3 countries meet for regional knowledge exchange

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 joined regional Blue Deal exchange meeting in Johannesburg. Here they discussed the issues regarding data management of water data.

Similar challenges

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.”

Lessons learnt

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.

Different perspectives

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.

Conference marks landmark for Blue Deal partnership South Africa

On November 24, the Blue Deal Conference for the South Africa Partnership was held in Johannesburg. David Mahlobo, the South African Deputy Minister of Water and Sanitation, and Dutch and South African employees of the various projects were present. During the conference, the partner agreement for the Blue Deal Phase 2, which runs from 2023 to 2030, was signed.

David Mahlobo, Deputy Minister Water and Sanitation, Risimati Mathye, Deputy Director-General Water Services Management and Hein Pieper, Chairman of the Blue Deal South Africa, sign the Partnership Agreement.

Clean and sufficient water for 2.5 million people in South Africa by 2030: that is the goal of the South Africa Blue Deal partnership. South African and Dutch water experts work together to improve water quality in major rivers. The partnership runs from 2018 to 2030.

Take responsibility

Hein Pieper, chairman of the Blue Deal for South Africa, was there: “We have to go faster, in this second phase. Climate change makes that necessary. And I’m not just talking about institutional changes. Projects succeed because people take responsibility. They act on the basis of underlying values and feel ownership of a project. Here in South Africa, it is about the immense importance of clean water for the basic needs of 2.5 million people.”

Objective: improving the water quality of the major rivers

The 4 projects of Phase 1 (2018-2022) focused on improving the water quality of major rivers such as the Vaal River, the Crocodile River and the Msunduzi River. A large part of this period was during the corona crisis during which only virtual meetings were possible. The Dutch and South African water experts who worked together learned a lot during this period. They kept in touch, organized virtual missions and shared knowledge through webinars. For example, about combating the water hyacinth, innovation in purification, community involvement and river management.

Reflection and looking forward

The Blue Deal conference was an important moment to reflect on the process of recent years, the successes and the challenges. Not everything went smoothly during the corona years. Political changes created different relationships and priorities. It is difficult to deal with this in an exclusively digital environment.

That’s why it’s important to keep meeting each other. That opportunity was there during the conference. More than 140 participants from various cooperation partners attended. Not only to look back, but especially to look forward to Phase 2, while using the experience of previous years. And with an increasing understanding of how we can share it with people facing similar challenges. Not only in South Africa, but also beyond.

Concrete examples

That may all sound a bit abstract. Concrete examples? In Blesbokspruit, the local population uses the removed water hyacinth, a proliferating exotic that impedes the flow of water, as raw material for useful products. In the Vredefort Dome project, the local population is encouraged by the Blue Deal to keep the river free of waste. Blue Deal members also performed remote, virtual inspections of treatment plants in the Crocodile project. And in the Msunduzi project, the Blue Deal shared vital data between various organizations.

Curious? An impression of the projects at the end of Phase 1 of the Blue Deal South Africa can be viewed in the video.

New project added

We will enthusiastically continue with the 4 existing Blue Deal projects. And there will be a new project: Theewaterskloof. There we will work on the waste (water) problem in a township in an urban area that is expanding rapidly.a

Collaboration with eSwatini confirmed during work visit

At the beginning of September, Nettie Aarnink, member of the executive board at the Dutch water authority Vechtstromen, visited eSwatini. The most important part of this work visit was the visit to "the honorable Minister Mabuza" of the Ministry of Natural Resources & Energy. During this visit they made agreements about the role and input of the national government for the next phase of the Blue Deal partnership.

Agreements have been made about the personnel and financial input that the national government will provide in eSwatini. Agreements have also been made to support one of the most important processes for the further decentralization of water management in Eswatini. The visit and speeches of Mabuza and Aarnink received a lot attention on television and in the newspapers.

Gender workshop

Another important part of this work visit was to contribute to the gender workshop for the Joint River Basin Authorities (JRBA) and the main partner organizations of the JRBA. As in the Netherlands, there are fewer women than men active in the water sector in eSwatini. But there is an important difference: much more than in the Netherlands, the work of the water authorities has a direct influence on the lives and futures of girls and women.

Often it is the girls who have to fetch water for the family. A great deal of time is lost when the distance between the water well and the home is increased. For girls, this is at the expense of school time, sometimes girls are no longer able to go to school. In addition, it is often the women who grow the crops for their own family. Good water management is of vital importance to them. Hence the focus on gender. Aarnink contributed to this by sharing her experiences in the Netherlands and in other African countries and by talking to the board members of the JRBA.

UNDP, European Union delegation and WaterAid

Finally, visits were also made to the UNDP, the European Union delegation in eSwatini and to WaterAid. These organizations are already involved and the Blue Deal would like to connect them (even) more to the activities in eSwatini. All in all, a very useful work visit that will have an impact on the cooperation within the Blue Deal partnership.

