On October 3, 2022, Herman Havekes, employee of the Association of Dutch Water Authorities, gave his inaugural lecture as professor by special appointment at Utrecht University. Recently, it has been published in English, with the title: 'Successful Decentralisation: A critical review'. Interesting for everybody who wants to know more about Dutch water management.
During his inaugural lecture, Havekes discussed, among other things, criteria for a good organization of water management, its financing and the role of drinking water companies, water authorities, municipalities, provinces and the national government. He also mentioned that Dutch water management has been subjected to international scrutiny and received a positive assessment.
In the Netherlands, water management is 100 percent a public task. It is highly decentralized and that decentralized management has a solid financial basis. As a result, it can be executed swiftly. Havekes therefore argues that the decentralization of Dutch water management is successful. At the same time, he also indicated that there is, of course, still plenty of room for improvement.
From 22 to 24 March 2023, the United Nations Water Conference will take place in New York. Luzette Kroon, board member of the Association of Dutch Water Authorities, is there to represent Dutch Water Authorities and the Blue Deal, the international programme of Dutch Water Authorities.
The UN Water Conference is organized by the Netherlands and Tajikistan. It is the first United Nations conference on water in nearly 50 years. Kroon: “Many of the consequences of climate change have to do with water. It is too wet, too dry, the sea level is rising. The UN Conference is a key moment to reflect on the importance of water management worldwide.”
New York Water Week
In addition to the UN Water Conference, the Water Week will take place in New York from 18 to 24 March. This is an addition to the UN Water Conference.
Dutch Water Authorities and the Blue Deal organize various sessions during the UN Water Conference and the New York Water Week. Kroon: “During these sessions, we want to draw the attention of major financial players, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, to the importance of management and maintenance. They mainly focus on investments, for example on the construction of a water treatment plant or a dike. The management and maintenance is financed, but only for a short period. After that period, the investments sometimes fall into disrepair because management and maintenance cease. We call that ‘design, build and neglect’. We would like to replace ‘neglect’ with ‘maintenance’. We want to get a place on the Water Action Agenda for this.”
Why a water conference?
Kroon: “Water managers play a crucial role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are the 17 goals of the United Nations to make the world a better place by 2030.” And it’s not just about SDG6, which is specifically aimed at water. Water also plays an important role in achieving the other SDGs. “Water is a basic necessity of life. It is necessary for people’s well-being, safe living, cooling during heat stress, industry and world food production. We will not achieve the SDGs without water managers.”
Dutch Water Authorities: why cooperate internationally?
Through international cooperation, the 21 water authorities in the Netherlands exchange valuable expertise on water management and tackling problems resulting from climate change. For example, about how other countries deal with drought, a problem that the Netherlands is increasingly confronted with. Or how experiences of foreign partners with extreme rainfall can be applied to Dutch water management. Cooperation with water management organizations in other countries leads to a mutual exchange of valuable new ideas.
Blue Deal as an example
Kroon: “It is the intention that parties from all sectors pledge actions for the Water Action Agenda to contribute to the SDGs. We have already made a commitment for this action agenda in June 2022, namely doubling the money for the Blue Deal. We want to put the Blue Deal in the spotlight during the conference. As an example for world leaders and other organisations of a successful collaboration to spread water knowledge.”
The water challenges in Southern Africa are immense. Floodings, droughts; water and climate related disasters always seem to be just around the corner. On November 25, the Blue Deal partnerships of eSwatini, Mozambique and South Africa joined forces in the first joint regional Blue Deal exchange meeting in Johannesburg. Here they discussed the issues regarding data management of water data.
The 3 countries face similar challenges: how to ensure financial stability? How can data sharing within and between countries be improved? And many technical hurdles, for example how to integrate the now often still separate data systems? As Ntombikayise Dhladhla, participant of the Blue Deal Young Expert Programme, explained: “In eSwatini, the main issues are reliability of the data, which leads to limited data sharing. We are working in silos.”
During the day the Blue Deal teams of the 3 countries looked back on Phase 1 of the Blue Deal. Experiences and lessons learnt were shared. Looking to the future, people shared their ideas on which topics the partnerships can work together. Ideas included working together on a central database, organizing shared lab facilities and connecting existing databases.
Ambassador Han Peters mentioned the importance of long-term equal partnerships, which are the basis for the Blue Deal: “No one country can solve the problems of today on their own. You need different perspectives, you need people from different backgrounds if you want to get to the greatest solutions.” And with this first regional meeting of 3 Blue Deal partnerships, a strong start has been made.
