Blue Deal continues its work in conflict areas

Through the Blue Deal, Dutch Water Authorities works in 15 countries worldwide. Even in countries where intense conflicts sometimes arise. Like now in the Palestinian Territories, Mali, Ethiopia, and Burkina Faso. How and why does the Blue Deal continue to operate there? Water expert Frank Tibben says: "We continue to collaborate to improve access to sufficient, clean, and safe water. In good times and in bad."

5 people overlook the West Bank from a distance

“Can I travel safely to and from my home? Will I still see my family again after this training?” These are questions Duaa Matar asks herself before deciding to travel to the Netherlands for training at the end of November 2023. Matar is a Palestinian woman working as a Young Expert Professional (Yepper) for the Blue Deal. She lives and works in the West Bank, in the Palestinian Territories.

The interview takes place in a coffee shop in The Hague, the day before she heads back home. A surreal experience as she talks about the war situation in her country. “It’s like I stood outside of reality for 2 weeks. I felt guilty for not being in my homeland. Physically I was here, but mentally I was at home.”

Political situation has changed

The Blue Deal is the international programme of the 21 Dutch water authorities, the Dutch ministries of Foreign Affairs and Infrastructure and Water Management, and water managers worldwide. The goal: to improve access to clean, sufficient, and safe water for 20 million people worldwide. That’s why the Blue Deal has formed 17 partnerships with water managers in 15 countries.

“In some of these countries, the political situation looked different when we started with the Blue Deal,” explains Frank Tibben. He is responsible for collective intelligence and strategic relationships at World Waternet, which works for the Blue Deal on behalf of the Dutch water authority Amstel, Gooi en Vecht. Some of the areas they work for in the Blue Deal, include conflict regions. Tibben also serves as the partnership manager for the Blue Deal in the Palestinian Territories.

Good and bad times

He continues: “We don’t construct infrastructure ourselves; we’re not an engineering firm or contractor. We support local water managers in carrying out their tasks. We do this through knowledge exchange in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Dutch and local colleagues work in a hybrid manner, with short visits to the country or to the Netherlands as needed. This makes us flexible and allows us to continue, even when conflict arises. The work then often becomes more digital.”

“Within the Blue Deal, we form partnerships until 2030. A lot can happen in such a long period, positively or negatively. We continue to collaborate to improve access to sufficient, clean, and safe water. In good times and in bad,” says Tibben.

Long-term commitment

“Of course, sometimes I wonder: couldn’t we achieve much more in other, safer areas?” says Luzette Kroon. She is board member of the Association of Dutch Water Authorities and is responsible for the international portfolio and chair of the Blue Deal. “But that also means throwing away what we’ve built and abandoning our principles. We operate on the principle of long-term commitment. It’s precisely because of that long-term commitment that we can achieve things. That’s what makes us powerful.”

Pilots

How does the work of the Blue Deal continue in conflict regions? Matar talks about a pilot in Salfit, a city in the West Bank. “A smart system has been created here for monitoring water levels. We can remotely read and adjust the water level. This means the engineer in this area no longer needs to visit the location. It is a relief, because it is currently an unsafe region near Israeli settlements.” The pilot started 3 months before the outbreak of renewed violence.

Another example is the pilot with 3 BluElephants in the cities of Salfit and Halhul in the West Bank. These are mobile, decentralised purification plants that purify wastewater for reuse. Now that Palestinian colleagues in the West Bank can no longer safely travel to and from work, these installations ensure that wastewater continues to be purified.

A pilot with 3 BluElephants ensures that wastewater continues to be purified.

Working in neighbouring countries

In other conflict-affected countries, the Blue Deal also seeks creative solutions. Much of this involves thinking along and providing advice. From a distance. Tibben says: “It helps if the Dutch colleagues have already visited the locations and partners. Last year, for example, we were involved in Ethiopia in the construction of a wetland, a natural water buffer for wastewater treatment. This makes it easier for us in the Netherlands to provide digital support for the monitoring of the wetland and the construction of new wetlands.”

Other options are that Dutch and local colleagues meet in a safe neighbouring country. Or that local colleagues come to the Netherlands.