> Read more about the Blue Deal partnership in eSwatini

Work visit to Colombia in June and July

Last June and July, representatives of Dutch Water Authorities travelled to Colombia. Here they worked in 5 regions on participatory monitoring, wastewater treatment, crisis management and other themes. In workshops with regional partners, input was collected for the plan for Phase 2 of the Blue Deal, from 2023 to 2030.

This work visit was part of the Blue Deal programme InspirAgua. Within this programme plenty of knowledge and expertise in water management is exchanged between Dutch and Colombian water professionals. The work visit was concluded with a presentation by InspirAgua with explanations from directors of the organizations involved during Acodal, the network conference for (international) cooperation in the Colombian water sector.

To get an impression of one of the projects that was visited, watch this video on LinkedIn.

Work visit to the Netherlands

At the beginning of October, InspirAgua will receive Colombian colleagues in the Netherlands during a technical work visit on water governance in Colombia. Using the three-layer model, the development of a governance network in Colombia will be discussed, taking into account its purpose, structure, scope and actors.

During the visit, attention will be paid to drawing up recommendations for national policy in relation to integrated management of water resources ‘PNGIRH’ in Colombia and the new national development plan. Wageningen University & Research is organizing a reflection workshop on work experience in an international context and knowledge development in water management.

Want to stay informed about the activities within InspirAgua? Follow the program on LinkedIn.

3 BluElephants launched in the Palestinian Territories

In September, 3 wastewater recycling units, or 'BluElephants', were officially launched in Salfeet and Halhul in the West Bank in the Palestinian Territories and are piloted for 2 years.

The pilot is part of the Blue Deal partnership together with the WaterWorx programme. The Blue Deal partnership is working on improving water quality and water management in Palestinian Territories.

The units have arrived at the Palestinian locations where there is an urgent need for wastewater treatment: the President Mahmoud Abbas Governmental Hospital in the city of Halhul (two BluElephants) and one at the Red Cresent clinic, office building and apartments in the city of Salfeet.

Urgent need

In most municipalities of the Palestinian Territories there is no sewage wastewater treatment in place and there is an urgent need for wastewater treatment. Like many countries, the Palestinian Territories suffer from severe water shortages due to growing water demands combined with extreme weather events due to climate change. Rivers are running dry and groundwater levels are unprecedentedly low. On top of that, the political situation remains tense, and transboundary water sharing is part of the conflict. Saving, recovering and reusing water is crucial in order to safeguard water supplies today and in the future. Therefore, the launch of the 3 BluElephant units at 3 Palestinian locations was welcomed with open arms.

Proud

Dr. Fadi Danna of the President Mahmoud Abbas Governmental Hospital in the city of Halhul (2 BluElephants) states: “I am so proud to have the BluElephants at the hospital ground and to show the public the need for treating waste water, to ensure a good environment, public health and more water availability. The BluElephant is truly a blessing since Halhul Municipality does not have any collection or treatment system.”

In the coming years, the Dutch-Palestinian Water Operators’ Partnership will closely test and review the functioning and applicability of the units in Palestinian Territories and elsewhere around the world.

> Read more

Turning water hyacinth into useful products

The 19th of July was a day of celebration for 11 women in Blesbokspruit, South Africa. After a training of 6 or 12 weeks they finished their training in entrepreneurship from the Thekga company. The women have been trained to make useful products out of the harvested water hyacinth.

The Blesbokspruit project is part of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa. The objective of this project is to improve the water quality and thereby restore the ecological status of the wetland. The project aims to improve quality of the water in the Vaal river area, which millions of people depend on.

From threat to opportunity

The use of the water hyacinth for the production of articles and home decoration is an interesting example of how a threat can be changed in an opportunity. The water hyacinth is one of the invasive species that blossom as a result of the bad water quality in many locations in South Africa. The water hyacinth gets removed by hand and by machines. There are also plans to use the water hyacinth on a wider scale for biobased products because there is plenty of it. When a water hyacinth plant blooms, the seeds will stay in the ground for 20 years, which means it is a difficult specie to eradicate.

Blesbokspruit work visit

The celebration of the graduates was part of the program of the Blesbokspruit work visit in July 2022. Other important parts of the visit were:

  • the preparation of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with all the stakeholders in September 2022;
  • the evaluation of the results and lessons learned of the first phase of this Blue Deal partnership;
  • the preparation for Phase 2 of the Blue Deal programme;
  • the selection of a new Young Expert for a traineeship programme of 2 years;
  • the alignment of the water quality goals, activities and planning.

Water evaluation and planning in Mozambique

Water is scarce in Africa. Yet, the people living in the African Republic of Mozambique use it in abundance and often without paying any taxes. As part of the Blue Deal, Dutch Water Authorities is helping the ARA-Sul water authority in southern Mozambique to identify the effects of people's water consumption and to improve the process of levying charges. ARA-Sul itself has launched a radio and tv campaign to call on residents to register.

Climate change represents a huge challenge for water managers everywhere. The numbers of floods, droughts and a lack of clean water are increasing and there’s a growing need for knowledge and expertise on water management. The goal of the Blue Deal programme is to help 20 million people around to world to gain access to clean, sufficient and safe water. To that end, Dutch Water Authorities forms international alliances with local water authorities elsewhere.