Why do we have a Blue Deal and what can we achieve? Hein Pieper elaborates on how the Blue Deal helps 20 million people worldwide to gain access to clean and sufficient water, and to protect them against flooding. Pieper is chairman of the Dutch water authority Rijn en IJssel, president of the European Union of Water Management Associations (EUWMA) and cofounder of the Blue Deal.
“Water is the most important commodity we have on earth,” Pieper says. “Even in a delta like The Netherlands, water can be scarce these days. In other parts of the world, water and water pollution have caused problems for much longer. To be able to tackle these problems we need maintenance, training, monitoring, and so on. But unfortunately, there is no money for that. Dutch Water Authorities wants to change that. That’s why they joined forces with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management to work with other organizations around the world in the Blue Deal programme.”
The goal of the Blue Deal is to help 20 million people worldwide to gain access to clean and sufficient water, and to protect them against flooding. Pieper: “Blue Deal tries to bring this about by entering into partnerships with local organizations in fifteen countries. What is unique, is that these are not one-off but long-term projects. The Dutch share their knowledge of management and governance, which our partners can use to their advantage. But we learn from them as well, about drought for example. Reciprocity and respect for each other are very important.”
To be able to meet the Blue Deal deadline of 2030 the Dutch Water Authorities and the other promoters have decided to increase their joint financial commitment to the programme to 10 million euros per year. International cooperation like the Blue Deal is important, Pieper says. “It provides us with new insights and makes us more appealing to new employees. Colleagues working for the Blue Deal go home enriched. They have learned to approach familiar problems in an entirely different context and that gives them a new perspective.”
The Blue Deal Framework Phase 2 has been published. This framework contains the plans and agreements for the period 2023-2030.
At present – only a few years away from 2030 – the world is in a decade in which more decisive action is needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So the Dutch Water Authorities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management are deploying more resources to grow the Blue Deal in Phase 2 of the programme. The programme’s financial scope will grow from €16 million in Phase 1 (average of €5 million per year) to €80 million in Phase 2 (average €10 million per year). This way, they aim to contribute even more to SDG 6.3-6.6 (clean water and sanitation) and SDG 13 (climate action).
How the Blue Deal works
The Blue Deal programme comprises 17 international partnerships in which water authorities from the Netherlands and other countries work together to achieve the goal of helping 20 million people around the world to gain access to clean, sufficient and safe water by 2030.
Water authorities enter into a 12-year partnership in which we work on long-term solutions for the region. The Blue Deal strengthens capacity building of water authorities in other countries so that they can implement long-term solutions. The focus is on governance and integrated water management. This means that partners work together to promote:
adequate knowledge and expertise in the field of water management;
collaboration with important stakeholders.
Results Phase 1
The Blue Deal programme is divided into 2 phases: 2019-2022 and 2023-2030. A large part of Phase 1 coincided with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic delayed results, but also provided valuable lessons on hybrid working and the value of strong local teams. The partnerships have worked on strengthening local institutions and capacity building of the local teams. They’ve also worked on topics such as hydrological models, monitoring systems and early warning systems.
Next steps for Phase 2
In the second phase, the programme will further expand the institutional improvements that have been achieved with the partners and continue with their substantive implementation. The aims of Phase 2 are:
The water authorities abroad will be at the heart of the programme.
The Blue Deal aims to leverage other investment programmes.
Learning from each other and other stakeholders will become an important part of the programme, for example through Communities of Practice.
We will retain approaches that proved effective during COVID-19: hybrid working, strong local teams and the deployment of Young Experts.
Besides this, climate adaptation and social inclusion will be the crosscutting themes for the programme. Each partnership will make this part of their approach.
The Dutch national government and Dutch Water Authorities are doubling their joint annual commitment within the Blue Deal to 10 million euros per year in the period 2023-2030. Minister Liesje Schreinemacher for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation made this promise on 14 July in New York during the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The goal of the Blue Deal: to help 20 million people worldwide to gain access to sufficient, clean and safe water.
In this way, the Netherlands wants to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The minister also called on other countries to work more and faster on clean water and sanitation worldwide. The focus on water during the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is a prelude to the major UN Water Conference in March 2023, hosted by the Netherlands and Tajikistan.
Climate action means water action
During her speech, the minister indicated that there should be a Water Action Agenda. “Science teaches us that water and climate in particular are inextricably linked: 90% of all disasters are water-related, which is why climate action is water action.” Doubling the annual budget for the Blue Deal was the Netherlands’ first commitment to the Water Action Agenda. Schreinemacher called on the other countries to take similar actions.
