Water: An Accelerator for Green, Inclusive, and Resilient Growth

Posted in : on 21 October 2022

Our common future depends on water. We need water to eradicate poverty, promote green growth, and build more equitable societies. But we also don’t have enough of it .

According to current estimates, the world will face a 40 percent gap between water supply and demand by 2030. This gap is exacerbated by climate change – the effects of which are primarily felt in the water cycle through extreme weather events. Floods and droughts alone are projected to cause $5.6 trillion in losses to the global economy by 2050. Recent research shows that employment is reduced by 2.5 percentage points during extremely dry years. At the same time, water services are aggravating climate change – they are high GHG emitters, energy hungry, and inefficient. The wastewater sector alone is responsible for about 10 percent of human-caused methane emissions.

Effectively managing water resources is a key driver of our ability to cope with the effects of climate change and reduce emissions. Water can help lead the shift to renewable energy, yet only about 10 percent of hydroelectric potential is being used. Better planning and investment in water systems, improved water pricing and valuation, and efficient water use and storage will improve our resilience to climate shocks.

Agriculture consumes 90 percent of all water resources, while irrigation consumes 70 percent of the world’s freshwater. We need to find ways to produce more food with less water if we are to feed a population of 10 billion by 2050 . This will require water reforms and efficient water and energy use in agriculture. As the second largest GHG emitter after energy, and the biggest emitter of methane, the agricultural sector has a central role to play in climate change mitigation. For example, using alternate wetting and drying irrigation methods in rice fields ­– responsible for emitting 11 percent of all human-caused methane emissions ­– can reduce their water use by up to 30 percent and their methane emissions by 48 percent.

The competition for water is fierce and the financing needs are enormous. We cannot grow and develop inclusively unless everyone has access to water. Over 2.3 billion people lack safe drinking water and 3.6 billion people lack safe sanitation. Water is also essential to reducing fragility and conflict risk. Water insecurity intensifies existing grievances, deepens inequalities, and increases tensions. Conflict-affected countries are also more likely than others to lack safe access to water, which at times poses a greater threat than the conflict itself – children under the age of five are 20 times more likely to die from diarrhea linked to unsafe water and sanitation than from war-related violence.

It will cost about $1.7 trillion to provide safe drinking water for all – about three times current investment levels . And this is only one part of the water agenda; investment needs for safely managed water are expected to reach $22.6 trillion by 2050. These investments save lives, but they also save money in the long term: every $1 invested yields a $4 return through saved medical costs and increased productivity. We can achieve universal access through strong partnerships, reforms – including in policies, institutions, regulation, and pricing – and by mobilizing public and private financing.

The more we know about the water crisis, the more we can do to close the financing gap and direct funds where they are needed most. In support of this, the World Bank Water Data website has the largest collection of water data in one place, and recently added a new feature on water quality. Data transparency will allow us to manage water better, particularly shared water that crosses borders.

About 60 percent of the world’s freshwater flows through transboundary river basins, covering more than 40 percent of the planet. Transboundary cooperation – based on transparent, accurate, accessible data – is central to building resilience to climate risks, improving water security, and sharing water-related opportunities, like food and energy production.

Water is critical for climate adaptation, sustainable growth, and development. Governments need to urgently embark on bold reforms in the water sector given the uncertainties presented by climate change . Effective institutions, policies, and regulations are needed to address water security and prepare communities and governments to adapt. In support of this, the World Bank, the largest water sector funder in the world, is working with governments, businesses, and civil society towards a water-secure world. Our portfolio includes 147 active projects totaling over $25 billion. The Water Global Practice hosts two trust funds: the Global Water Security & Sanitation Partnership (GWSP), the world’s largest think tank working on water issues, and the 2030 Water Resources Group, a unique public, private, civil society partnership.

Water security requires a multistakeholder approach, which is why events such as the upcoming UN 2023 Water Conference are critical in bringing a diverse set of actors together for concerted and coordinated action. The conference will discuss global progress on the implementation of the International Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation, 2018 to 2028, which will contribute to the ongoing global dialogue on how we can manage water resources better and mobilize private finance to accelerate green, resilient, and inclusive development.

Saroj Kumar Jha

Global Director, Water Global Practice

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