Since 2019 the Blue Deal has a partnership with the water authorities in the West Bank, part of the Palestinian Territories, until 2030. We follow the current news with a heavy heart, as does everyone in the Netherlands and the rest of the world. The situation takes a huge toll on our Palestinian colleagues and we wish them strength in these difficult times. We will continue the partnership as good as we can, because water is crucial, especially now.
In September 2022, 3 wastewater recycling units, or ‘BluElephants’, were officially launched in Salfeet and Halhul in the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories. Thanks to these purification units, wastewater can be treated without the immediate need for people on site. The devices can be read, monitored and operated remotely. If these units were not there, Palestinian colleagues would have to go to the locations of the wastewater treatment plants, which is very difficult in the current situation. In 2023, a regional laboratory for (waste)water analysis and for digitizing a broad range of (waste)water infrastructure was opened. This laboratory supports sound water services in a more remote way.
Although our Palestinian colleagues in the West Bank are very limited in leaving their homes for safety reasons, we continue to maintain daily digital contact with them. They have indicated that they are highly motivated to keep continuing the exchange of experiences with each other on a technical level. We can only admire their strength and perseverance. Our Dutch colleagues can serve as a sounding board, for example in safeguarding (waste)water services more remotely.
Do you want to read more about how the Blue Deal partnership with the Palestinian Territories can continue? Read the blog from World Waternet.
From 10 to 22 September, a Blue Deal work visit took place in Lima, Piura and Tumbes. This included a high-level meeting and making plans for 2024.
The journey started with an official high-level meeting and presentation to the Vice-minister of Agriculture and Irrigation and the Director of the National Water Authority. Kees de Jong and Milagros Sosa, from the Dutch water authority Noorderzijlvest (partnership’s leader), presented the achievements and outcomes of Phase 1 and the projections of Phase 2.
Also technical observations were given to the preventive measures being implemented by the government to mitigate the effects of the El Niño climate phenomenon in the north. El Niño is expected from December onwards, with similar strength as in 2017. The Viceminister invited Blue Deal Peru together with the Dutch Embassy in Lima for a second briefing before finishing the visit.
Planning for 2024
In the regions, the visit focused on project management tasks: 2024 year planning, reviewing commitments and assessing budget execution. In 2024 we plan: implementation actions of the plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), wastewater treatment plants, issues of Water Councils’ representation, scholarships funded by the partnership for young researchers from local universities, water quality and transboundary IWRM, social inclusion and water culture.
During the work visit we discussed climate adaptation and feasibility aspects for carbon credit projects focusing on reforestation and conservation. The technical teams analysed and organised visits to the floods’ prevention works currently implemented in the areas.
Saving water in rice cultivation
The delegation also visited the fieldwork sites of one young researcher working on water saving in rice cultivation. The Director of the National Agrarian Institute (INIA-Piura) highlighted: “This research is very relevant for the watershed. We need to carry out these tests in other areas and show the results to the water users.” This research is a cooperation between INIA, University of Piura and the Water User Associations.
All in all, this work visit served to position the partnership at high authority levels, review the project commitments and define the main activities for 2024.
The Blue Deal partnership Romania works with the World Bank to improve financing for water management in Romania. To this end, a digital and physical meeting with stakeholders took place from September 27 until September 29 in Bucharest.
A very interesting report drawn up by the World Bank with the best European practices for financing water management was discussed. During the meeting, Dutch Water Authorities advocated full cost recovery of Romanian water management. Of course, many other topics were discussed as well during these 3 days. Check the agenda to get an idea.
Zamafuze (Zama) Ngcobo is a Young Expert Professional (YEP) of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa, with a background as a geohydrologist. As a Yepper she mainly does project management. And on October 18, she got to show the Dutch king and queen around in her project in Blesbokspuit. Zama: “I never thought I would do something like this.”
When did you hear about the royal visit?
“At first I was told there was going to be a high-level visit. I didn’t know who it was going to be. And then in August I heard I would be showing the king and queen around.”
