Main Issue

Water, an essential ingredient for life on this planet, is experiencing tremendous pressures. Water is a prerequisite for human and ecosystems survival, is the base of many economic activities, and underlies the majority of the Sustainable Development Goals.

As income levels have risen globally, so has the demand for freshwater. Development is a thirsty business: water is interwoven into the national economic fabric in obvious ways, such as for drinking water, irrigation of crops, and hydropower; and less obvious ways by being embedded in production of feed stock, consumer goods, mining operations, and most kinds of energy. Climate change, urbanization, increasing food demand, and population growth all add to existing pressures on water resources.

Consequently, freshwater scarcity and stress is increasing in most regions. Approximately 80% of the world’s population is already exposed to high levels of threat to water security, and approximately 1.2 billion people live in river basins where human water use has surpassed sustainable limits. These pressures will disproportionally affect the world’s poor, particularly women, who are often responsible for the health and welfare of children, the elderly, and the infirm. Water scarcity events, such as large floods and droughts, if combined with weak governance and other factors also can become risk multipliers contributing to destabilization, violence, and migration.

Pollution further reduces the water available for human use, which is accelerating the water crisis. Globally, more than 80% of collected and discharged wastewater is not treated. Non-point pollution sources, such as from fertilizer application and animal farming, are also major contributors to pollution. Other land-based pollutants, such as high sediment loads, heavy metals, and organic pollutants further reduce water that is suitable for use, impact aquatic life in rivers and lakes, and end up in our oceans.

What We Do

The Global Environment Facility has financed transboundary water cooperation across shared fresh and marine water systems since its inception in 1991. Globally, more than 300 watersheds and an even greater number of aquifers cross the political boundaries of two or more countries. These watersheds, which cover about half of the Earth’s land surface, are home to about 40 percent of the global population. Cooperation on water, therefore, is a must in most international basins to support the need for water, food, energy, and ecosystems security and increase resilience for each nation. Read more+


The GEF International Waters focal area helps countries balance water uses in transboundary surface and groundwater basins. The GEF’s work has shown that countries collaborate successfully when they realize the benefits of working together are greater than pursuing unilateral investments. Read more+

Looking Ahead

GEF support will focus on interventions in shared basins where water stress creates a challenge but also can be a driver and opportunity for cooperation. Interventions will prioritize preventative actions in transboundary basins facing multiple stressors and hence potential for conflict on national and regional levels. Investment in cooperation among countries in shared basins can be one avenue to increase interaction among countries and enhance trade and transport of goods and services. These investments can, consequently, create common interests and provide an entry point for regional integration and peaceful country relations. In GEF-7, the IW focal area will seek to enhance water security in freshwater ecosystems by investing in three key areas: Read more+