At last, Twitter provided me with a concrete lead! Early June I spotted a Tweet by the Netherlands Water Partnership, asking for last minute nominees for a South-North Dialogue on Water Related Climate Adaptation organized by the Dutch Knowledge Network on Sustainability, Climate and Energy. As I felt it had my name all over it, I applied and was very excited to find out I was selected to participate in the week-long dialogue in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands are well known for their experience in water management and climate adaptation. But how can this expertise be utilized to support developing countries? In the dialogue, organized and hosted by (a.o.) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNESCO-IHE, CPWC and Both Ends, participants from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Ghana, Mozambique and Kenya, and young professionals from the Netherlands took part in master classes on Dutch knowledge, tools, policy and governance in the field of climate related water management. The aim was a peer-assist; to learn how the Dutch cope with projected sea level rise, increased extreme events and more variation in rainfall, and to assess how the specific adaptation needs from these countries can be addressed with tools or measures developed in the Netherlands. Where are the (mis)matches between supply and demand? And how should Dutch development policies take these (mis)matches into account in developing country specific strategy plans?
During a week of intensive classes from Dutch water and climate experts and debates between the participants, it was interesting to experience the differences in climate threats and needs for climate adaptation knowledge between the Southern countries. Ghana is especially facing extreme droughts, and in need of regional models to predict short term changes in climate and hydrology. Bangladesh is most concerned with safety against flooding, is already using prediction models, but requires more climate and hydrological data. Indonesia, as a maritime country, is most in need of improved climate services and oceanic data, and requires capacity building in climate research and modelling.
But what was especially interesting for me to see was that the Dutch knowledge institutes present their water expertise mostly in terms of safety against flooding, while adaptation needs in developing countries are strongly focused on securing freshwater availability and food production, to support livelihoods and local development.
Correspondingly, the Dutch take pride in presenting technological innovative measures like the Maeslant storm surge barrier, or the Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, but the applicability of these large-scale, technical and extremely costly measures in developing countries seems limited. However, the underlying principles of Dutch programmes like Room for the River (increasing upstream water retention to improve river discharge capacity, while improving environmental quality) or the Delta Programme (mainstreaming climate adaptation into Dutch policy, ensuring adaptive management) are most certainly of great value for supporting livelihoods the South, if applied in the local context. Is the Dutch water sector sufficiently aware of this in its policy programmes on knowledge sharing like the Water Mondiaal programme?
It is not the technological examples that are the most valuable lessons from the Netherlands, but it’s the successful paradigm shifts that the Dutch have made: from single purpose to multi-functional use of space, integrating various functions, disciplines and stakeholders, and from traditional hard solutions to softer, ecosystem based, adaptive solutions to a changing environment.
The challenge for Dutch development policy as well as the Dutch water sector is to translate the valuable Dutch water expertise into easy to use, sustainable, low cost tools and measures that can aid capacity development and implementation of measures in countries from the South. This was an eye-opener for me, and I certainly plan to apply this while following up on partnerships developed during this week to support application of Green Adaptation measures in the South.
Photo credit main picture: Photo by Matt and Kim Rudge