“It was very nerve-wracking. There was so much preparation that went into it. Everybody stressed the importance of this visit.” She laughs: “And then they told me to relax…”
“It really took a full two months of getting everything as perfect as possible, and the whole event itself was only 45 minutes. But we could really see the importance of making a good impression. If your project gains the attention of important people, it really helps to get people into action, rejuvenate the project, get things done.”
“During the preparation for the visit, I asked for a briefing about how to act around the king and queen. Do I shake hands, do I curtsy? With the Dutch king and queen it turned out to be just a simple handshake. And they were quite friendly, all smiles.”
“I thought it would be more of a presentation with me doing most of the talking, but they jumped right in, asking questions. The king especially, with his background in water management, asked some really hard questions. But I was happy with this, it showed their engagement. I started to relax, because it really turned into a conversation. They asked about what we were struggling with and how we worked around it. And we spoke about different sorts of solutions, the effects of the mining in the area, and if we would be able to completely remove the water hyacinth.”
“Sometimes with a project, you need to get assistance from the top. High-level events like this put a spotlight on the project and really help to get attention from the right people. Now, things are already set in motion thanks to this visit. It also really helped that the South African Minister of Water and Sanitation, Mr Edward Senzo Mchunu, and the Mayor of the City of Ekurhuleni, Mr. Sivuyile Ngodwana, were present during the visit. The Minister really helped to push things forward for the future. There have already been many plans and meetings since the visit.”
“I would really recommend the project managers of other Blue Deal partnerships to see if there are any possibilities for high level visits. If you hear that a Minister or somebody else is visiting the area that you are working in, try to get them to visit your project. Not only does it help to move the project further, but it is also important for acknowledgement. Our work is really difficult and it can be so tiring, so it is nice to get the recognition from high level people.”
“I am really happy we got the message across and my colleagues were pleased with how I represented the project. It was a bit of a blur in the moment, but afterwards I realised: wow, I really did do that.”
From the 2nd to the 6th of October, there was a meeting in Romania for the Blue Deal project Tackling Drought Romania (Southwest Romania). So, we are going to tackle the drought issue. But what exactly is drought? And when a project works on the drought problem, what do we mean precisely? Whose problem is it? And what can we do about it?
Watermelon (Pepene Verde) as cultural heritage
In Oltenia, drought primarily means there is insufficient water for agricultural purposes. And a significant agricultural product in Oltenia is the watermelon. The Dabuleni watermelon is a piece of cultural heritage in itself. So, transitioning to another – less drought-sensitive – agricultural product is not straightforward. The agricultural research institute in Dabuleni has developed a large number of alternative agricultural products, such as the Jujube, a small apple, but their application in the region is not automatic.
Deterioration of the irrigation system
A second challenge is the deterioration of the irrigation system that was established over 50 years ago, extracting water from the Danube. 62% of this irrigation system is no longer in use, and therefore, some farmers have switched to using groundwater. Restoring the irrigation system requires substantial investments, but a subsidy application from Europe was rejected. The reason being that the system is considered unsustainable. This is because the water is now pumped about 150 meters, resulting in significant water leakage and, of course, high energy costs. It must, therefore, be made sustainable.
The third challenge is climate change. In Oltenia, this means a lower river flow from the Jiu River. It has also become warmer, and there is less direct rainfall on the land. The desertification in the region is often solely attributed to climate change, but it is questionable whether that is accurate. The Danube riverbed has been reduced, causing a large part of the former floodplain to no longer be submerged, resulting in drying up. This cannot be easily reversed given the functions now established in this area.
Lack of effective collaboration
Fourth, there is a lack of effective collaboration among the partners in the region. It’s mainly every man for himself, which means that joint solutions are not sought or are insufficiently explored. This is a legacy from the past when farmers were compelled to work together.
Fifth, the groundwater level is declining. This is related to the deterioration of the old irrigation system, prompting farmers to seek alternatives for irrigation. Part of the groundwater extraction is monitored through a permitting system, but the monitoring system is not yet fully comprehensive. Moreover, households (without permits) can have their own wells with limited capacity, and there is inadequate oversight of the actual water quantity extracted from these sources. A consequence of the low groundwater level is the declining quality of the soil for agricultural purposes.
