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Foundations for Better Lives: Providing Water and Sanitation Services

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Access to improved water sources in World Bank client countries rose to 84 percent in 2008 from 72 percent in 1990, and access to improved sanitation from 42 to 53 percent. To continue delivering sustainable and efficient water supply and sanitation services, World Bank projects will emphasize operation and maintenance activities, and address technical, social and institutional issues related to sustainability.


Much progress has been made in expanding water supply and sanitation in the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and International Development Association (IDA) client countries. Nonetheless, in IDA countries 559 million people remained without access to safe water in 2008 and 1.5 billion people were deprived of basic sanitation. In IBRD countries, about 274 million remained without access to safe water supply and 1 billion people without access to improved sanitation. Moreover, demand for adequate sanitation will increase with the expansion of piped water services and household water use.


The following elements define the World Bank’s approach:

  • A country-based approach ensures that World Bank investments are tailored to the needs and capacities of specific countries.
  • Global operational experience: The Bank brings lessons and emerging good practices learned in one country and region to other parts in the world.
  • Budget support: Budget support instruments, such as Poverty Reduction Strategy Credits (PRSCs), have enabled reforms that resulted in greater harmonization, and the prospect for more effective use, of both national budgets and assistance with regard to water and sanitation.
  • International cooperation. The World Bank actively contributes to the international dialogue on water and sanitation and works closely with a range of partners globally.
  • Measuring results. The World Bank helps governments improve their monitoring. At the country level, it assists its clients in building and strengthening statistical capacity in both sector and central agencies. The monitoring and evaluation systems link planning and budgeting processes to results in order to enhance transparency and accountability.
  • Analysis and advisory services. The World Bank’s analytic and advisory assistance knowledge products increasingly address issues that span several sectors, such as cost recovery, local government reform, public sector reform, political economy, financing for on-site sanitation, community participation, and capacity-building as well as a renewed focus on “water stressed” countries.


In World Bank client countries, access to improved water supply increased to 84 percent in 2008 from 73 percent in 1990, and access to improved sanitation services to 53 percent from 42 percent. In countries eligible for IDA financing, the population with access to improved water services during this period rose to 78 percent from 65 percent. Access to sanitation still trails behind, with only 37 percent in 2008 compared to 21 percent in 1990.

  • The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project in Tanzania (2002-2008) aided the national rural water supply and sanitation program through the construction of hand pumped supplies and small piped schemes, providing over 500,000 people access to improved water supply and sanitation services.
  • In rural areas of Indonesia, 600,000 households and 3,000 schools have benefited from improved water supply and sanitation services under the Second Water and Sanitation for Low Income Communities Project (2000-2010). The ongoing Water Supply Development Project (2005-2012) in Vietnam has succeeded so far in providing 1,550,000 people with access to improved water supplies and 50,000 people with access to improved sanitation facilities. This has been achieved through investment in new water supply facilities and rehabilitation of several water distribution systems.

In client countries of IBRD, the population with access to improved water source increased to 90 percent in 2008 from 76 percent in 1990, but the population with access to improved sanitation has only increased to 67 percent from about 56 percent.

  • As an example, water sector reforms in Uruguay, including modernization of the National Water Supply and Sanitation Company, contributed to doubling the treated water pumping capacity to a million cubic meters from nearly half a million. The increased capacity is set to meet the forecast demand until 2035. Moreover, three sewage treatment plants were built providing service to 60,000 inhabitants, and sewage connections were provided to about 5,500 households in 12 cities.
  • In Paraguay, the Fourth Paraguay Rural Water and Sanitation Project (1997-2007) provided water supply and sanitation access to 325,000 rural residents, 25,000 of whom were indigenous community members. This was achieved through the construction and expansion of over 600 water supply systems and provision of 23,000 latrines.

Bank Contribution

The World Bank has been increasing its financing to the water supply and sanitation sector. Its new commitments in the sector have increased to US$4.1 billion in FY10 from US$1.2 billion in FY00. The total IBRD and IDA financing approved for water supply and sanitation in the past 10 years (2000-2010) was US$21.6 billion.


The trust-funded Water and Sanitation Program is a multi-donor partnership administered by the World Bank to support poor people in obtaining affordable, safe and sustainable access to water and sanitation services. WSP’s global strategy for FY 2009-2018 is focused on Scaling Up Sustainable Services and responds to identified sector challenges affecting the poor through capacity building, technical assistance and knowledge.

The World Bank has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S government to expand and enhance collaboration in the water sector. The agreement will formalize collaboration with 16 U.S. agencies to support countries in managing global water crises including lack of safe drinking water and sanitation.

Toward the Future

The World Bank continues to embrace a strategy based on the following principles:

  • use demand-responsive approaches in service provision;
  • manage services at the lowest appropriate level;
  • adhere to cost recovery policies, where necessary in combination with transparent subsidies targeted to the poor;
  • use appropriate technologies and standards to ensure cost effectiveness of investments; and
  • shift priorities from sewerage to on-site sanitation and hygiene promotion programs.