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.”


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.

Update on Blue Deal partnership in the Palestinian Territories

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.

People looking at 2 BluElephant units

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.

Blue Deal opens new water laboratory in the West Bank

In July, Sander Mager, vice president of the Dutch water authority Amstel, Gooi en Vecht, visited the Blue Deal partnership in the Palestinian Territories. There, he had the honour to open a new water laboratory in the city of Kharas.

Sander Mager (left) opens the new water laboratory

This will be the first lab to test the water quality in North-Hebron. It is a research centre in an area of around a quarter million people. Besides testing the water quality, it monitors the effluent of the local waste water treatment plant in the municipality of Kharas.

The construction was made possible through the cooperation with the municipality of Kharas, the Joint Service Council, and the Palestinian Water Authority.

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.

People looking at 2 BluElephant units

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.


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

“Scale up BluElephant”

Early August the project leader of the Palestinian territories (Mr Frank Tibben) gave an interview to H2O Water Network about the BluElephant, an innovative and mobile wastewater treatment unit.

The concept fits seamlessly into the Blue Deal and WaterWorX programmes with regard to clean and safe water and protecting people and the environment. The first three units will be placed in the Palestinian Territories in November at locations selected by the Palestinian Water Authority, with the most urgent needs.

The pilot will be presented during the Amsterdam International Water Week conference in November, with the aim of further scaling up.

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.

Study: water management knowledge exchange

TU Delft and Erasmus University, in collaboration with Dutch Water Authorities, have launched a study into water management knowledge exchange. The universities are investigating which lessons the Dutch regional water authorities take abroad.

Meeting room with people seated at tables for a traning session. One man is stood, giving a presentation.
Dutch Water Authorities and local partners attending a training session.

As part of the study into water management knowledge exchange university researchers are looking at the lessons learned at an individual level, group level and organisational level. The aim is to find out exactly what effect these lessons have on organisations.


A questionnaire is sent out via the Dutch Water Authorities foreign coordinators. It is hoped that insight can be gained into the possibilities and limiting factors of international knowledge sharing.

More on Dutch Water Authorities and knowledge exchange

Blue Deal Annual plan 2021

The 2021 annual plan of the Blue Deal programme has been approved by the steering committee. The partnerships will continue their work in 2021 to improve water management in 14 countries.

Two men inspecting a waste water treatment plant.

The focus of the Blue Deal Annual plan 2021 is on three crucial elements: sufficient knowledge and skills, a well-functioning organisation and collaboration with key stakeholders.

Online learning

As COVID-19 continues into 2021, the Blue Deal partnerships focus on online learning and training in the first six months. This is not easy in all countries, for example due to slow internet connections or recently initiated partnerships. Therefore, the partnerships also focus on additional local representation. Dutch Water Authorities hopes to physically meet its partners again in the second half of 2021.

More on the Blue Deal