Speech by Stientje Van Veldhoven, State Secretary of Infrastructure and Water Management, at the Launch of the Valuing Water Initiative, New York

“Why is water cheaper than diamonds? It’s a well-known paradox, something that has puzzled thinkers for centuries, from Plato to Copernicus and Adam Smith. Water is essential for all life. Compare that to a diamond, which doesn’t do much more than sparkle! Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think water should cost more than diamonds. But, too often, no one thinks twice about using water.”

Speech by Stientje Van Veldhoven, State Secretary of Infrastructure and Water Management, at the Launch of the Valuing Water Initiative, New York, 17 July 2018.

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues – from South Africa, Peru, Mexico and Bangladesh, members of the new Valuing Water Initiative,

Welcome! I’m delighted to see you all here… Gathered in New York to see if we’re on target to achieve the goals we agreed in 2015.

We must be honest: it doesn’t look good for SDG 6. The UN’s synthesis report on water and sanitation, published last May, sounded the alarm. Because we’re not on target to achieve the goals by 2030. We’re not doing enough. We’re not putting our ambitious words into effective action.

I don’t need to tell you how important water is. As the renowned American oceanographer Sylvia Earle said: No water, no life. No blue, no green. SDG 6 is vital for progress on all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

It’s no accident that the UN has declared the next ten years the Decade for Water Action. And, ladies and gentlemen, it’s up to you and I – and everyone who wants to join us – to supply the action! We’re going to keep working on the plan fleshed out by our government leaders in the High-Level Panel on Water. The time has come for us to invest in valuing water.

Because, why is water cheaper than diamonds? It’s a well-known paradox, something that has puzzled thinkers for centuries, from Plato to Copernicus and Adam Smith. Water is essential for all life. Compare that to a diamond, which doesn’t do much more than sparkle! Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think water should cost more than diamonds. But, too often, no one thinks twice about using water.

And that leads to bad decisions: in spatial planning and infrastructure, in urban planning and industrial development, in agriculture, in ecosystem conservation, in households... It leads, for instance, to farmers pumping up so much water for irrigation that people down the road don’t have enough drinking water.

One solution, according to the High-Level Panel on Water, is to put a value on water – in all its dimensions and for all stakeholders. Of course, I don’t need to convince you of this. It’s why you’re here.

In Mexico, for instance, you’ve worked together to create 12,000 rainwater-catchment systems in rural areas. And nearly 7,000 wastewater purification systems.

Or, let me give you a Dutch example. For centuries, the Netherlands focused on keeping the water out. Water management meant higher dikes, stronger dams… it was a battle against water.

But in recent decades, we’ve learned to look at water from a broader perspective. We’ve learned to balance the economic, social and ecological values of water. This has led to close consultation with farmers, fishers, mayors, the shipping industry, nature conservation groups… and local residents, of course.

And our efforts are paying off. In 34 places around the country we’ve let water reclaim the land. Not only has this made our country safer. These areas are also greener, more natural and have more recreational value.

The master plan behind all this is called Room for the River. These days, people from all over the world come to see not only the Delta Works – our fortifications against water – but also the Room for the River projects – our collaboration with water!

That doesn’t mean the Netherlands has successfully adopted all the valuing water principles. But, as these examples show, we’re working hard and improving our approach.


Ladies and gentlemen…
I’m proud to champion the Valuing Water Initiative, which is convening for the first time today. The start of the coalition of the willing!

We’re going to draw up an agenda for action and release investment strategies – finding our way as we go along. We’re going to set up demonstration projects and trials. So we can learn from best practices and spread them around the world. It’s about building capacity. And, in particular, about making people aware of the value of water. A bottom-up approach.

I invite everyone with good ideas to join us. And there are lots of good ideas out there.  Take Heineken, for example. It has built a brewery that uses only half as much water as before and generates energy from waste. Local farmers can re-use the excess water.

Or take Nespresso, which is teaching Colombian coffee farmers how they can use water more efficiently.

These are great examples that need to be scaled up. They should have major impact on our water savings. And they should become mainstream. So that no one thinks twice about saving water.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We’ve got until 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. That’s 12 years, just over 4,000 days, to build a water-secure world together. To go from ambition to action. From abstract principles to inspiring practices.

Valuing water is not a goal in itself. But it’s a vital instrument to get to where we want to be.

Thank you.