We won’t save any lives with reports

Henk Ovink - Water Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Water presents a huge task in the world. When rivers burst their banks, when harvests fail due to drought and when people die from a lack of clean drinking water, then water is a disruptive factor. Based on the expertise and experience of its water sector, the Netherlands wants to help in tackling urgent issues concerning water. As water ambassador, I act on behalf of the Netherlands. We provide emergency aid worldwide in crisis situations and we help countries to stay ahead of problems.

Acquiring knowledge, reacting and preparing

Increasing water-awareness is high on our agenda. This is why the International Delta Coalition was launched. Twelve countries from four continents are cooperating to exchange knowledge, experience and ideas. We are also working on a world water atlas that maps out water-related problems all over the world and at the same time shows opportunities, solutions and innovations.

Furthermore, we respond rapidly and intelligently to world events. Our Disaster Risk Reduction Teams can be on hand quickly in case of disasters such as floods or dike breaches. Countries that see economic opportunities in their water system can request and receive advice from us. In addition, we help countries to prepare themselves proactively for the threat presented by water. We do this through inclusive cooperation in which we draw up a long-term strategy. Such delta plans or master plans are concerned with more than just the problem of water. They also involve public health, food provision, urbanization, energy provision and emancipation.

No single party has all the knowledge in-house that is necessary to solve complex water management tasks. This is only possible if many different parties cooperate and are prepared to share their knowledge. Cooperation and transparency are therefore the core values in our approach. As water ambassador, I try to bring as many parties as possible around the table: the Dutch water sector and local parties and communities, but also international advisers. The more people around the table, the greater the chance of the plans being implemented. Delta plans have now been prepared for the Mekong Delta and Bangladesh, and we are elaborating a delta strategy for Myanmar. But Dutch institutions are also cooperating on similar plans for Egypt, Chile and Mexico.

Incident-driven projects solve nothing

But we must not stop at plans, because plans are reports on a shelf and reports don’t save any lives. Things only work if short-term implementation is coupled with the long term. I continue to insist on developing projects based on and connected with the long-term approach, and advise that the most innovative projects should be selected. It is not a good idea to carry out projects that solve a specific problem. This delivers too little in the long term. We need to have the courage to draw partners’ attention to this and governments have to dare to begin with implementation.

To avoid making the same mistakes tomorrow as those you made today, you have to need the capacity to learn. You can achieve this by evaluating projects in a very transparent and measurable way. The Netherlands is very good at calculating the added value of our approach. Our cost-benefits analyses now show that this integrated long-term approach does have real economic added value. It is a method that would be very useful to the world, in order to include in particular the soft values, such as the economic value of ecology and society, in such analyses. Due to the individual dynamics of countries, which of course we respect, they are still far behind in considering such matters. Exchanging knowledge and evaluations of the way in which parties form plans and carry out projects is instructive and provides an understanding of one another’s deliberations. This could lead to a standardized evaluation method. I would like to note here that the added value of such exchanges lies mainly in the connections between parties. Making the world better is something you do together – agreements that exclude some parties have no place here.

View here the projects and standardization initiatives related to water.