Inland shipping is set to grow around the world, bringing opportunities to connect with the water sector, says Harrie de Leijer, co-author of a World Bank report that has documented lessons from the transformation of China’s shipping industry.
Harrie de Leijer, partner at STC Nestra, a member of the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP), has a message for the water community. “When we talk about water or water management, we never talk about shipping. We talk about all the other uses of waterways, but shipping does not sit at the same table.”
His call for this to change is prompted by the prospects of what lies ahead. “A huge inland shipping market is growing outside Western Europe,” says De Leijer. The examples he gives span the continents – Ukraine in Eastern Europe; Argentina, Brazil and Colombia in South America; India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Pakistan in the wider Asia region; as well as various countries in Africa.
China is leading the transformation of the inland shipping sector
STC Nestra is part of the STC-Group. Nestra stands for Netherlands Expert Group for Sustainable TRAnsport and Logistics. De Leijer’s call is also prompted by the transformation he has witnessed in China – a transformation he documented recently as co-author of a World Bank report.
“In the last four decades, China has completely turned its system around,” he says. “Inland shipping was nearly dead. It was only used for bulk commodities such as coal and iron ore, and there was no container transportation on the river.”
Such is the scale of the change that the World Bank saw value in facilitating the first English language assessment of the sector in China to help inform development around the world. “There is a huge lesson to learn from the experiences,” adds De Leijer. “What did they do? How did they do it? How did they manage to become such an important country in inland shipping, and what are the lessons we can learn?” The report answers these key questions.
Initially the focus was on lessons for developing countries, but it became clear there were wider lessons too. “When we were working on the report, we found a huge amount of innovation,” says De Leijer, mentioning aspects such as smart autonomous shipping and new fuel options for ships.
Supporting inland waterways
De Leijer also highlights the changes in outlook that have occurred in the inland waterways transport sector as far as water management is concerned.
“The view of developing inland waterways for navigation has changed rather drastically,” he says. “Ten to 20 years ago, if you wanted a good waterway for inland shipping, you had to deepen it to 3.5 metres. The thinking has changed because of the changes in water management.” He mentions concepts such as Room for the River and Building with Nature. “The inland shipping philosophy is changing to one in which you adapt your equipment to the waterway, rather than the other way around – we have a natural waterway, so how can we use it for inland shipping while keeping the conditions as they are,” he asks, mentioning the Ganges River as an example where innovative vessel designs were developed for shallower depths.
This still means that inland shipping needs to be factored in as a use of the river, and one of the main lessons set out in the report is around the importance of balancing the multiple uses of a waterway. In practical terms, this can mean ensuring that any hydropower facilities that span a river include locks, or anticipating the impact on water levels where there is abstraction for drinking water or irrigation.
So De Leijer calls, in the first instance, for the water sector to keep inland shipping in mind. “When you think about water management, do not forget inland shipping – support inland shipping rather than block the facilities for inland shipping,” he says.
But he has a broader message, too. “These are benefits that can be developed jointly. You could think about better waterway management while at the same time improving your navigational facilities and facilities for inland shipping,” he says, adding. “I think there is a big synergy.”
World Bank’s report
Download the World Bank’s report: ‘Blue Routes for a New Era – Developing Inland Waterways Transportation in China’ here.