Continuous support

The Blue Deal team in the Netherlands and the team in the West Bank speak weekly. Digitally, which works well thanks to the experiences from the COVID-19 period. Matar says: “Our colleagues from the Netherlands provide us with continuous support. Every week, we assess what is realistic. We even made plans for 2024, although we don’t know exactly how the situation will develop.” Tibben adds: “Especially in difficult times, the long-term Blue Deal partnership focuses on sustainable water management.”

Kroon says: “In conflict areas, water management is so necessary. We work on solutions that fit the local context, focusing on local people. With the Blue Deal, we contribute to a bit of stability. The fact that our partner water authorities are still functioning indicates that our work is meaningful. As long as we achieve sustainable impact, we continue our work.”

This article originally appeared in magazine ‘Het Waterschap’. Read the original article in Dutch.

Blue Deal session about Social inclusion in IWRM

On September 12, the Blue Deal presented a session during Partners for Water's Day ‘Social Inclusion in Water Climate Adaptation – making a Transformation’ in Utrecht.

“We need to bend the beam of observation upon ourselves”, says Martin Kalungu-Banda of the Ubuntu.Lab institute, one of the speakers during the plenary programme. Are we always doing as well as we think we do or should we sometimes look at ourselves more critically? The room is full of people from the water sector, from NGOs and organizations such as the Blue Deal. All with the beautiful intention of supporting others worldwide. But this requires that we work on the right things and especially with the people involved. “We’re trying to help, but we forget to listen,” notes one of the participants of the day.

Within the Blue Deal we try to do this through stakeholder participation. During the session ‘Working bottom up in Integrated Water Resources Management: how to implement an Area Oriented Approach to maximize sustainability and inclusiveness’, about 20 people from different organizations were present and 3 examples from the Blue Deal were discussed.

Communities map top 10 issues

Priscilla Daddah, Young Expert for the Blue Deal partnership in Ghana, explains during the session how the partnership involved stakeholders by working with 3 communities to map the top 10 issues for the Lower Volta Songor region. They also jointly drew up a Community-based Resource Management Plan (CREMA).

Using traditional tribal hierarchy

Bertho Bulthuis, water expert from the Blue Deal partnership in Burkina Faso, explains how they use the traditional tribal hierarchy within his partnership. “This is an already existing structure, able to connect people in the communities.” Of course, there are also disadvantages to this, Bulthuis admits. Because these structures do not represent everyone either. Another challenge he mentions is that many people in the area cannot always focus on anything else besides their daily needs. “It’s not always easy to look towards the future to things like climate mitigation and adaptation, when you are struggling for daily needs, like food for the day.”

Future base camp

Tanah Meijers, from the Blue Deal partnership in Kenya, talks about the ‘Bring Njururi back to the river’ project. This project is about restoring the water beetle (Njururi) to the Thika river in Upper Tana, Kenya. The water beetle symbolizes good water quality and a healthy ecosystem.

Stakeholder participation also plays a major role in this project. For this purpose, the team organized a so-called future base camp. About 120 people from various social groups and organizations in the area came together for a few days of camping. Together they thought about how they would like to shape the future in their region and how they could achieve this. Meijers: “We were looking for common ground, because everybody is part of the solution. Together, we drew a map. What is happening today? What are the challenges we face? And what do we need to do to get the water beetle back?”

Discussion

After the presentations of the case studies, participants of the Blue Deal session discussed in 3 groups about how to scale an inclusive sustainable bottom-up approach on IWRM: how to implement a jointly drafted sub-catchment plan and maximise sustainability and inclusiveness? Below some of the discussion outcomes:

  • Formalisation of the effort of local organisations is necessary (mandate/ status);
  • Make use of current systems of formalised governments;
  • As soon as you scale up, the balance between bottom-up and top-down can get lost, it is a battle to fight for the rights in a bottom-up approach. Be aware of these issues;
  • There will be a political battle/competition about livelihood needs and less on water needs when you scale up. Be aware of these aspects;
  • Choose your local champions to scale your approach;
  • Keep reflecting: is everyone really included?
  • Clear benefits and responsibilities are necessary to get everyone on board;
  • Realisation of the needs: analyse the needs in an area thoroughly;
  • These processes take time. Spend time on raising awareness in your project

Get in touch

Want to know more about the outcomes of these 3 cases? Reach out to info@bluedeal.nl to get in touch with one of the speakers.

Work visit Burkina Faso: several workshops and Blue Deal event

In February, the first work visit of 2023 for the Blue Deal in Burkina Faso took place. The visit included a Blue Deal event, field visits and various workshops.

