First Special Envoy

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Henk Ovink was appointed by the Cabinet of the Netherlands as the first Special Envoy for International Water Affairs in 2015. As the Ambassador for Water, he is responsible for advocating water awareness around the world, focusing on building institutional capacity and coalitions among governments, multilateral organisations, the private sector and NGOs to address the world’s pressing water needs and help initiate transformative interventions.

Henk Ovink has a proven track record in water and sustainable urban development and holds several international posts. One of these is Sherpa to the High Level Panel on Water, installed by the then UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and President of the World Bank Jim Kim. The High Level Panel on Water comprises 11 Heads of State/Heads of Government including Prime Minister Rutte from the Netherlands. The High Level Panel strives to catalyse change in water awareness and implementation.

Understanding water’s complexity, valuing all aspects comprehensively and managing it inclusively makes water an inspirational leverage for impactful and catalytic change.  

Henk Ovink

Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

I’m Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

I represent the Netherlands all over the world on the issues of water. Too much, too little and polluted. And that is my passion and ambition.

“Water is life”, Ban-Ki Moon used to say and that is so right. Water is connected to social issues, inequality, women and kids walking the wells for hours every day, to our economies with too much water battering our cities, our industries, our agriculture. Polluted water affecting our health, but also our biodiversity and not enough water leading to insecurity, migration and sometimes even conflicts. So water is connected to all aspects of life, it’s connected to all sustainable development goals and if we understand this complexity better and if we learn how to value water across all these SDG’s and manage it inclusively, leaving no one behind,  than water is an enabler, than water is a leverage for sustainable development.

I believe in this capacity of water and I work on it every day, all over the world,  to help deliver on the sustainable development goals and the Paris agreement to get to a more water secure world.

He is Principal for Rebuild by Design, the resilience innovation competition he developed and led for President Obama's Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force. His last book, written together with Jelte Boeijenga, ‘Too Big. Rebuild by Design: A Transformative Approach to Climate Change’ explores the recovery work post Hurricane Sandy as a learning opportunity.

To ensure long-term continuity, Henk Ovink plays an active role in academia. He holds a research position at the University of Groningen and teaches at  the London School of Economics and at Harvard Graduate School of Design.

In January 2018, Henk Ovink was awarded honorary membership of the Royal Institute of Engineers of the Netherlands for his ‘global water work’.

In February 2020, he was awarded the IHS Urban Professional Award for his contribution to the field of resilient cities.