6 years of drought

In all, there are 17 partnerships in 15 countries, of which the Mozambique partnership is the most extensive one. It has resulted in pilot projects that aim to improve flood forecasting, water quality, distribution of available water and operational plans. “A better distribution of the available water is key,” says Martin Bos, Programme Director of the Dutch water authority Wetterskip Fryslân. “The most recent drought in the country lasted for 6 years.”

Shortage of water is a common occurrence, adds Lizete Diaz, Head of Water Resources Services at the ARA-Sul water authority in southern Mozambique. “Take the reservoir behind the Pequenos Libombos dam, for example. It’s supposed to hold a supply of water that lasts the region for 3 years. But in 2020 there was only 20 per cent of that normal supply left. Fortunately, things have improved since then. But we need to manage and monitor our water resources better.”

WEAP-model

The introduction of WEAP (a model for Water Evaluation and Planning) has helped ARA-Sul with this. “Not only does WEAP establish different scenarios for the effects of water usage and climate change,” Bos explains. “It makes clear how ARA-Sul can best deal with them as well.” Diaz adds: “It helps us understand how much water we have. And just as important, how we can best distribute it.”

In Mozambique surface water is mainly used for agricultural and industrial purposes, groundwater for drinking. “WEAP only applies to surface water,” Diaz goes on. “There is another model for groundwater. Currently, we’re running a pilot in Maputo, so that we understand how much groundwater is available for consumption.”

Taxes

As in many countries, water management is costly in Mozambique. “But unfortunately, it’s not easy to levy taxes,” Diaz says. “That’s why we help ARA-Sul to improve the levying process,” Bos adds. “If a farm is using water for irrigation, for example, or an industrial company is polluting one of the rivers, we’ll try to make them foot the bill.”

The partnership is also helping to determine the appropriate rates and develop an administration system for creating and sending invoices. But the problem is: ARA-Sul has nowhere to send them to, since many consumers have failed to register. Diaz: “We’ve started a campaign on radio and television asking people to make themselves known. It has been quite a success. In the first 3 months, there were hundreds of new registrations.”

If residents refuse to register, at some point they will be fined, Diaz says. “But not just yet. I have faith in people. Let’s wait and see how our campaign plays out.”

Text: Pieter Verbeek

Drought lessons from Cape Town

South Africans deal with water issues in a very special way. We can learn a lot from them, says Hans Waals, chief executive of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa.

“It is not where you start, but how high you aim that matters for success.” These words from Nelson Mandela fit perfectly with the ambitious goals of the Blue Deal: to help 20 million people in 14 different countries to have clean, sufficient and safe water.
Strategic consultant at the Dutch water authority Hollandse Delta Hans Waals is chief executive of the Blue Deal partnership in South Africa.

As such, Waals knows how severe the consequences of drought can be. “Like in Cape Town 6 years ago. The city was at a serious risk of running out of water altogether. To avert this catastrophe the city council and water authority started to warn the people. By continuously informing them of the consequences, they succeeded in bringing down household water consumption by more than halve. They did not go from 100 to 0 overnight. They reduced consumption in stages. But they made it. Day zero never came, but it was a close call.”

“Over the years, we have built a good water network in South Africa,” Waals says. “Our contribution is aimed at improving water quality and water availability. We do this, for example, by training managers and maintenance people of sewage treatment plants.”

In South Africa, there are very large differences between the various ethnic groups, Waals goes on. “These are also reflected in the distribution of water. 60 per cent of the available freshwater goes to agriculture and 95 per cent of that goes to rich white farmers. Because of South Africa’s past, other groups have been put at a disadvantage. They do not have the knowledge to stand up for themselves. So stakeholder empowerment and levelling the playing field are very important.”

That is why the South Africans have found a clever way of involving stakeholders in their water management. And the Netherlands can learn a lot from this, says Waals.
“So water authorities organize a meeting 4 times a year, where all stakeholder groups come together and explain what their interests are. Together, they then decide what needs to be done. In this way, they get to know each other and understand each other’s situation better.”

“I once experienced a session like that about the drought in Kwazulu Natal. There were no acute problems yet, but there was the prospect of them. Instead of quarreling about a solution, both industry and agriculture as well as the people of Kwazulu Natal agreed to reduce their water consumption straightaway, so there would be more water left for the really dry period. All groups agreed, voluntarily. I think that’s amazing.”

Framework for Blue Deal Phase 2 has been published

The Blue Deal Framework Phase 2 has been published. This framework contains the plans and agreements for the period 2023-2030.

A group of people is looking at sticky notes on a table

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;
  • strong institutions;
  • 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.

> Read the Blue Deal Framework Phase 2

The Netherlands doubles Blue Deal commitment

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.

Dutch Water Authorities on a work visit in Kenia

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.

Blue Deal

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.”

Gaining knowledge

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.