Published on The Water Blog

Building back better: Connecting the water dots

HAJJAH, YEMEN ? March 22, 2021: Children fetch water from an agricultural well, amid an acute water crisis. Photo credit: Mohammed Al-Wafi/ HAJJAH, YEMEN – March 22, 2021: Children fetch water from an agricultural well, amid an acute water crisis. Photo credit: Mohammed Al-Wafi/

Pause for a moment. Visualize a drop of water falling into a river. This drop, as the river flows, ends up in the underlying groundwater and is absorbed by the roots of a tree feeding a larger ecosystem. From there, it is evaporated and falls again as rain into a freshly plowed potato field. In a second iteration of the cycle, the drop ends up in the tap of a family receiving water at their house for the first time, allowing a young girl to take a shower before going to school rather than fetching water at the nearest well an hour away. In a third round, the same drop is cleansed in a wastewater treatment plant and then calmly flows through a hydropower dam in a given country, generating energy in a textile plant employing 200 local people in the neighboring country. Water runs through every aspect of development and as such, it drives economic growth, supports healthy ecosystems, and is essential and fundamental for life itself.

Climate change, however, expresses itself through water. With nine out of ten natural disasters being water-related, those 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 in order to build back better.

The World Bank is the largest multilateral source of financing for water in developing countries. It works hand in hand with partners to achieve a water-secure world for all by focusing in a number of interconnected areas such as water supply, sanitation, water resources management and water in agriculture.

On the one hand, ensuring access to safely managed water and sanitation directly affects the health and well-being of a community, which consequently impacts its educational performance and job productivity, hence contributing to poverty reduction. On the other hand, appropriate water resources management can have significant positive impacts on agricultural production, environmental health and energy generation. Given these interlinkages, which move both ways, thinking beyond single sector solutions becomes increasingly relevant, particularly in view of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

The water-energy-food nexus is an example of how thinking beyond sectors can result in opportunities to more effectively overcome each individual challenge. Nowhere is this clearer than in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. A report on this topic highlights that in MENA more than 60 percent of the population is exposed to water stress and 85 percent of water withdrawals are dedicated to agriculture. Growing water scarcity can actually lead to drops in agricultural production of more than 60 percent in some countries. In the Mashreq region, as presented in another recent report,  increased water scarcity could reduce labor demand by up to 12 percent and lead to significant land-use changes, including the loss of beneficial hydrological services. In Morocco, the Large Scale Irrigation Modernization Project is showing how cross-sectoral solutions can help address these challenges. The project has indeed fostered the adoption of drip irrigation in a number of governorates in Morocco, allowing to save water and energy while increasing agricultural productivity.  

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the connection between health, and the access to water and sanitation has become even tighter. In fragile, conflict and violent (FCV) contexts, integrated approaches including the water dimension are even more relevant to lay the foundations for fast recovery. In Yemen, the Emergency Health and Nutrition Project (EHNP) and the Integrated Urban Services Emergency Project-I (IUSEP-I) provide a clear example of how a coordinated and multi-sectoral approach to delivering urban and rural services can have better outcomes than disjointed interventions. As of October 2020, under EHNP, 4.82 million people were provided with access to improved water supply and sanitation services while 5.72 million people received consumable hygiene kits in cholera affected areas. As a response to COVID-19, the Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC) component was activated in October 2020, hence enabling fuel provision to 33 local water and sanitation utilities in 14 Governorates as well as the distribution of WASH supplies and WASH non-food items (NFIs), water trucking, latrine construction for IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps, host communities and scarce water districts. Furthermore, as of June 2021, under IUSEP-I, 1.2 million people had access to clean water and sanitation, over a million tons of accumulated trash had been safely disposed of and 3.05 million beneficiaries had regained access to critical urban services. Hence, the water and sanitation components of these two projects allowed the Yemeni population to be better prepared and prevent cholera and COVID-19 transmission through better access to water and sanitation services and handwashing.

Water runs through sectors in the same way it does throughout countries. In a world where 60 percent of the freshwater flow is transboundary, cooperation is a key tool for greater stability and resilience to climate change. In this regard, the Mashreq Regional Water Initiative, is slowly but surely placing the building blocks for more cooperation across water issues in this region, through enhancing technical level cooperation, building partnerships and developing evidence-based recommendations. This will in turn create opportunities for cooperative management of shared water resources to improve trade, regional integration and economic growth.

By sustaining water resources, delivering services and building resilience, the World Bank is assisting its client countries to achieve a water-secure world thanks to integrated and innovative solutions that place water at the core. If we are to build back better and tackle the climate change challenges, let’s step up our game and connect the water dots!


Carmen Nonay

Director of IEG's Finance, Private Sector, Infrastructure, and Sustainable Development Department, World Bank Group

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