The Blue Deal is the international program of the 21 water boards (Dutch Water Authorities), together with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Infrastructure and Water Management. The program started in 2018 and the second phase that the minister is now announcing will run from 2023 to 2030. The program consists of 17 long-term partnerships in 15 countries.
Problems are increasing
Luzette Kroon, board member International Affairs at the association of Dutch Water Authorities: “Water managers all over the world are noticing the consequences of climate change. Floods, droughts and a lack of clean water are increasing worldwide. Therefore, there is an increasing demand for knowledge and expertise in the field of water management. And that is exactly what the Dutch Water Authorities have to offer. We would like to share that knowledge and expertise. The program thus contributes to achieving SDGs 6.3 – 6.6.”
In addition to sharing their own knowledge, the Dutch Water Authorities also gain knowledge from the partnerships. New ideas and experiences arise that can also be used in the Netherlands. For example, countries such as Burkina Faso and South Africa have years of experience with drought, something that is relatively new in the Netherlands. In addition, the work of the water authorities in the Blue Deal partnerships also creates opportunities for Dutch and local businesses.
From April 16 until April 30 a team from Dutch Water Authorities visited Peru for the Blue Deal. This was the second work visit since the corona pandemic.
The team spoke with its local partners, the water boards of Piura and Tumbes. Together they analysed the progress of their collaboration. The team also looked into the challenges of water scarcity and the distribution of the available water and where extra support from Dutch experts is needed. Another topic was the planning for the rest of the year and the second phase of the Blue Deal programme, which will last from 2023 until 2030.
Water scarcity and flooding
The work visit therefore consisted of a lot of meetings and discussions, for example with the National Water Authority and with users of the water and stakeholders. Field visits to several sites provided insight into the local situation. In both Piura and Tumbes the problem is pretty much identical: water scarcity during part of the year and danger of flooding during the rainy season. The work visit also showed that the quality of the surface water needs to be improved through waste water treatment plants.
The work visit strengthened the bonds between Dutch Water Authorities and the local partners and the perspectives for future collaboration have been broadened. The partnership aims to send in Dutch experts to Peru for several times in the coming years to establish a strong work relationship that helps to improve the water management in Peru. In between these work visits there will also be online meetings to exchange knowledge.
In November 2021 the Dutch team was finally able to meet their colleagues from the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa again. They visited the Crocodile River Project. The project is now ready to start again.
Because of COVID-19 the project collaboration went on only via digital meetings. And few will deny, this was sometimes quite a challenge. Due to this, the project came to a halt. Fortunately, in November 2021 it was possible for the team to meet each other live again, which was very inspiring. Now the project is back on track.
Buhle Shongwe, technician Water Demand & Conservation: “We want to grab each and every opportunity, so we’re excited to be working once again with you.”
A delegation of Colombian directors from the water sector visited the Netherlands from May 8 until May 15. The visit was part of the Blue Deal program InspirAgua.
Within InspirAgua Dutch water authorities are working together with their Colombian partners. They do this through inspiration and sharing knowledge and experiences with each other, for example on the issue of participative monitoring. This cooperation ensures a further professionalization of water management in both the Netherlands and Colombia. The main goal: better water management and cleaner water for millions of people in Colombia by 2030.
The visit of Colombian directors from the water sector to the Netherlands underlines the good cooperation within InspirAgua. The delegation was introduced to tasks in water management in the Netherlands. Including water storage, room for the river and the restoration of ecological values. In addition, the directors spoke to representatives of Dutch Water Authorities, various ministries and the Colombian embassy in the Netherlands.
Mutual learning and inspiration
Erik de Ridder, highest board member of the water authority De Dommel and administratively responsible for the InspirAgua programme, is pleased with the visit: “It is important and good to welcome a large delegation of Colombian directors involved in InspirAgua to the Netherlands. In this way they gain even better insight into the work we do within the program. We learn from them and they learn from us. That works best if you can view the assignments together on location. The visit is a confirmation of the constructive and fruitful cooperation between Colombia and the Netherlands and is a good basis for the follow-up.”
Creating joint added value
Luzette Kroon, board member of Dutch Water Authorities and administratively responsible for the Blue Deal, clearly sees the added value of the collaboration within InspirAgua: “We have to adapt spatial planning in the Netherlands to climate change. We can learn a lot from the way Colombia really does that together with its inhabitants.”
Foreign water managers and interested parties can now be inspired remotely by Dutch regional water management. Nine films of innovative water projects show how the Dutch work on safe, clean and sufficient water. The films offer a solution for international delegations who are unable to travel due to the corona pandemic, but who are seeing the water problem increasing in their country.