WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Bank needs to pay more attention to the most pressing water-related problems in developing countries, where the effects of climate change are a growing threat, the Bank’s internal watchdog said on Monday, World Water Day.
A report by the Independent Evaluation Group said that while water projects funded by the World Bank have had good success rates when measured against their objectives, the institution’s tendency has been to focus on problems that are easier to correct.
“The Bank and the countries have not yet sufficiently tackled several tough but vital issues, among them sanitation, fighting pollution, restoring degraded aquatic environments, monitoring and data collection, and cost recovery,” the IEG report said.
It said that almost a third of all World Bank projects approved since 1997 have been water related, with most related to developing water infrastructure for irrigation, dams and hydropower.
Governments and development groups warned that drinking water is threatened by climate change and that demand for potable water may cause conflicts.
Regions likely to become drier because of climate change include Central Asia and North Africa. Up to 250 million people in Africa could experience extra stress on water supplies by 2020, according to the United Nations.
The IEG report said water scarcity had become more of a threat in arid regions, and that about 700 million people in 43 countries were facing stress on water supplies.
But, the report said, there was “no apparent correlation between a country’s water stress and bank lending for water to that country.”
The report recommended that the World Bank find ways to support countries facing the greatest water problems, and to find a way to attract other donors to ensure water issues are properly addressed.
“The Bank should look for entry points to help countries make water use more sustainable, even if the Bank may not necessarily be able to finance all the work that is needed to resolve the most pressing water issues,” the report said.
Although 40 percent of the World Bank’s water portfolio deals with water quality, the IEG said only a few projects actually measure water quality, and that data on water quality produced by Bank-financed projects are in short supply.
It suggested the World Bank use data on water to promote better understanding of ties between water and economic development.
In response to the report, the World Bank said it had been responsive to the water priorities of governments in the most water-stressed countries and countries that will face water problems in the future. It said that countries with the most pressing water problems had received more financing than others.
The Bank said it was looking at ways to close the water resource gap in countries.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton