Strategic Alignment

In 2009 the South Asia Water Initiative (SAWI) was established as collaboration (via a multi-donor trust fund) between the governments of the United Kingdom, Australia and Norway and the World Bank, to contribute to addressing these complex challenges. Following a positive independent performance review in 2012, the parties to the trust fund agreed fund SAWI through 2013-2017 with increased investment.

For the United Kingdom, better water management is a key climate change priorities for DFID, and one of the objectives of the United Kingdom’s £1.9 Billion International Climate Fund is tohelp poor countries to manage their water resources”. The conflict pool strategy of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and DFID, considers transboundary waters as a key issue for reducing security risks in the region.

For Australia, sustainable development, with a focus on promoting water, food and energy security, is a priority for aid in South Asia. Promoting trans-boundary water resource management to support water security in the region is one of four targets identified in Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s South Asia strategy.

For Norway, the importance of sustainable water resources management for development, food security and health is underscored by the government’s white paper on the links between environment and development policies (Towards a Greener Development, 2011).

For the World Bank, the importance of these water challenges are recognized in its Water Resources Sector Strategy (2004), which indicates that “water resources management and development are central to sustainable growth and poverty reduction, and are therefore of central importance to the mission of the Bank”. Additionally, these water challenges are recognized in the World Bank’s Country Partnership or Country Assistance strategies for South Asian countries at being central to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity through economic growth. For example, the Country Partnership Strategy for India seeks to increase agricultural productivity, improve access to water supply and sanitation, and improve environmental protection and biodiversity conservation, all of which require better water resources management. The India Country Partnership Strategy also seeks to strengthen regional integration, and transboundary cooperation on water management is fundamental to this goal. For Pakistan and Nepal new strategies are under development, but the most recent strategy document for Nepal includes a focus on both improving irrigation for greater agricultural productivity and increasing access to electricity including through support for environmentally sustainable hydropower. SAWI aligns with the focus of the current Country Assistance Strategy for Bangladesh on fostering regional cooperation and on reducing vulnerability to disaster – including through improving food security and explicitly through “greater cooperation among riparian countries for regional water resource management”.

In the most recent partnership strategy for Pakistan the water resources priorities are to improve water resources management through efficient irrigation, improve water infrastructure (including via new multi-purpose storage dams) and strengthen the institutions responsible for water management. Under the ongoing Pakistan Water Capacity Building Project the World Bank is assisting Pakistan to strengthen institutions and explore global best practice options for a range of water sector improvements aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Indus system as a whole and to plan better for allocation of water to different competing downstream uses and to minimize water related conflicts. A critical aspect of the options being considered includes the feasibility of constructing additional storage capacity, which could include larger dams. Under its current interim strategy for Afghanistan, the Bank is supporting irrigation rehabilitation, the design and construction of a limited number of small multi-purpose small dams, and reviewing options for development of the Kabul River. SAWI will help provide the basin scale context for these activities and support specific develop activities with new knowledge and capacity building.

In addition to these country perspectives, a key rationale for engagement is to demonstrate and then to help achieve the mutual benefits of transboundary cooperation across shared river basins. These benefits accrue, for example,  from coordinated planning and joint investment for new infrastructure that ensure equitable upstream-downstream sharing of both benefits and impacts, and from coordinated planning and joint investment into upstream watershed rehabilitation that deliver both local benefits and downstream water quality benefits. Reaching agreement on the equitable sharing of benefits requires carefully facilitated negotiations between riparian countries. The World Bank has a track record of working in partnership with other bilateral and multilateral donor agencies to promote transboundary cooperation and to act as an independent broker in negotiations. These modes of operation will be vital to addressing transboundary water in South Asia. SAWI will utilize the World Bank’s position in bringing the riparian countries together to improve water resources management from a basin perspective.