Speech by Cora van Nieuwenhuizen at the Fourth UN Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters

“We’ve all read the stories in the newspapers. There are so many of them. Stories of hurricanes, of extreme rains, of floods and droughts. Stories of victims, of economic losses and of the lack of clean drinking water. For many people here in this room, these stories are more than just news you read in the paper or see on TV. Many of you are working daily to rebuild an entire region, an entire economy, an entire country.”

Speech by Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, at the 4th UN Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters, 24 June 2019, in New York.

Secretary-General, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to this panel discussion. As I listen to the speakers here today ‒ and especially Prime Minister Rosário of Mozambique and Minister Muchinguri of Zimbabwe ‒ I’m reminded just how great a duty we have. It’s our duty to do everything in our power to mitigate the impact of water-related disasters. And we must spare no effort.

We’ve all read the stories in the newspapers. There are so many of them. Stories of hurricanes, of extreme rains, of floods and droughts. Stories of victims, of economic losses and of the lack of clean drinking water. And the outbreak of diseases like cholera and typhoid fever in the wake of these disasters. We’ve read personal stories of people who’ve lost everything – journalists work hard to ensure that the world hears this news.

But for many people here in this room, these stories are more than just news you read in the paper or see on TV. Many of you are working daily to rebuild an entire region, an entire economy, an entire country. Once the victims have been recovered, it’s time to rebuild. And that requires knowledge and assistance in planning and implementation. And, of course, above all it requires money.

At global level, the framework of the 2030 Agenda is in place. The goals are ambitious – there’s the Sendai Framework, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement… In addition, today we’re presenting the HELP Principles on Investment and Financing. This is crucial. Because we can design as many projects and programmes as we like, but without funding none of them will be able to get off the ground.

But we have an ace up our sleeve, and that’s disaster prevention. Preventing a disaster from happening is far less expensive than disaster recovery. Investing in resilience means investing in the future. Now especially, as risks are on the rise, it’s time to change our approach and become proactive instead of reactive.

Let me tell you about the progress the Netherlands has made on this front. You may be familiar with the Dutch Delta Works. It consists of enormous concrete dams and barriers intended to keep the sea from flooding in. And it attracts visitors from around the world. The Delta Works were built in response to the North Sea flood of 1953, in which more than 1,800 people lost their lives.

You may also be familiar with our Room for the River projects. At 34 locations across the country we’ve redrawn the map to make more space for our rivers.

Room for the River was designed in response to the floods of 1993 and 1995, and it’s been a great advancement for the Netherlands. Rather than containing nature between increasingly higher dikes, we’ve learned to build with nature.

Room for the River projects also attract many visitors. But here, too, the initiative was a response – in this case to a near disaster.

In 2010 we changed course. With the unveiling of the new Delta Programme, we embraced a proactive approach. We established a strong governance structure to ensure that attention to water management never wanes. And we’ve done so for good reason. A third of our country is below sea level, and two thirds is prone to flooding.

The new Delta Programme is the first programme not to have come in response to a disaster, but that’s intended instead to prevent disasters from occurring. Since 2010 Dutch authorities have been working closely at all levels to this end. To prevent flooding of all kinds, including after extreme rainfall. And to find solutions for longer periods of drought.

We have a Delta Fund for which some one billion euros is earmarked every year. This ensures funding in the long run and allows us to plan for the future.

The most important thing is to keep looking ahead and adapting to changing circumstances. Continued attention to flood prevention and continued financing are crucial.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We’ve come together to learn from one another. And it’s with this goal in mind that the UN Secretary-General is holding a climate summit in New York in September this year. And why the Netherlands is holding a Climate Adaptation Action Summit in 2020, and which I warmly invite all of you to attend.

It’s also why I took the initiative to set up the Global Commission on Adaptation. I’m proud that leaders like former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva are all committed to accelerating climate adaptation around the world.

In September we’ll publish our flagship report. And after that we’ll launch a Year of Action, during which we’ll put our recommendations into practice. This will be capped off with the Climate Adaptation Action Summit in the Netherlands, where we’ll share our results and newly acquired knowledge with the world.

The Sendai Framework, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement set out for us clear and very challenging goals. Last year during the High-Level Political Forum, we were compelled to acknowledge that we’re not progressing fast enough. Our greatest challenge is to close the enormous gap between the international commitments and national implementation.

Since 2007, the High-Level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters has played an important, independent role in mobilising political will and financial resources. And I deeply thank Mr Han Seung-soo for his unwavering energy!

Ladies and gentlemen,

Together we can achieve more. It’s up to us to make that extra effort. Not just for Mozambique and Zimbabwe, but for all other countries.

So I’m looking forward to hearing the views of this morning’s panel members. What do they perceive to be the greatest challenges? How do they envision contributing to the goals and to next year’s Climate Adaptation Action Summit? If we set a goal now, we have a year’s time to work together to come up with a good solution.

It’s my pleasure to turn to our panel…