World Water Week: ‘The way we deal with water needs to change fundamentally’


Too much, too little or too dirty: almost every country in the world – including the Netherlands – has problems with water. During World Water Week from 20 to 24 August, people travelled from all over the world to Stockholm to talk about water issues and possible ways of solving them. Meike van Ginneken, the Netherlands’ new Special Envoy for Water, was also there.

Every year since 1991, thousands of policymakers, entrepreneurs, scientists, young people and activists have been meeting in the Swedish capital for World Water Week. The event focuses on global water-related problems and potential solutions. And this year, the delegates included Dutch policymakers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, as well as special water envoy Meike van Ginneken.

At the beginning of August, Meike van Ginneken took over from Henk Ovink, the Netherlands’ first-ever water envoy. Meike has over 25 years’ experience in the field of water, climate, energy and food. As Special Envoy for Water she will be working hard in the years ahead to strengthen the Netherlands’ water ambitions and enhance its international reputation for know-how and expertise in this sector.

UN 2023 Water Conference

World Water Week built on agreements made previously at the UN 2023 Water Conference in New York earlier this year. The Netherlands organised this conference together with Tajikistan, in order to put the importance of water higher up the global agenda. ‘In New York the world agreed on the Water Action Agenda. Now it’s time to take action and get on with implementing the agenda,’ the water envoy explains.

The Water Action Agenda contains over 800 agreements, commitments and pledges to achieve SDG 6 – by ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. ‘The way we deal with water needs to change fundamentally,’ Meike explains. ‘The global water cycle is out of balance. We use far too much water, there is too much pollution and there are frequent shortages. And the poorest communities are usually the hardest hit. We need to solve this water crisis: only then can we tackle other major challenges like climate change and food security.’

Dutch know-how and expertise

World Water Week, which brings together policymakers and other water security experts, provided a golden opportunity to work together on solutions. ‘We’re demonstrating the water knowledge that the Netherlands already has. But we’re also learning a lot from other countries – especially about drought, of which we in the Netherlands have less experience,’ Meike explains.

Internationally, the Netherlands has a good reputation in the field of water, she affirms. ‘There’s considerable demand for the technological know-how from our universities and knowledge institutions. And also a lot of experience with Dutch water management, as demonstrated by our water authorities and drinking-water companies. These systems can’t be reproduced identically in other countries, but they can still provide inspiration.’


In Meike’s view, major progress has been made with water in recent decades. For instance, child mortality is currently at its lowest level ever, partly due to better-quality water supply. In addition, billions of people now have access to clean drinking water and there are fewer deaths caused by flooding, thanks to modern early warning systems.

Meike believes we can learn a great deal from these successes, but we also need to strive for greater progress. ‘Water must remain a key item on the political agenda. Especially in the run-up to the COP28 climate conference this coming November, we’re advocating water as a central theme, because water and climate change are inextricably linked.’