The Netherlands the UN Water Conference and the role of the media
Pim van der Male , first secretary, Food and Water, Embassy of the Netherlands , Nairobi
9 Feb 2023 by The Water Diplomat
Water is a vital resource for human survival, and it is essential for economic development. As a country that is largely below sea level, the Netherlands understands the importance of water management and innovative solutions for flood protection and water supply.
This is however a rather abstract statement, while dealing with water in the Netherlands (and the world) was, and is, also a story of real people. Let me briefly share such a story.
Two days from now, it is exactly 70 years ago that the Delta of the Netherlands was hit by a devastating flood. On that cold winter’s day, a north-western storm surge breached many dykes and swept away everything. 1800 lives were lost, including that of my great grand parents, who lived in one of the hardest hit places.
The individual losses formed the bigger story of the 1953 floods. A story that led to a worldwide humanitarian response and the realization at policy level that investments on water management needed to be ramped up. This led to the Delta Plan and huge investments in water infrastructure for decades to come. The Delta Plan has kept us safe ever since.
The Netherlands is a world leader in managing water, in developing and sharing knowledge through institutes such as the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, and in convening stakeholders to debate and plan collective action to solve collective water challenges. The UN 2023 Water conference, which is hosted jointly by the Netherlands and Tajikistan, is an important moment and the first time on 46 years that water has been discussed at member state level since the Marl Del Plata conference in 1977.
Currently, stories in Kenya and the wider region revolve around water scarcity. The long drought has hit hard. Lives and livelihoods are lost. The Netherlands supports Kenya in strengthening the management of this scarce resource by applying a broad river basin or landscape approach. Well managed landscapes contribute to resilience, food security, more sustainable livelihoods and stability. Managing water-related risks is a major challenge in Africa, as in Kenya water resources are often scarce and there is high vulnerability to climate change. In addition, the water resources subsector is underfunded, the institutional framework is not complete yet and capacity needs to be strengthened.
In addition to water scarcity, it is important to address the increasing frequency and severity of floods and droughts, which has a major impact on agriculture, health, and economic development in the region. This requires a holistic approach, with different measures such as early warning systems, disaster risk reduction measures and development of resilience infrastructure.
There is also a great need to increase access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in the region for better human well-being. Essential steps still need to be taken to achieve universal access to these basic services. Financing of the SDGs also needs to be improved. Innovative solutions are needed to cover the existing financing gap. This is also a key priority of the Netherlands. As we look forward to the UN 2023 Water conference, co-hosted by the Netherlands, it is clear that water is a critical enabler for a broad range of Sustainable development Goals.
However, although water professionals may be convinced of the fundamental role of water as a driver of change, this does not mean other stakeholders in society are aware of this. This makes water a ‘whole of government’ and ‘all of society’ responsibility, and not just the business of the water minister. The importance of this is not always well understood by the public. Intensive regional capacity building workshops designed to train journalists on water issues, such as that developed by The Water Diplomat, can support the increase in public understanding of the central role of water in our world..
Just as journalists have brought climate change from the back pages to the front pages of news over the past 15 years, a concerted effort of awareness raising is needed to transmit the key narrative on the fundamental role of water in life itself, in all our economic activities and in the achievement of all our social goals.
The media is a key vehicle in achieving this aim, acting as a knowledge broker to communicate the complexities of water policy, water management, and water institutions to a broader audience. Through SIWI, the Stockholm International Water Institute, we supported several years ago a series of workshops for journalists from Nile countries, who cover developments around the shared waters and shared benefits from the Nile. One of the unexpected outcomes of those workshops was that the journalists continued to interact in a network, exchanging and verifying information among them. Benefiting the quality of their reporting. I hope such dynamics may develop in this group as well.
It is great that Africa 21 and The Water Diplomat are organizing this workshop to empower journalists and youth to be key players in this effort, raising awareness of the importance of water and helping to secure a sustainable future for all. I am confident that the present workshop will provide valuable insights and skills for all participants. We are looking forward to seeing your work on water back in the media, and I wish you eniovable and fruitful conversations during this event