For the Blue Deal event, the President of the Dutch water authority Hunze en Aa’s, Geert-Jan ten Brink, and regional manager Janette Worm from World Waternet traveled to the capital. Together with Moustapha Congo, the Permanent Secretary of the SP-GIRE, they signed the agreement for the Blue Deal Phase 2 and expressed their commitment to cooperation for the upcoming years. The press was also present and the item even made it to the national TV!

Many successes during practical workshops

The work visit also consisted of a number of practical workshops: workshops on communication, water plans and water monitoring. All the 5 water authorities of Burkina Faso attended the workshops. A great milestone is the 20-step plan to create Catchment Area Plans. Also, the waterplans were set up in combination with the commission MER. In addition, a major step included the development of water monitoring plans. Furthermore, the Burkina water authorities developed a communication plan and calendar. Due to the Blue Deal efforts, 1 water authority has hired the first communication officer in Burkina Faso.

Spin-off Blue Deal

In addition to the Blue Deal signing, another project signing took place. Another spin-off of the Blue Deal: a reforestation project in the Cassau region. The aim of this project is to prevent erosion and restore soil fertility. This project is carried out by APAF (Agroforesterie Arbres fertilitaires Foresterie), a local NGO, together with World Waternet and water authority Hunze en Aa’s.

Official start of Blue Deal Phase 2 in Burkina Faso

21 February was an important day for the Blue Deal in Burkina Faso. All the partners of the Blue Deal partnership were present to reflect on Phase 1 of the Blue Deal and to celebrate and sign for the start of Phase 2.

Signing of Phase 2

The partners of the Blue Deal include representatives from the 5 Burkinabe Water Agencies, the CLEs, the SP-GIRE (the Ministry of Water), OIEau, Eau Vive international, SNV, Unité de Gestion Project GIRE, the Embassy of the Netherlands and Dutch Water Authorities.

Within this Blue Deal partnership, the focus is on Integrated Water Resource Management and building capacity for performance improvement. 5 Burkinabe Water Agencies and several Local Water Committees are working closely together with the Dutch water authorities World Waternet/AGV, Hunze en Aa’s, Noorderzijlvest and Drents Overijsselse Delta.

Important landmark for cooperation

The celebration and signing of the Blue Deal Phase 2 is an important landmark for the cooperation between the 2 countries.

Le Secrétaire Permanent Moustapha Congo from the SP-GIRE (the Ministry of Water) emphasized in his opening speech: “We really appreciate that the cooperation and the working visits from Dutch Water Authorities to Burkina Faso are going ahead, despite the situation our country is currently facing. We already have a long history together and the renewal of the commitment between our countries is again for a long period of time.”

President of the Dutch water authority Hunze en Aa’s Geert-Jan ten Brink: “This partnership is important for both our countries. It is the way to exchange knowledge on water management issues. We all have to deal with the impacts of climate change. Climate change means that the Netherlands will increasingly be confronted with extreme weather events, like drought. Burkina Faso is the expert in this field. The way Burkina Faso deals with these challenges is a huge inspiration to us.”

And that’s what makes this collaboration between the 2 countries so unique: the one deals with too much water, the other with too little. Due to climate change, both the Netherlands and Burkina Faso need to work together to get ready for the future.

Burkina Faso and the Netherlands learn from each other

In the week of January 16, a delegation of 3 people from the Blue Deal partnership in Burkina Faso visited the Netherlands for a 1-week work visit. The delegation was welcomed and hosted by the consortium partners water authority Drents Overijsselse Delta, water authority Hunze en Aa’s and World Waternet (water authority Amstel, Gooi and Vecht).

The visitors were Ghislain Kabore, national coordinator of Faso Koom, Adissa Compaore, administrator of Faso Koom, and Lacina Bakouan. environmental manager and sociologist. They work in the Faso Koom programme, part of the Blue Deal programme, where 5 Burkinabe water authorities and 4 Dutch water authorities are working together on improved water management.

Programme of the visit

The focus of the visit was to align all the activities within Faso Koom. In-depth sessions with colleagues from the consortium were held about stakeholder/conflict management, finance, climate change adaptation and monitoring. Also meetings with different board members were part of the programme. There was also time for some field visits to get a better understanding of the Dutch context and Dutch water challenges. The delegation visited polders around Amsterdam and Zwolle, went to Eems and Groningen and got the opportunity to visit a greenhouse as well.

