The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are intended to make the world a better place. For everyone. In the Netherlands, to make sure that we progress towards achieving the goals in 2030, a coordinator has been appointed for each goal. Meet Bianca Nijhof, Director of the Netherlands Water Partnership and Coordinator of SDG 6 puts her efforts into clean water and sanitation for all.
“I have always had a connection with nature. Being outdoors recharges my batteries and I feel at peace. It is important that we treat the planet on which we live responsibly. Water is essential to this as it is the source of life. There are places in the world where everyone has a mobile phone, but not everyone has access to drinking water. You do not need that phone to survive, but you do need water. Water impacts several SDGs directly or indirectly. Just look at the refugee crisis that is strongly linked to drought in some areas.”
“Definitely. Clean drinking water is not available everywhere and not everywhere has facilities to wash yourself. But even when there is little soap and water, there are options. Smart Center Group, a Dutch foundation, has demonstrated this in several WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) training centres across Africa. They are working to help rural municipalities be less dependent on the uncertain supply of water and soap. Even Dutch companies are doing their bit, for example by supplying sanitary provisions to Brazilian emergency hospitals.”
"The Delta Programme is an example of a project in which the Netherlands demonstrates an integrated approach. It would be wonderful if the Netherlands would design a similar approach for dealing with SDG 6 issues."
“I think it is and I believe that the SDGs play an important role in doing so. The corona crisis shows how important it is to have a long-term vision. If I look at the Dutch approach to water – for example the Delta Programme – our integrated approach could set an example to other countries. It is one way to jointly set a long term plan of action.”
“The objective of the SDG 6 alliance is to raise awareness on what is happening in the area of water in the Netherlands and what we can contribute internationally. While there are many wonderful examples, there is another side of the coin and that is that the Netherlands is having to deal with drought for the first time and it is not set up for this. This is a problem that we really must address. Not many people know that in 2018 just one more day without rain would have meant a water shortage.
While the Netherlands is often viewed as an example and a pioneer in water, we can learn a lot from the countries that have been facing drought for a long time. Oman has taken giant strides in turning salty water into fresh water. This is very valuable knowledge. Collaboration is important in many areas so that we can not only learn from other countries and projects and share our knowledge, but we can take act as a society and involve different parties. I see that there is a strong sense of urgency in this issue.”
“NWP and a host of companies, knowledge institutions, government bodies and NGOs have defined a shared vision. Companies want to make profit and NGOs want to have an impact on more people. You can measure impact in many different ways. I see the Netherlands Water Partnership as a platform where you can hold difficult discussions in a safe environment so that you can take action afterwards. It is a good example of the Dutch ‘polder model’. There is much to gain. The Netherlands has a reputation as a water country, but we are being overtaken by other countries and we are a niche player. By making projects visible through storytelling and by taking part in and organising events, we can strengthen the role of the Netherlands as a leading water country.”
"If you talk about the value of water, you can see the relationship between safe drinking water and education. Better availability of water allows for more time for education."
“Take education. In eight out of 10 households, women and girls are responsible for water collection. In many places where this is the case, there is a major shortage of water. The result is that they are spending most of the day looking for and collecting water. Imagine the scale of human capacity being spent this way. So if you talk about the value of water, you can see how a safe drinking water supply can make education possible. Improved availability of water allows for more time for education. Water is valuable in so many ways. Another example is a lake in a city that reduces the temperature in the built environment and is a buffer for drinking water.”
“I hope that we will have a few concrete examples of projects so that we can show some great integrated solutions that the Netherlands can offer nationally and internationally. I would like to see some of the innovative solutions being up-scaled. And that we bring about even more strong connections than we already do. In 2018 just one more day without rain would have meant a water shortage. The Netherlands can learn a lot from other countries about drought. The Delta Programme is an example of a project in which the Netherlands demonstrates this integrated approach. It would be good if the Netherlands develops a similar approach for handling SDG 6. I see attaching value to water as a good starting point. The Netherlands can use its knowledge on circular water use well here.”
“I am an optimist. I am convinced that we will then be living with respect for our natural environment, that we understand the value of nature and water in our urban lives. Awareness starts with young people and this is why I am so proud of the SDG 6 alliance’s educational programme. We are teaching the next generation so that the water and agrifood sectors will have plenty of young people who will bring in their innovative ideas. One good thing is that this programme connects several SDGs. My speck on the horizon is a world in which we are well on the way to living in balance with each other and the environment. We did not inherit the planet from our parents, but are borrowing it from our children.”
This interview was originally published in Dutch on the website of Duurzaamheid.nl. Read the original version here.