World Water Day Event explores an agenda for opportunities




Breaking through existing power patterns, linking inclusion to climate and inequality, using local knowledge and bringing the human factor back to the floor. These were a few of the central messages during the World Water Day Event 2019, at KIT Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. The theme was ‘SDG6: an agenda for opportunities’ which was linked to the worldwide UN theme for World Water Day, ‘Leaving no one behind’. NWP and Aqua for All co-organised the event. Sjef Ernes, outgoing director of Aqua for All, drew much inspiration from the event.

World Water Day activities

“As this blog appears, the World Water Day Event 2019 is almost over. The meeting was part of a whole week of World Water Day activities, including our own Walking for Water initiative. I thought it was a beautiful and fruitful event, and I will explain why.

How to reach everyone

Central to World Water Day are the UN Sustainable Development Goals for water. This year’s theme is ‘Leaving no one behind’ and that totally appeals to me. The next question is of course, how do you do that? How do you reach everyone and how do you ensure that everyone has access to safe drinking water and good sanitary facilities? Where are the important bottlenecks and what does it take to eliminate them?

Aid and trade reinforcing each other

That is why we have organised pitches from different angles, to show where opportunities are and what it takes to take advantage of them. I thought we had a very nice combination of pitches. First of all, of course, Sigrid Kaag, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. The ‘Leaving no one behind’ theme is close to her heart and she focused on how aid can lead to trade and how the two can reinforce each other. Danielle Hirsch, Director of Both Ends and Chair of the NWP NGO Water Platform, focused on ‘political inclusion’. Because it is not only about access to water, but also about influence and control. For that you have to break through existing power patterns. Peter van Mierlo, CEO of FMO, said that water should be a key priority in the boardroom of every bank and company in the world, because it’s an opportunity for businesses to create competitive advantages, while securing their license to operate and ensuring sustainable development. Anika Altaf (University of Amsterdam/ASC Leiden) stressed in her pitch – and much more deeply in her recent dissertation – that even NGOs have difficulty reaching the poorest of the poor. She showed that projects are more successful if more attention is paid to the human face behind policies and projects. Lida Schelwald, of the Zuiderzeeland water authority, took the standpoint of the Blue Deal. This is a purely government-to-government initiative and the question is: how do you get beyond that other government to make sure that you reach the poorest of the poor?

Inspiring solutions that truly work

We wanted to show that not everything is self-evident, but that there are opportunities and solutions to actually reach the poorest of the poor. The pitchers reached out to each other and to the other participants: tell me how you can help me and how we can help you. I have heard inspiring examples of solutions that truly work. We can continue with that, even though it remains incredibly complex. The prerequisite for this is more cooperation and less fragmentation. We organised the network event together with NWP because we complement each other perfectly. We focus 100% on development cooperation and bridge the gap between investors and water & sanitation initiatives. NWP is much more involved in the areas where development cooperation and foreign trade meet, and is eminently capable and in the position to forge coalitions and thus establish the link between aid and trade.

My personal drive

Leaving no one behind, that is where my personal drive lies. I now work on it at Aqua for All and intend to continue after I have left. I am now 64 years old and will soon leave my position as a director at Aqua for All. I want to do a few more things in the area of water and development cooperation and use my experience and network, including the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned, to help people and organisations take the next step. We are planning manned flights to Mars, but we don’t arrange the drinking water supply and waste water treatment on our own planet properly. And not because we lack the skills …”

More information

World Water Day is on 22 March. This day is known worldwide as a day dedicated to water challenges and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6. For many years in a row, NWP and Aqua for All have organised a World Water Day event in the Netherlands to stimulate cooperation and knowledge exchange to reach SDG6.

This blog was orginally published on the NWP website: NWP News