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Action plan for Dutch water sector’s post-crisis re-launch


Alumni in Water, Energy and Climate


Covid-19 is putting society to the test and exposing dilemmas. Can and do we want to continue with the world as we knew it? Bianca Nijhof, Managing Director of the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), calls for reconsideration and a greater focus on sustainability. The post-corona world will still need the expertise of the Dutch water sector, which is also being hit hard by the current crisis. NWP is assessing the impact of this crisis on the Dutch water sector and will present a concrete action plan for a targeted post-crisis re-launch at the end of June to support the Dutch water sector increase its global reach. 

We have entered unprecedented heavy weather worldwide, while dizzying amounts of money are being spent to recover from Covid-19. Less traffic and less industrial activity is making the air a lot cleaner, to the extent that the Himalayas can be seen in India again. But at the same time, everything is revolving around restarting the economy, which could jeopardise green and sustainability. “Whatever it takes,” as Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank (ECB), would say, to get the economy going again. But this will only work well if we ensure sustainable, inclusive and integrated solutions. These should be at the heart of economic recovery. This is the only way we can strengthen our resilience, create a prolonged liveable world and reach the Sustainable Development Goals. After all, let’s not forget that, today, around 800 million people worldwide have no access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation. And they often live packed together in slums. There is no way that they can practice social distancing and wash their hands with clean water.

The world calling

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented solutions. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” as Albert Einstein said. There is an attitude, a mentality, an openness to change. We must maintain this momentum otherwise there is a great risk that we fall back on solutions from the past which were designed to overcome previous crises, not this one. I do not think it would be good to go back to normal. In any case, who says that the way we lived and worked was normal? To me, going back to the pre-corona world would mean that we slept right through this deafening wake-up call. Instead, we have to look to the future, with all its complexities and uncertainties. And the good news is that we can. We have an excellent opportunity, and a great challenge, to re-think – or even re-invent – our future society. 

Focus on sustainability

The Dutch water sector has a lot to offer this future society, especially when it comes to sustainability. In fact, we have witnessed the emergence of fantastic innovations in the Netherlands and all over the world. Practices and initiatives such as room for the river, nature-based solutions, new concepts for urban resilience, water purification and reuse technologies, and integrated water resource management in catchment areas.

For much of the Dutch water sector, the international focus is mainly on Europe. And the European Union is incredibly determined when it comes to sustainability. We can see this interest for greater sustainability in the European Green Deal, for instance, as well as in the equally ambitious Horizon Europe investment and research programme. Europe’s goal gives us a very strong and inspiring starting point. Water Europe recently published a position paper on a Post-Covid-19 Recovery Plan that is also consistent with this line of thought.

Ensuring business continuity

Business has a critical role to play in shaping the post-corona era by safeguarding employees' health and well-being as well as business continuity. Expectations are high. For instance, the Edelman Trust Barometer special report on Covid-19 reveals that 78% of respondents considers that the involvement of business is a critical ingredient in fighting the virus. This alone is a very good reason to maintain a strong Dutch water sector so that it can continue doing its part.

Yet, we should not forget that the sector is also being hit hard by the corona crisis. Exports have declined dramatically, with 70% of companies expecting to have insufficient work in one or two months. Payments are being postponed, projects cancelled, and the international supply chain is falling apart. The sector can take a beating, but it deserves all the help it can get. The recovery of the private sector is inextricably linked to the recovery of society as a whole: social and economic stability go hand in hand. So it is key to acknowledge the role of water as an enabler in leveraging resources and in re-booting society, and to acknowledge the essential connection between water, energy and food. 

Sector’s re-launch

To help the sector re-emerge from the corona crisis and become even stronger than ever before, NWP is assessing the impact of the crisis on the Dutch water sector and is aiming at presenting a practical action plan for a post-crisis re-launch in a month’s time. We are currently identifying key activities and business opportunities that have been changed, postponed or cancelled due to the corona crisis. Then, we will map the priorities based on what is still relevant today and, above all, what can be done more smartly, efficiently, and innovatively. After that, we will identify the best match between these priorities and the instruments offered by the Dutch Government. Our findings will result in a concrete and ambitious, yet realistic, action plan. It will include a proactive role for NWP to connect the Dutch water sector to the many post-corona investment initiatives in the most effective way possible, in the Netherlands and abroad.

NWP is working on this action plan, funded by NLinBusiness, as part of the Top Sector Water and Maritime. And Maritime by Holland, part of the Top Sector, is working on a post-crisis action plan at the same time. These joint efforts make the international proposition of the Dutch water sector even stronger. 

Come closer, join forces

With activities like this action plan, NWP gives shape and substance to its core ambition: creating impact with the Dutch water sector. These days, we are talking a lot about social distancing. But at the same time we need to come closer, more than ever before. Government, businesses, knowledge institutes and NGOs now have an excellent opportunity to join forces for a better post-corona world. Charles Dickens said it all: "The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again".

Source: NWP

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