First and foremost, it is necessary to restore the Sadova-Corabia irrigation system. This is not under the responsibility of the Ministry of Water (Apele Romane). The total area of the Sadova-Corabia irrigation system is 80,000 ha. Because there are no major investments possible, several investment requests are being processed through the Ministry of Agriculture (ANIF). It seems that this will be successful, but the 2024 elections in Romania can change everything.
Connection between rivers
In the northern part of the pilot area, we are focusing on strengthening the connection between the Jiet River and the Jiu River. By widening and deepening the Jiet in combination with creating polders and retention basins, more water can be retained upstream. This water can sustain the northern irrigation area. Pumping from the Danube is not realistic for the northern sub-area, given the required sustainability and the demands investors have for such projects.
Consequences of groundwater extraction
Secondly, it needs to become clear what the consequences of groundwater extraction are. Therefore, we are working on mapping the water balance in the pilot area. For this purpose, we have held discussions with the National Hydrological Institute of Romania. They possess the necessary data. From the Ministry of Water, the requested dataset is seen as the standard for monitoring drought in Romania.
Restoring the source
We are also focusing on a small pilot project to restore a source area. This primarily involves the restoration of watercourses from that source area to the plots of the research institute in Dabuleni. We are also trying to involve other stakeholders to increase knowledge about and the use of institutional cooperation agreements.
In Bucharest, the project team has made agreements for the project’s continuation. Teams have been formed to focus on the work packages.
The city of Adama, like many other cities in Ethiopia, suffers from poor sanitation in the 'condominiums'. The Blue Deal partnership in the area is contributes to a Nature-Based Solution: constructed wetlands. So far, the partnership has created 2 wetlands in Shashemene and is now working on a new wetland in Adama. Read all about the project and watch a movie in which residents speak about what the wetlands mean to them.
The condominiums are construction projects with which the government is trying to accommodate the increasing group of people moving to the cities. These condominiums are not connected to the sewer network; the waste water is collected in septic tanks that are buried around the houses. These tanks must be emptied regularly by suction trucks so that they do not overflow.
However, the condominiums are often inhabited by Ethiopians who do not have much money. They often cannot afford the costs of having their septic tanks emptied. In practice, this causes the tanks to regularly overflow. Sewage flows between the houses – where children play – and leaks into nature and nearby lakes. The residents suffer from odours, health problems and see their environment deteriorate.
Plants and stones purify the waste water
There is a great need for a solution to this problem. Connecting these condominiums to the sewer network is a long-term process, and in the meantime, residents and the surrounding area have daily concerns due to the overflowing tanks. The Blue Deal partnership for Waste water in the cities of Shashemene, Adama and Hawassa, together with the NWB fund, contributes to a Nature Based Solution: constructed wetlands. Within such a constructed wetland, a septic tank is still used to collect ‘solid waste’, but the rest of the waste water flows through to a container in which a combination of specific local plants, stones and gravel is used to purify the waste water.
Watering crops or flushing toilets
After purification, this water cannot be drunk, but it does have other uses. The Blue Deal partnership helps monitor water quality so that it becomes clear what the water can be used for. This includes watering crops (at the root) or flushing toilets.
This way of collecting and purifying water ensures that the polluted water does not end up in nature. Another benefit is that wetlands are micro-ecosystems that increase biodiversity. They attract insects and birds, and also provide a cooler and greener environment in the middle of the hot city.
The benefits are diverse
In April, the team that will be working in Adama went to look at these wetlands. We spoke to residents of the condominiums in question about their experiences with the wetlands: what went well and what can be improved during the construction of the wetland in Adama? Both the residents of the condominiums and the municipality were very pleased with the effects of the constructed wetlands. These are:
Financial: The costs of emptying the septic tank in the past were high. After creating the wetlands, the tanks need to be emptied much less often. In addition, one of the plant species in the wetland (napier grass) can be harvested by residents to sell as animal feed.
Social: The problems of the overflowing septic tanks (odors, diseases) affected not only the residents of the condominiums themselves, but also those living in the lower areas where the dirty water flowed. Conflicts regularly arose about this. Since the wetlands were created, this no longer occurs.