Dealing with drought

The effective cooperation between the Burkinabe and the Dutch partners offers many opportunities for the Netherlands as well. The Netherlands is increasingly experiencing periods of droughts. Burkina Faso is an expert in this field, because it had to cope with droughts for decades already. The country learnt to deal with droughts by various nature-based solutions, like reforestation and stone bunds.

Adapting to climate change and coping with droughts is something The Netherlands really has to learn. Water management has always been dominated by discharging water. Now the Netherlands must learn how to retain water. For this, the Dutch can learn a lot from Burkina Faso! Learning from each other: the best way to adapt to climate change.

Work visit from Burkina Faso to the Netherlands in October

On the 10th of October, a delegation from the Blue Deal partnership in Burkina Faso, consisting of representatives from the Nakanbé Water Agency, the ministry of Water, and FASO KOOM travelled to the Netherlands for a one-week work visit. The goal of their visit? Knowledge exchange on water management and strengthening the collaboration within the partnership.

The delegation was welcomed by the consortium partners water authority Drents Overijsselse Delta, water authority Hunze en Aa’s and World Waternet/Amstel, Gooi en Vecht.

Understanding the Dutch context

During the stay, experiences were shared about the history of water management and the water challenges nowadays for the Netherlands and Burkina Faso. Not only by presentations, but also by site visits.

To show how the Netherlands deals with floods, the delegation visited the IJsseldelta, where they went to one of the locations of the Room of the River project (‘Ruimte voor de Rivier’) near the river the IJssel, and other areas where flood protection measures were taken.

To get an understanding of different ways how surface water can be treated for drinking water, a visit was paid to the Amsterdamse Waterleidingsduinen.

Mutual learning

For mutual learning and understanding in the Blue Deal partnership, it was very valuable to welcome the Burkinabe delegation to the Netherlands. Visiting the different locations together gave the Burkinabe delegation better insights in getting to understand the Dutch context and perspectives in water management. It also inspired to continue the Blue Deal work in Burkina Faso. For the partnership in particular, the visit contributed to a strengthening of the partnership, trust, energy and mutual learning for Blue Deal Phase 2.

Succesful exchange trip Mali and Burkina Faso

From 28th November to 2nd December, the Malian waste water operator (ANGESEM) visited the Burkinabe operator (ONEA) in Burkina Faso. During the working visit the partners exchanged challenges, approaches and opportunities for collaboration.

To develop ANGESEM’s knowledge of wastewater valorisation, the partners visited utility and household scale biodigesters to understand the transformation process. Read more here.

Lecture: solutions for complex water problems

The KIWI learning programme recently organised a lecture by professor Guy Alaerts about the unruly nature of international water management and solutions for complex water problems.

Water managers worldwide are looking for integrated solutions for complex water problems. Major investments are often required to become climate proof, but finding financing is difficult. Water managers and financial institutions do not know where to find each other and converting globally available financing into concrete projects on a large scale is difficult. Watch the lecture below. The lecture is in Dutch, but can be viewed with subtitles.

Integrating human rights into water management

In a recent workshop, the board of the Nakanbe water authority in Burkina Faso discussed how to integrate human rights into water management policies. Water management plans can be tested against human rights on the basis of a developed guide.

Group of people working in a project involving water plants in Burkina Faso

The guide identifies aspects such as gender equality, taking the poorest people into account and water allocation for the common good. The board of the Nakanbe water authority embraces the assessment framework in the guide and has decided that respect for human rights should be leading in its policies.

Collaboration with gold sector Burkina Faso

In Burkina Faso, the gold sector is a large water user and polluter. To improve water management in the Burkina Faso gold sector, a collaboration has been set up by the Blue Deal partnership 'Faso Koom'.

People standing in a dry riverbed in Burkina Faso, Africa.

To work on water issues at the gold mines, a collaboration has been set up between Dutch Water Authorities, the Burkina Faso Ministry of Mines and several research institutions and NGOs.

Among other things, a guide has been developed on how to build water retention reservoirs at small-scale gold mines. The Blue Deal partnership is also starting a project with a research institution to clean an abandoned contaminated gold mine with reeds. Faso Koom is expected to realise both projects in 2022.