The Dutch push their take on water management

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The Netherlands wants other countries to follow its lead on sustainable protection of low-lying river deltas. The 6th World Water Forum is taking place this week in Marseille. At least ten countries appear keen to take up the Dutch approach to water management.

The water management forum, which takes place every three years, runs until Thursday. The Netherlands expects at least ten countries to commit themselves to adopting the Dutch approach in their delta areas. So far, commitments have been made by Mozambique, South Africa, Malawi, Benin and South Korea - Thailand and Egypt are expected to follow suit.

The Netherlands is pushing water management Dutch-style. Sybe Schaap chairs the Netherlands Water Partnership, through which businesses and scientists promote Dutch water expertise abroad:

“We’re really good at what we call an integrated approach. This means bringing all aspects of water management together with the aim of implementing them as a single concept. For instance, water quality is coupled with protection against high water and other issues. This how our programme 'Room for the River' works.”

Dr Schaap is referring to the Dutch method of allowing rivers more room in which to flood, in order to limit future problems. He explains that integrated water management includes not only the construction of dykes, dams, irrigation and water extraction systems, but also organisational issues - and even legislation.

“In Indonesia, we’ve been involved for years in adjusting legislation to improve water management. We’ve looked at the different layers of administration in the Netherlands, where regional authorities share responsibility for water management with central government.”

It’s forecast that, in the not-too-distant future, most of the world’s population will live in low-lying river deltas. These fertile and often built-up areas are vulnerable to flooding and scientists warn that the risks will only increase with climate change.

The Netherlands hopes 25 countries or organisations will commit to adopting some kind of integrated water management programme, says Mathieu Pinkers, director of the International Land and Water programme at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.

As well as Indonesia, the Netherlands has also been working with Bangladesh and Vietnam for quite some time. Projects include drawing up delta plans and legislation similar to those in the Netherlands. Dutch dredging and construction companies hope, of course, to win orders in connection with the work.

As a rule the approach is gradual, just as with Dutch water management projects. “Often a sample area is taken on first and then later extended,” explains Mr Pinkers. Usually, extensive talks have to take place in a country before the first digging machine or dredger can begin work.

“In the Netherlands too, it sometimes took 10 to 15 years before we got the process developed and generally accepted. It’ll be the same in other countries. There will first have to be a year of talks and discussions with policy makers and politicians, to give everyone time to understand a plan like this. That’s already going on here with our presentations during the World Water Forum.”