Physical: Children used to play in the sewage from the overflowing tanks, which of course posed health risks. One of the interviewees says: “When I got my child, I knew I needed to leave this unhealthy place. Now, with the constructed wetland, I really don’t want to leave anymore.” A woman with asthma who had to leave her home because the bad air aggravated her illness was also able to return.
Environment: The wetlands not only make the environment cleaner, but also more beautiful and cooler. This is also contributed to by the fact that the money from the napier grass can be invested in improving the living environment: One of the interviewees says: “When I look out my window, I see beautiful flowers, which makes me so happy.”
Creating more wetlands
All these advantages ensure that the municipality, the water company and the residents of various condominiums in Adama are also very keen to get started with their own wetlands. With the support of the Blue Deal and the NWB fund, we are now working hard to realize this.
The second half of September marked another work visit for the Blue Dragon partnership in Vietnam. This included a training week and the strengthening of the ties with several partners.
The visit began with a training week for our partners’ staff on Flood Risk Management, conducted by experts from the Dutch water authorities of Hollands Noorderkwartier, Vallei en Veluwe, and an employee from Rijkswaterstaat (former Vallei en Veluwe employee). The focus was primarily on the importance of dike inspections and how to carry them out in practice. This was put into action during the field trip.
In addition, in the context of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and the Netherlands, a tree-planting event, supported by the Blue Dragon programme, was attended. The tree-planting event took place near Can Tho, one of our partners. Trees were planted on the banks of the Mekong River by attendees and students to combat erosion. The Vice-Chairman of the People Committee Can Tho and Consul General Daniel Stork of the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City were also present at the event.
Furthermore, the work visit was used for a meeting with the Dutch Embassy to ensure alignment and a unified vision of the Dutch government’s activities in Vietnam. The Dutch Embassy also assisted in a meeting with the Ministry of Construction.
Commitment for the coming years
We also held discussions with the People Committees of our partners to strengthen commitment to the programme for the coming years. It was evident that attending the Blue Deal Congress last June had a significantly positive impact on the commitment. Partners now have a better understanding of the entire Blue Deal, why the Netherlands is involved, what is happening in other partnerships, and the shared challenges.
Blue Deal broadcasted on Vietnamese TV
Lastly, it’s worth mentioning that, to our surprise, we made it to Vietnamese TV twice during this work visit! A news report was made in Kien Giang Province about the training we conducted there. And in Can Tho, the tree-planting event was covered on television.
His Majesty the King of the Netherlands and Her Majesty Queen Máxima were proudly received at the Blesbokspruit wetland in South Africa on October 18, in the presence of South African Minister Mchunu (water and sanitation). The visit to this Blue Deal project is the first part of their 3-day state visit to South Africa.
The wetland suffers from poor water quality, caused by the water hyacinth, an invasive aquatic plant. The King and Queen are enthusiastic about the creative solutions that South African and Dutch water authorities are jointly investigating to combat water hyacinth. This is done in the context of the Blue Deal, the international programme of Dutch Water Authorities and the Dutch Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Infrastructure and Water Management.
Fleas combat the water hyacinth
During the tour, the royal couple saw how the water hyacinth is removed. This is not only done by hand and with machines. Researchers are experimenting here with biological control. Natural enemies of the water hyacinth play the leading role: fleas from South America. King Willem-Alexander visited the greenhouse where the fleas are grown. And watched as these were deployed on the water hyacinth.
Entrepreneurs use water hyacinth a raw material
In the meantime, Queen Máxima spoke with a local entrepreneur, who uses the dried water hyacinth to weave baskets and other useful products and sell them. The woman also trains others in weaving and entrepreneurship. This initiative really appealed to the Queen. Also, water hyacinth is not only used for weaving products. Applications on a larger scale also seem promising, for example as a raw material for briquettes or geotextiles.
Young water professionals and students help out
There is still a lot to discover and learn within the Blesbokspruit project. The Blue Deal makes grateful use of the innovative ideas of students with a passion for water from the international Wetskills programme. These students come from all over the world. Their goal: finding innovative solutions to water management challenges in a changing world. In Blesbokspruit, a Wetskills participant presented her ideas to the King.
