Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Mekong Delta Plan High-Level Meeting

Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at the Mekong Delta Plan High-Level Meeting on 17 June 2014.

Prime Minister Dung, ladies and gentlemen,

What could be more logical than the water partnership between Vietnam and the Netherlands? Especially in the Mekong Delta, a region that has a lot in common with my country. They are both densely-populated, low-lying delta regions of a similar size and population.

And we face similar challenges as a result of climate change: rising sea levels, changing river water regimes and salt intrusion. That’s why, four years ago, we decided to work together closely in the Mekong Delta Plan. Because when experts from different fields, different cultures and different countries come together, they can learn from each other.

At the end of 2013 a long-term vision was presented for the Mekong Delta. All international partners were present, including Melanie Schultz van Haegen, the Dutch minister responsible for water management.

Now it’s time to turn words into deeds. And I’d like to underline the joint call for a strong framework for development, as set out in the partner statement accompanying that vision. To succeed, ambitious, long-term projects like the Mekong Delta Plan need a clear strategy. And they also need to be properly embedded from an institutional and organisational point of view.

Nobody knows that better than the Dutch. For over a thousand years my country has battled with water. We built dikes to keep our feet dry. We created land from water. We built towns in marshy regions.

And now, because of climate change, we face new and even bigger challenges. We need to keep doing what we’re good at. But we also need to find new ways of safeguarding our future. And that requires new and different ways of doing things. In my country we’ve drawn up a special law, the Delta Act, which lays down all the necessary arrangements and long-term financing. That’s essential.

Of course, we gladly share our knowledge and expertise with other delta regions. Not only as an export product, but also because we see it as a duty. And because we know that two heads are better than one.

For we, in turn, can learn from the people of the Mekong Delta. For centuries they’ve been adapting their way of life to the water, and that’s something that we in the Netherlands are only just learning to do. So we need to help each other, and make each other stronger. The Mekong Delta Plan will help tackle one of the biggest challenges facing the world – how to cope with the impact of climate change.

The other great challenge, of course, is how to feed nine billion mouths by 2050. Just like the Netherlands, the Mekong Delta is a very fertile region with immense agricultural potential.

How can this potential best be exploited? How does flood protection relate to the availability of sufficient water of satisfactory quality? And how do we balance the interests of humankind with environmental interests? The Mekong Delta Plan will help address all these questions in a sustainable and integrated way.

Yesterday Vietnam and the Netherlands signed a strategic partnership arrangement on sustainable agriculture and food security, because in this field, too, we have a lot to offer each other. With a surface area similar to the Mekong Delta, the Netherlands accounts for 7.5 per cent of global food exports, making us the second-largest exporter in the world.

I hope the Mekong Delta will be equally successful. Vietnam is already a major exporter of agricultural products. And the shift from quantity to quality – evident in recent policy changes – will certainly bring more success in the future. In short, the Mekong Delta Plan promises a great deal, and it’s gratifying that it’s widely supported by the international community. Because although the plan is based on Vietnamese ownership with Dutch support, its implementation calls for a joint effort.

Together we can put theory into practice, so that the Mekong Delta can develop in a sustainable way. In true partnership, we can make the most of its immense potential.

Thank you.