Closing speech by Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, at the River Basin Management Seminar, Surabaya

“I believe Dutch-Indonesian cooperation will lead to more smart solutions and new business cases for a clean and prosperous future in East Java province. Like the Nereda wastewater treatment technology, developed in the Netherlands. Or The Ocean Cleanup’s Interceptor, that cleans up plastic waste in rivers. Together, we can seize the opportunities that are there!”

Speech by the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, at the River Basin Management Seminar in Surabaya, Indonesia, 12 March 2020.

Vice-Governor Dardak, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s been an honour to attend this part of the seminar. And to be the closing speaker for this first session. I hope you’ve found the session productive. I’ve certainly heard good ideas and many interesting exchanges! That bodes well for the session after the break.

Our topic was river basin management. In particular, that of the Brantas River in East Java. A river that’s 320 kilometres long. With a river basin over 11,000 square kilometres in size.

It’s vital for the millions of people who live along its banks, who use its water for drinking, farming for life itself! So the river is important for health, food production, industry, fisheries, tourism and many other sectors.

This seminar has brought together experts from both our countries, to talk about restoring the purity of this vital natural resource.

The Netherlands is no stranger to the challenges of river basin management. We’re a delta country. Three major European rivers run through the Netherlands to the sea. We’re very crowded too. Nine million people live in our delta. And 70 per cent of our GDP is earned there. Water plays a key role in our social and economic development.

It’s usually a friend. But often enough it’s an enemy. Especially when it becomes polluted. Polluted rivers are an enemy of our own making: through the discharge of untreated sewage, industrial effluents and waste dumping.

I’d like to briefly tell you about our biggest river, the Rhine. It’s over 1,200 kilometres long, and passes through six countries, before flowing into the North Sea in the Netherlands.

In the 1970s the Rhine was severely polluted. Like the Brantas is today. The turning point came in 1986, when 20 tonnes of pesticide were released into the river by a devastating fire at a chemical plant in Basel, Switzerland.

It was a disaster. But, at the same time, a blessing in disguise. A year later, the Rhine Action Programme was launched, to clean up the river. And it was a great success. Nitrate and phosphorus pollution was halved. The discharge of a number of other substances was reduced by 80 per cent and, in some cases, eliminated entirely.

Four weeks ago, eight countries adopted a new programme, Rhine 2040, at a conference in Amsterdam. It, too, contains ambitious goals on making the Rhine even cleaner…

The reason I’m telling you this is to stress that such a clean-up is possible. It takes time. But the solutions are there. What’s needed is action, and collaboration.

Eight countries in the Rhine river basin work together in the International Commission to Protect the Rhine. Here in Indonesia, its vital that upstream and downstream authorities and stakeholders also join forces. This requires planning for the medium and long term, and for central, regional and local authorities to work together, including with stakeholders.

Together, they have to take responsibility for river management. Creating conditions that will ensure flood safety, water quality and water security for all those concerned. Working across provincial or city boundaries.

The good news is: you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! The Netherlands has a lot of experience with and knowledge on monitoring water quality, waste management, awareness and governance, which were keen to share.

Climate change isn’t the only cause of water management problems. Many problems are man-made. And they require man-made solutions. We need to change people’s behaviour, invest in flood defences, combat coastal erosion, prevent waste from clogging up rivers, and making room for water.

I believe that Dutch-Indonesian cooperation will lead to more smart solutions and new business cases for a clean and prosperous future in East Java province. Like the Nereda wastewater treatment technology, developed in the Netherlands. Or The Ocean Cleanup’s Interceptor, that cleans up plastic waste in rivers. Also, there are new technologies for more efficient water use in agriculture, aquaculture and industry.

Together, we can seize the opportunities that are there!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Water is and has always been a key theme in relations between our countries.
Amsterdam even has a Brantas Canal and a Brantas Bridge. Last October, President Joko Widodo and Prime Minister Mark Rutte reaffirmed the importance of our collaboration on water, preferably in a more strategic approach that also includes financing mechanisms, Sustainable Development Goals, and a climate agenda.

Discussions on our future collaboration and a new Memorandum of Understanding have
already started. It is due to be signed at the Climate Action Summit in Amsterdam in
October this year.

Earlier this week, in anticipation of the new MoU, I signed a Letter of Intent with public works and housing minister Basuki Hadimuljono. One of its priority themes is river basin management. The outcomes of today’s seminar will certainly be taken into account when drafting the new MoU!

We’re here today to identify areas for follow-up or follow through. We’d like to hear about your current and future strategies to improve river water quality, the tools you use and your solutions and interventions. This information can help us determine, together, what added value, capacity and expertise the Netherlands could deliver in East Java. Your insights could also contribute to positive changes in other provinces.

I hope the rest of your seminar is equally constructive and look forward to hearing the outcomes in due course!

Terima kasih. Thank you.