Challenges to learn from, experiences to share
Sharing knowledge and experiences with each other is what the water authorities do in the Blue Deal programme. The Blesbokspruit project is a good example of this. This is not just about solving an isolated problem. Water managers pool their expertise and share the results, also with other regions with similar problems. The Blue Deal programme has partnerships in 15 countries. The goal: improve access to clean, sufficient and safe water for 20 million people worldwide.
By exchanging knowledge, the Dutch water authorities also learn a lot from partnerships with other countries. For example, just like South Africa, the Netherlands has to deal with invasive exotic species. In addition, the water authorities can learn a lot about drought, with which South Africa already has a lot of experience.
On September 7, the Dutch management of the 4 largest Blue Deal partnerships came together in the Dutch province Fryslân for a meeting. The objective for this gathering was: how can we learn from each other about managing large partnerships?
The meeting was amongst the partnerships of Mozambique, Colombia, Eswatini and South Africa. The managers were invited to Friesland, at the invitation of the partnership manager of Mozambique, of which Wetterskip Fryslân (the Dutch water authority in the area of Fryslân) is the lead partner. This was the third time that the major partnerships organized such a consultation. This time was extra special, thanks to a boat trip through the beautiful Alde Feanen nature reserve.
Topics to discuss
The colleagues exchanged, for example, their experiences with working with a so-called ‘talking sheet’. This sheets makes it visible which Blue Deal topics the partnership is working on, and where there are topics that still need to be addressed. “It helps to establish a relationship of the concrete activities which are implemented with the longer-term goals,” says one of the participants. “Large partnerships deal with many people and interests. Visualising this helps to get an overview of how all our activities contribute to our larger goals, and what we should continue or stop.”
The participants also discussed, among other things, their annual plans for 2024, presented to each other how they have organised their partnerships and discussed decentralization in one of the partner countries. They also covered the safety assessments of work visits, finances, accountability, and much more.
Learning from each other
An important part of the Blue Deal is learning from each other. Therefore, the Blue Deal learning programme also includes a training for new partnership managers. Thanks to this joint intervision of the partnership managers, the 4 largest partnerships are now going one step further to exchange knowledge with each other.
From August 27 to September 4, a Young Expert (YEP) training took place in Nairobi for the entire Blue Deal YEP group. Monique Zwiers, learning officer at the Blue Deal Programme Office, joined the group.
The training in Nairobi was part of the learning programme of the YEP group that was established specifically for the Blue Deal. Last year in September, a training also took place in Leidschenveen, the Netherlands, at the start of the YEP program. The Yeppers are now halfway through their two-year programme. Zwiers: “They can put the lessons learned during this training week into practice in the coming year.”
During the week, attention was paid to various training sessions during the first 3 days. Zwiers: “The training courses are not so much about water themes, but are often focused on personal development. In this way, the Yeppers become increasingly aware of their own position within their organization and how they can influence their team.”
Exchanging knowledge with each other
On Thursday there was an excursion to the Thika Basin dam, where they received an explanation about water management in the area, which serves as a water extraction area for Nairobi’s drinking water. Furthermore, a tree nursery was visited in the area where trees are grown to protect the banks of the Thika basin.
Zwiers: “During such an excursion you see that the YEP people ask all kinds of substantive questions and also discuss substantive themes with each other. With that idea in mind, we also started a Blue Deal ‘tailor-made’ YEP group. So that if we bring them together, they can really learn from each other substantively and thus strengthen the knowledge within the Blue Deal programme and spread it within their own partnership. With YEP we want to train young people and thus grow a group of good professionals within the partnership.”
Training ‘Train the trainer’
On Friday, the Yeppers received a ‘Train the trainer’ training, so that they can also provide training themselves. Zwiers: “They were very enthusiastic about that. Now we hope that the group will connect with existing Blue Deal initiatives, such as the Communities of Practice, where we share knowledge on a number of themes.”
A ‘Make a film with your smartphone’ workshop took place on Saturday. All participants made a video. We highlight a few of these videos in this playlist.