Published on The Water Blog

Tackling a crisis of too much, too little, too polluted

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The world’s water problems have regularly made the news in 2018. And the scale of the crisis behind the headlines is stark. It is a crisis of too much, too polluted and too little.  

Too much because the devastating impacts of floods, exacerbated by climate change, is hitting poor people first and worst.  Too polluted because so much wastewater does not get collected or treated. And  too little because across the world today 2.1 billion people lack reliable access to safely managed drinking water services and 4.5 billion lack safely managed sanitation services, which means that a majority of the global population go without safe containment, emptying/collection, conveyance, treatment and reuse/disposal of their waste. All the while, water scarcity could cost some regions up to 6% of their GDP, spur migration and, in the extreme, spark civil conflict. 
Tackling this crisis is one of the most urgent issues for the global community to address. That’s why a team of experts from the World Bank are attending World Water Week in Stockholm from August 26 to 31 to deepen knowledge, shape debates and amplify action for a water-secure world for all. 
With a portfolio of water investments of US$29.4 billion and a staff of hundreds across the world, the World Bank is uniquely positioned to contribute to World Water Week. Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), it’s the annual gathering where practitioners, policymakers and water professionals come together to generate ideas, share their experiences and advance solutions.

This year’s focus on human development is certainly very timely. A recent World Bank report Uncharted Waters found that children in Africa who experience dry shocks (droughts) in their infancy, receive less food in the critical first 1,000 days of life.  As a result, they do not reach their full cognitive or physical potential: they drop out of school earlier, have less wealth, bear more children and may be stunted.  Most tragically, their children are also more likely to be stunted and less healthy, perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty and ill-health. And our WASH Poverty Diagnostics Initiative proposes that a drastic change is required in the way countries manage resources and provide key services, starting with improved targeting to ensure they reach those most in need and better coordination between water, health, and nutrition interventions to make substantive progress in the fight against childhood stunting and mortality.
On August 28, together with the FAO, we will be releasing a new joint discussion paper on water management in fragile systems, with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa.  This is a region where water scarcity is particularly pervasive and getting worse, and where the water crisis poses great risks to human development and sustainable growth.
Such research will be among the many issues we will be engaging with at World Water Week. Our sessions have a strong focus on the five priority themes we have identified to deliver a water-secure world: sustainability, resilience, inclusion, institutions and financing.
The panels with a World Bank presence will cover financing issues including ‘ Can Valuing Water Change our Attitude towards Water?’ to ‘ Follow up on the High-Level Panel Water: Financing & Valuing.’  Fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV) is another critical development challenge that threatens efforts to end extreme poverty, affecting both low- and middle-income countries. That’s why a number of sessions look at how to enhance resilience to both shocks and protracted crises in FCV contexts. And when it comes to inclusion, there are sessions on making global water efforts disability inclusive and diversity and inclusion in water utilities – two areas where the World Bank has extensive experience.
In combination, these five priority themes represent the World Bank Water Global Practice’s strategy to achieve the water-related SDGs. They also form the core of a partnership for a water-secure world, the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP). This is a Multi-Donor Trust Fund, launched in 2017, that enables the World Bank Water Global Practice to address the five themes across its global portfolio.
More recently, in 2018, the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) - a public-private-civil society partnership – became part of the World Bank Water GP family. 2030 WRG supports government-accelerated reforms with the aim of ensuring sustainable water resources management for the long-term development and economic growth of their country.
World Water Week (#WWWeek) always provides opportunities to foster proactive collaborations and strengthen alliances between partners.  And partnerships were also the foundation for the High Level Panel on Water (HLPW). Over the past two years, the HLPW deliberated upon the major challenges of the sector and produced an outcome document – this New Agenda for Action calls for a fundamental shift in how the world understands values, and manages water. As a legacy of the Panel, the World Bank will continue to leverage the high-level partnerships forged with ongoing work in a number of areas. In particular, we look forward to further advancing the Valuing Water agenda, working with a wide range of stakeholders.

Also in Stockholm, the World Bank, through GWSP, is launching a new report, titled Shared and Public Toilets: Championing Delivery Models That Work, that guides planners and policy makers through the decisions they must weigh when designing and implementing shared toilet models, including shared household, community and public facilities. We are also launching, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the book ‘ Faecal Sludge and Septage Treatment - A guide for low and middle-income countries’ by Kevin Tayler,. The book fills a critical gap in the sector as it helps engineers across the globe design, operate, and maintain appropriate systems for treating fecal sludge and septage generated by our ever-urbanizing world, with a special focus on solutions that are appropriate for low and middle-income countries. In addition, with a number of development partners, the Bank will be co-convening sessions to help move the global dialogue forward on: shared sanitation, sanitation for small towns, rethinking sewers and the role they play in addressing urban sanitation, hygiene behaviour change, redistributive financing for urban sanitation and more!
Together with GWSP, 2030 WRG and many other partners, we continue to implement programs and projects across the world, convene a wide range of actors to achieve cross-sectoral solutions, and share our data, knowledge and expertise with others with the aim of making headlines about water crises a thing of the past.
Join the sessions convened and co-convened by us,
visit our exhibition at Booth 3 to learn more about our work,
and follow us on Twitter via @WorldBankWater.




Guangzhe Chen

Vice President for Infrastructure, The World Bank

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