Many of the great challenges faced by humanity, such as climate change, energy security, and food security, cannot be managed without also ensuring that our citizens have access to reliable water and sanitation services. As this year’s World Water Week begins in Sweden, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the improvements that are urgently required and the innovative and collaborative solutions that such huge challenges demand.

It’s worth reflecting on the extent of the acute challenges faced by billions of people all over the world. An astonishing 2.5 billion people still do not have access to any sanitation and as this year’s Social Progress Index found, it remains a major problem: access to sanitation for lower-middle income countries is particularly wide, showing that economic growth is not always a determinant of social outcomes. We also know that at least 748 million people across the globe lack access to safe drinking water (causing 4,000 child deaths each year) and because the global population is growing fast, feeding a planet of an estimated 9 billion by 2050 will require approximately 50 percent more water.

In the last three years, the World Bank has committed $17 billion to water projects to address supply, sanitation and irrigation issues while the Millennium Development Goals have also resulted in significant improvements. However, 21st Century challenges demand a particularly 21st Century response: leveraging the expertise and financial muscle of not just the world’s big development institutions and governments, but of the private sector as well. It’s only with the buy-in, support, and leadership of the private sector, that some of these problems will become solvable, as all sectors of society get involved in this huge challenge. In fact there are already examples of formative private-public partnerships coming together for this very purpose.

Paraguay is a prime example where the Government and private sector are teaming up to address these issues. The Paraguayan Government has recently applied the Social Progress Index as a formal measure of national performance. Partially as a result of the findings of this year’s Index (Paraguay ranked 91st out of 132 countries on measures of water and sanitation) the Government has formed working groups to build public-private partnerships designed to agree on integrated policy interventions around water. Included in this private-public sector partnership are Fundacion Avina, Fundacion Paraguaya, DENDE, Fundacion Bertoni, The Christian Business Association, the Global Compact, the Industry, Commerce and Industry Union, and the Catholic University.

Indeed, this has followed a number of years of work supported by a leading Latin American bank, Fundacion Avina, which has been responsible for providing a wide range of support (both financial and logistical), bringing together the country’s local community water boards . Indeed, the high-level governmental push, led by the Planning Ministry, has come about largely because of an historic meeting of over 600 representatives from the approximately 2500 Community Water Boards that are scattered around the country’s landscape. This unique gathering, called Congreso Nacional de Juntas de Agua, was responsible for sparking for the first time a dialogue between the country’s 12 different associations of sanitation boards. Having never met before, they were able to share concerns and objectives directly resulting in the establishment of a tri-annual strategic plan encompassing communications, governmental relations, financing and better management.

Also in Latin America, Coca-Cola has joined the Latin American Water Funds Partnership designed to return 100% of the water used to water basins through conservation efforts. It’s part of a long-standing commitment to address community water issues. In fact as far back as 2005 Coca-Cola partnered with the and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to launch the Water and Development Alliance (WADA), an effort to address community water needs in developing countries. In conjunction with local USAID Missions and the Coca-Cola system partners (such asbottling facilities), and with support from the Global Environment & Technology Foundation (GETF), WADA contributes to protecting and improving the sustainability of watersheds and increasing access to water supply and sanitation services for the world’s poor. With a combined investment of over $30 million, the partnership is having a positive impact on the lives of people and the health of ecosystems in 23 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, providing clean drinking water to over 500,000 people and ensuring access to basic sanitation to a further 55,000 people. The Coca-Cola Company and The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation also dedicated $6 million in 2011 to water and sanitation partnerships aimed at improving the lives of an estimated 250,000 women and girls on the African continent.

Many initiatives like these are still in their formative years, but they demonstrate the strong willingness that exists to devote significant financial and logistical resources to confronting the myriad water problems faced by humanity. This week’s World Water Week is an opportunity to champion these excellent projects and to encourage further collaboration to help solve one of humanity’s greatest challenges: providing clean water and good sanitation to every citizen.