Worldwide, water is the connecting challenge, the number one global risk and the opportunity for transformative and sustainable impact and comprehensive cultural change. Over twenty projects for three cities in India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia show how this can be achieved in practice.
That is the great harvest so far of Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia. The first phase was completed in Singapore at the end of April; now it is time to work on the next steps towards feasibility and implementation. Dutch Special Envoy for Water Affairs and initiator Henk Ovink gave a positive assessment. Read his blog.
Water represents humankind's most complex risk
"Water represents humankind's most challenging and complex risk and it is exacerbated by climate change, and Asian cities – people and assets – are most vulnerable to these risks. At the same time, water can be the deal maker for cities to become resilient. But building resilience is not easy. We face four challenges. The first is that it is difficult to identify and develop projects that really have transformative capacity. Too often we stick to familiar practices, repeating the mistakes of the past, thereby increasing our vulnerability at rapid speed. Second, a comprehensive approach is vital. We have to connect all the challenges, which means we must work together with everyone every step of the way, leaving no one behind. This has to be done right from the start; we must not deal with issues one after the other, but all at the same time. Third, such a process requires investments, even though they are peanuts compared to the subsequent implementation budgets. You need millions to spend billions wisely, but those millions are the hardest to find; to secure the billions, you have a project with a business case, whilst for the millions you only have arguments. And fourth, public money is not enough. Private funds and capacity are indispensable so private parties must participate in the development, must invest upfront where public funds can manage the risks."
That is the playing field we need. While I was working on a larger study with the Environmental Assessment Agency into the water hotspots of the world, again Asian cities emerged as most vulnerable both humanitarian and financial. Hence the idea of a challenge, partly inspired by "Rebuild by Design" for New York after Hurricane Sandy, but now not post-disaster but pre-disaster, using water as leverage to build resilience. After our research – also done in partnership with our Global Center on Adaptation – and together with our partners, we decided to partner with the cities of Khulna (Bangladesh), Chennai (India), and Semarang (Indonesia). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was willing to co-finance it, RVO wanted to take care of the implementation, and FMO and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank were financial partners from the beginning.
We launched the challenge a year ago with our call to the market: form multidisciplinary teams and think about how you can tackle the problems of the cities comprehensively, and work towards transformative and catalytic as well as bankable projects. We selected two teams per city, all with local partners and often with a strong Dutch representation.
The teams worked for nine months together with our local partners, the governments, and NGOs and with support from RVO, UN Habitat, 100 Resilient Cities, WWF, Partners for Resilience, and financial experts. A challenge means that the teams also invest themselves: a triple approach with an award from the Dutch government, in-kind support of a wealth of local and international organisations, and the private sector’s own investment capacity.
And we brought the relevant financial parties to Water as Leverage, working collaboratively: the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, not to forget the Green Climate Fund and our own FMO and RVO plus development banks from Germany, France, and Japan. A new global coalition for innovation and adaptation.
Nine months later, the teams presented their findings in December, a fantastic harvest of in-depth systems analyses and targeted actions, extremely inspiring. At the conclusion of the first phase in Singapore in April, we were able to draft an action list for all projects, together with all partners: governments, experts, and financial parties, with clear tasks, deadlines, and perceived outcomes to arrive at a business-case level so the projects can move forward within the pipelines of the investment banks and financial partners.
Water as Leverage is not a stand-alone, as it should not. The Netherlands has MoUs for water cooperation with India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. We embedded Water as Leverage in these clear organisational structures, for national and bi-lateral support. Moreover, we forged links with relevant Dutch international programmes such as Partners for Water and the Blue Deal. Working together with the Global Center on Adaptation from the start, Water as Leverage helped raise awareness for adaptation and now provides inspiring examples for the GCA and the countries, all members of the GCA. This also creates opportunities for the Dutch water sector, for example for the Dutch partners in the design teams. With NWP we will explore how to engage the sector better in the next phases and with new challenges. Because it can and must become much bigger if we are to scale up Water as Leverage to the world. From three cities in one region to hundreds of cities and communities across the globe, in deltas, on islands, and in the drylands too.
It is almost impossible to name one single project, but ‘City of 1,000 Tanks’ is one of those great projects. Located in Chennai, it offers a holistic solution to the problems of floods, water scarcity, pollution in the context of urbanisation, inequality, and fragility, and it identifies the inter-relationships between the underlying causes.
The project has generated real interest from the Green Climate Fund for implementation and replication. Our ambition with Water as Leverage is that at the end of this year, 80 percent of all the projects will be included in the development banks' (and others’) portfolios. None of this will happen automatically; the 'last mile' is often the most difficult in closing these financial deals. But we can deliver on this promise, and we must. And given the results thus far, it’s the most inspiring and urgent thing to do!"
Would you like to know more? Visit the Water as Leverage website.
(Top photo: Cynthia van Elk/Water as Leverage)