Speech by Melanie Schultz van Haegen, Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, at Wings for Water, The Hague
‘The Netherlands is keen to play its part in achieving a water secure world. So we offer you our cooperation, our experience and our knowledge’, said Melanie Schultz van Haegen, minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, at the Wings for Water conference in The Hague. ‘I hope that today’s discussions will lead to new partnerships and renewed commitment. That commitment is vital in achieving a water secure world in the future. And I sincerely hope that together we will succeed in making water security an important part of our sustainable development after 2015.’
Your Royal Highness,
ladies and gentlemen,
Just like His Royal Highness, It gives me great pleasure as well to welcome you to the Netherlands.
And in particular to The Hague.
Here, we find ourselves in the middle of a river delta.
Just south of The Hague, our major rivers meet the North Sea.
And the city is part of a coastline spanning more than 500 kilometres.
So this may be the best place to be talking about the role of water security in a more sustainable world.
Of course, water security covers a wide range of areas.
Take, for example, the crucial role that water resources play in securing our future demand for food and energy.
Or the importance of drinking water and sanitation in curbing diseases and infant mortality.
And water allocation is becoming more and more of a prerequisite for peace.
Indeed, water is a basic human right.
But to this I would like to add the Dutch perspective.
It is the perspective of the growing risk of floods and droughts.
A risk that has affected our country for centuries.
Let’s take a closer look at the Netherlands.
Almost one-third of the country lies below sea level.
And almost two-thirds is vulnerable to flooding.
These are the areas where most of our people live.
And where most of our GDP is earned.
Like the rest of the world, the Netherlands is feeling the impact of two global trends.
The first is demographic change.
Around the world, cities are growing rapidly.
Many of them are situated on low-lying river deltas.
Just like The Hague.
According to UN estimates, in 2025 half of the world’s population will be living in flood-prone areas.
The second trend is climate change.
Around the globe, sea levels are rising.
And weather patterns are becoming more and more extreme.
We are seeing more droughts in some areas and more rainfall in others.
These changes are exposing us to new risks.
Risks that have no respect for national borders.
Water will always find its way downstream.
So to minimise the risks we must invest in different forms of cooperation.
In fact, if we don’t work together, all our efforts to boost water security will fail.
This is a lesson we have learned in Netherlands over the centuries.
So water-related cooperation is deeply entrenched in our society.
As early as the thirteenth century, long before the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established, our farmers set up independent water boards.
We have gained immense knowledge about keeping our delta safe.
Knowledge that will help us protect our own future.
But we need to keep refreshing this knowledge.
And keep on innovating so that we can tackle the challenges facing us, both now and in the future.
And with our knowledge, we can also help other vulnerable areas around the globe.
As we speak, Dutch experts are putting their expertise to good use in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and the United States.
And, as you can see here, in this flood protection and irrigation project in Mozambique.
But as you know, The Netherlands is a small country.
Just like everyone else, we need the help of others to deal with our water-related challenges.
With that in mind, I see three forms of partnership as vital in making the world a safer and more sustainable place to live.
First, we need to create more cross-border partnerships.
Along river basins, for example.
The Netherlands is working closely with its neighbours along the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt rivers.
And we are seeking cooperation with other North Sea states and river deltas similar to ours.
Second, we need to engage the public more in decision making and monitoring.
Sometimes this can be an inconvenient source of delay for government projects.
But we have learned that the earlier we involve the public and companies in our plans, the better these plans become.
And the more quickly we are able to set up, operate and maintain our water works.
Third, we must do more to harness the expertise of dedicated professionals and specialist companies.
The 80,000 people employed in the Dutch water sector are living proof that public-private partnerships add real value to our efforts.
So when we step up our efforts to increase water security we must embrace the opportunities that public-private partnerships offer us.
They help us make better use of the private sector’s skills and expertise.
And create scope for private financing.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I hope that today’s discussions will lead to new partnerships and renewed commitment.
Our commitment is vital in achieving a water secure world in the future.
And I sincerely hope that together we will succeed in making water security an important part of our sustainable development after 2015.
The Netherlands is keen to play its part in achieving these goals.
So we offer you our cooperation, our experience and our knowledge.
In fact, we’ve already developed specific plans.
Just this morning my colleague minister Ploumen of Foreign Affairs and I announced new funding for a worldwide water disaster fund.
About the details I’ll have to keep you in suspense for now.
Tomorrow my colleague Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, will tell you more.
But for now, I would like to wish you all a successful and rewarding day.