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Climate Adaptation in Action: Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership

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A woman collects water from a public tap in rural Ethiopia. A woman collects water from a public tap in rural Ethiopia.

Water resources are both threatened by climate change and central to our ability to adapt to its impacts. Yet, water remains undervalued, underpriced, and underinvested.  Against this backdrop, the World Bank’s Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP) is  critical as it supports governments to build their capacity to ensure sustainable, inclusive and resilient water service delivery. 

The GWSP - a multi-donor trust fund supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Austria’s Federal Ministry of Finance, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Denmark’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Spanish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the US Agency for International Development -  plays a vital role in enabling collaboration by providing the knowledge and tools to help countries understand climate change drivers and impacts on the water sector, and increasing their ability to monitor, manage and prepare for variable water flows. Through its advocacy and policy dialogue, the Partnership fosters an environment in which water is correctly valued, which affects the way in which governments, businesses, and the public use, conserve, manage, and share it. These efforts produce results, as summarized in this year’s annual report, which demonstrate how the support the Partnership provides is more relevant and impactful than ever.

GWSP is laying the groundwork for a water-secure future through the broad spectrum support it provides to client governments.  These efforts center on the generation of global research and the provision of country-level support across water resources management, water in agriculture, and water supply and sanitation. This year, GWSP activities have ranged from the development of remote sensing technologies for water accounting to improve irrigation, to stakeholder engagement and collaboration for the protection of transboundary waters, to the development of nature-based solutions for watershed management. It is also shaping the World Bank’s policy dialogue by providing advice and enhancing investments. In 2022 alone, GWSP provided critical knowledge and analytical support to teams that delivered US$13 billion in World Bank lending.

Underscoring these efforts is the support GWSP provides through its high-quality, well-timed analytical work that influences decision-making in client countries. As this year’s report shows, the compilation of data, analysis, and research—coupled with the clear articulation of implications—has had an enormous impact on policy decisions and development outcomes in many countries. Recently completed water security diagnostics in Peru, Colombia, and Argentina are influencing policy decisions that help address water security gaps. In Ethiopia, Argentina, and Malawi, recent benchmarking diagnostics related to gender in the workplace have led to increased representation of women in decision-making positions in water utilities.

Ensuring equal access to water services, jobs, and markets requires an inclusive approach. The technical assistance GWSP has supported on operationalizing social inclusion has helped develop more transformative interventions on gender.  For instance, in Tajikistan, India, and Armenia, targets to enhance female participation and leadership in water user associations were achieved or even exceeded. In Georgia, the critical role of land tenure in providing female farmers with access to irrigation under a World Bank-financed project was recognized, resulting in an increase in the proportion of female owners.

The climate crisis is primarily a water crisis. Global heating is disrupting hydrological systems and supercharging extreme weather events that are making water more scarce, more erratic, more polluted or all three.  Worsening droughts, storms and torrential rain in some of the world's largest economies could cause US$5.6 trillion in losses to the global economy by 2050. Already, poor water quality is eliminating one-third of potential economic growth in heavily polluted areas and threatening human and environmental well-being. In many places, demand is already exceeding sustainable supply and hindering economic growth. Water scarcity, exacerbated by climate change, could cost some regions up to 6 percent of their GDP, spurring migration, and sparking conflict.

These impacts are compounded by population increase, accelerated groundwater extraction, widespread ecological degradation, and biodiversity loss. At the same time, increased demand for water for energy, agriculture, industry, and human consumption is leading to gradually more difficult trade-offs for this limited and precious resource, especially in areas of the world already facing water stress.

If we stay on our current trajectory, by 2030, an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of being displaced by drought. By 2040, an estimated one in four children will live in areas with extreme water shortages. By 2050, droughts could affect over three-quarters of the world’s population, and up to 5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today.

Just as water is the primary medium through which we feel the impacts of a changing climate, our ability to adapt to climate change is mainly about better water resources management. Water is to adaptation what energy is to mitigation. It is central to how we manage ecosystems sustainably, is the ultimate connector between sectors – from agriculture, to energy, to industry - and binds our economies into a coherent whole. Water is therefore at the core of climate policy and action. Inclusive water governance has never been more urgent. As we seek to move climate action “from negotiation to implementation”– the focus of this year’s UN Climate Summit – the GWSP is an example of what adaptation in action can achieve. There is no time to waste.



Saroj Kumar Jha

Global Director, Water Global Practice

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