In parallel with the state visit of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima to India, a Dutch trade mission with water as one of the central themes took place from 13 to 18 October. The mission was organised by the Dutch Embassy and Consulate, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, RVO.nl and NWP. Lies Janssen, NWP Project Manager, looks back at a week in a country where enormous challenges and opportunities compete for priority.
‘We all started in New Delhi for the multi-sectoral Tech Summit that mainly focused on innovation. After that, the water sector participants came to Kochi, in the state of Kerala, to attend the Water Conference on 17 and 18 October. For the water sector, the main reason to come to Kochi was the follow-up to the Dutch Risk Reduction (DRR) missions to Kerala after the serious floods of 2018. Kerala is an extremely flood prone state, with a lot of heavy rainfall and a lot of water. The famous 'backwaters' are in a beautiful area between the coast and the mountains further east. Beautiful but very vulnerable. The challenges laid down in the DRR report and the assessments by the local experts were the topics during the two days in Kochi. The report is a promising starting point for future cooperation. Presentations by Deltares and Royal HaskoningDHV addressed the challenges posed such as coastal erosion. They also underlined the need for integrated water resources management and concepts like building with nature.
The programme in Kochi was jam-packed. It covered themes like sustainable coastal zone management, sediment management of dams, integrated flood management, and early warning systems. At the same time, as our Special Water Envoy, Henk Ovink, pointed out, technology is not the answer to every question. “All over the world, people believe that we can engineer our way out of problems such as those we are facing here.” But real solutions are also about governance, about culture and about communication between various stakeholders.
Certainly, one of the most inspiring parts of the programme was the Wetskills challenge. Sixteen students and young professionals from India, the Netherlands, China and other countries worked together in mixed teams on pressing challenges on Integrated Water Management and Flood Control in Kerala for 12 days. In a vibrant session, the teams presented their outcomes in two-minute pitches. The winner was a water-flood disaster related education programme aimed at empowering women. The pitch was presented by a 17 year old young lady from Kerala who presented her group’s solution with passion.
So now that the dust is settling, and after almost a week in this very beautiful yet complex country, what does it all mean for the water relationship between India and the Netherlands? The ambitions and challenges for the country are such that the future has more than enough to offer. We have programmes subsidised by the Netherlands, for example through Partners for Water, NWO and the Sustainable Water Fund. A few Dutch companies in the water sector have a foothold in India and see opportunities for further growth. In addition, many knowledge institutions that were part of the mission are very interested in education and R&D programmes. India has clearly stated that it is very interested in Dutch knowledge and solutions. But cooperation not only offers opportunities for the Netherlands. There is definitely knowledge to be gained from India as the country is developing its water expertise at lightning speed. The knowledge institutes therefore seized the opportunity of mission to further strengthen their existing contacts.
At the same time, we need to be realistic. On the first day in New Delhi, there was a valuable session on 'Doing Business in India' which taught us that signing contracts is just the beginning. For companies aspiring to doing business in India, in-depth knowledge of Indian business practice is key, as is the need to build solid relationships and a robust financial basis to work from. An India office and the intensive involvement of Indian expertise are absolute must-haves as well to enter and remain in the Indian market.
Allow me to end on a personal note. The Opening Ceremony started with a very nice Indian tradition: all the speakers lit a beautiful lamp. Light is a universal symbol of truth, knowledge, and understanding. It acts as a guide, keeping us from stumbling in the dark. Therefore, let us continue with this inspiring tradition in India.
From left to right: Mr. Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs; Ms. Brigit Gijsbers, Deputy Director-General Maritime Affairs; Ms. Hanneke Schuiling, Director General for Foreign Economic Relations; Dr Vishwas Mehta IAS, Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala; Shri K. Krishnankutty, Minister for Water Resources of Kerala; and Mr. Vijay, moderator.
The Trade Mission was linked to the Netherlands-India Technology Summit on 15 and 16 October in New Delhi. This 'Tech Summit' is an initiative of the Indian government that attracts more than 1,000 Indian companies, organisations and senior government representatives every year. In the context of 10 years of innovation cooperation, the Netherlands was a partner country for the 25th anniversary edition.
The Dutch royal couple travelled with ministers Sigrid Kaag (Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation), Bruno Bruins (Medical Care and Sport) and State Secretary Mona Keijzer (Economic Affairs and Climate).