way to neutralizing the negative impacts.”

Better together: Toilets and nutrition

Claire Chase's picture
​Studies show children grow taller and perform better
on cognitive tests in communities where residents have
access to improved sanitation and do not defecate
in the open. Photo credit: World Bank

From Africa to Asia: Facilitating private investment in infrastructure

François Bergere's picture

Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is home to more than one million people – and like many urban hubs around the developing world, the city is bracing for a population explosion in the coming decades. More people bring greater pressure on already insufficient and stressed infrastructure, especially water services. But the Government of Rwanda has already announced commitments to increase the local water supply, partnering with the private sector to ensure 100 percent coverage. In March 2015 the government signed a 27-year PPP concession with a private company responsible for a water treatment plant, and support from the Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility (PPIAF) is one of the reasons why.
PPIAF, in partnership with IFC, has been providing institutional support to Rwanda’s Energy, Water, and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) since 2012. The technical support PPIAF and its partners have been providing helped government officials develop a more comprehensive understanding of EWSA’s distribution network and operational performance. Through training and experience-sharing, PPIAF supported capacity building among government institutions and officials, enabling them to work successfully with the private sector.
This is just one of the many examples of positive outcomes that PPIAF’s support has made possible in the past year. PPIAF’s just-released annual report details many others, and it also outlines the significant strategic shifts, staffing changes (including the reopening of our West African office), and programmatic initiatives that took root last year.

Natural Capital Accounting: Going beyond the numbers

Stig Johansson's picture
Guatemala. World Bank

Here are some facts that you might not know: Do these numbers just seem like bits of trivia? In fact, these are all important results that came out of natural capital accounting (NCA) – a system for generating data on natural resources, such as forests, energy and water, which are not included in traditional statistics. NCA follows standards approved by the United Nations to ensure trust, consistency and comparison across time and countries.
The results above are among the numerous NCA findings that are being generated every year, with support from a World Bank-led global partnership called Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES). In response to the growing appetite for information on NCA, WAVES has set up a new Knowledge Center bringing together resources on this topic.