Water as Leverage – an opportunity to accelerate climate change adaptation

By Henk Ovink

The Challenge

Water represents man’s most challenging and complex risk. Floods and droughts, pollution and water conflicts combine in conceivably disastrous ways with rapid urbanization, a growing demand for food and energy, migration, and climate change. This makes water one of the greatest risks to economic progress, poverty eradication and sustainable development. Floods and droughts already impose huge social and economic costs around the world, and climate variability will make water extremes worse. If the world continues its current path, projections suggest that we may face a 40% shortfall in water availability by 2030. Meaning that this global water crisis can be seen as the biggest threat facing the planet over the next decade. That is why in 2016 United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim convened a High Level Panel on Water (HLPW) with 11 sitting Heads of State and Government, including the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, to help put water higher on the global agenda and work on actions and investments. On March 14The HLPW presented its report ‘Making every drop count’ on March 14 to the world with a call to action.

Building on this global awareness, we need to see water’s connecting and interdependent strength also as an opportunity. The time has come to use water as leverage for impactful and catalytic change. This requires a balanced match between long-term comprehensive urban planning and short-term innovative transformations, and between ambitious climate adaptation plans and bankable projects. Transforming vulnerable cities into resilient ones; and this while developing more knowledge of the water system and learning to build more capacity among everyone and all, institutional and individual. Therefore result driven, inclusive and transparent collaboration is essential; across all sectors, all layers of government, all stakeholders – from activists and vulnerable communities to private and public institutions.

The challenge is to bridge the gap between plans and projects and between a siloed technocratic approach and an inclusive process that connects all stakeholders form day one. The biggest task comes with ensuring an approach where the ones that implement and fund the projects are part of the conception of the ideas to secure that innovation and catalytic projects don’t fall between the cracks of the end game of evaluation and standardization. We can’t repeat our past mistakes and continue to make investments in isolated projects that aim to deal with the disasters of yesterday but actually lead to even worse disasters tomorrow. We have to start funding innovative and transformative projects that link everything together and thus meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) of the United Nations, the Paris Agreement’s climate ambitions and help change the world and the system from the ground up.

The Initiative: Water as Leverage

Taking up this challenge, the Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Henk Ovink, initiated Water as Leverage. Other partners of this initiative are: the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Dutch Enterprise Agency, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation, Architecture Workroom Brussels, the International Architecture Biennale and 100 Resilient Cities. Doing so Water as Leverage launched its first programme at the 23rd Climate Conference in Bonn: ‘Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia’.

The Programme: Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia

Water is the leverage for climate impact, yet ‘it takes millions to invest billions wisely’ – that is the conviction of our Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Henk Ovink. The programme ‘Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia’ will provide the funding for an inclusive, collaborative and innovative process, with the aim to develop pilot projects that will use water as leverage for real climate resilience impact. After an intense period of thorough research, fieldwork, and workshops, Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia consortium partnered with the cities of Khulna, Chennai, and Semarang. These three city regions are only a starting point: they are pilots for similar cases in Asia and the world and therefore possible springboards for a consecutive follow up. The parallel goal next to these bankable projects, proofs of the matter and ready to fund and implement, is to develop this transformative methodology of pre-project preparation and help institutionalize its methodology in partnership with a growing group of partners from governments, financial institutions, investors and other professionals, to be able to apply this methodology in many more regions in regard to their urban, water and climate challenges.

Call for Action

On Earth Day (22th April 2018) Water as Leverage launched its first call for professional interdisciplinary teams to engage in Chennai, Khulna and Semarang and together with and supported by the Water as Leverage coalition develop transformative resilience projects in the field of water, climate adaptation and urban planning. This Call for Action is the start of an inclusive and comprehensive competitive process to identify the most ground-breaking projects on site and move these towards implementation as examples for transformative resilience interventions to be brought to scale across the whole region of Asia.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Our bi-weekly newsletter provides insights into the people, projects, and organizations creating lasting change in the world.