Narrator: “Water is everywhere in the Netherlands. About one third of the country lies below sea-level. Its water management was shaped by a series of dramatic events, like the 1953 North Sea floods. Today, the Dutch are dependent on their advanced defenses against floods, which once again were put to the test during the devastating summer floods in 2021. However, in recent decades, the Dutch have been learning to look at water, not only as a threat, but from a broader perspective. Central to this pioneering approach are the Valuing Water Principles developed by the United Nations and World Bank. They were created to help bring systemic change in the way water is valued in decision-making.
The Valuing Water Principles are:
1. Recognize and embrace water’s multiple values
2. Reconcile values and build trust
3. Protect the sources
4. Invest and innovate
5. Educate to empower
Ambika Jindal is the Lead of the Valuing Water Initiative and she is going to meet a variety of experts and citizens to look at how the Dutch are learning to value water better.”
Jindal: “Hello everyone. I am on a road trip through the Netherlands to find out how the Dutch use the five Valuing Water Principles.”
Narrator: “The first principle Ambika is about to investigate is ‘Recognize and embrace water’s multiple values’. And for that, she is hitting the Netherland’s not so sunny beaches, where she will speak with Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs.”
Jindal: “To protect itself from flooding, the Netherlands uses natural barriers such as dunes but also constructed barriers, such as dams, dykes, and storm surge barriers. The Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier is one of the largest. It continues on for nine kilometres. What a view, huh?”
Henk Ovink, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs: “Yeah, amazing. It is one of the main barriers in the southwestern part of the Netherlands that were developed after the 1953 big storm. Our biggest disaster, you could say. It is actually the first fact of a turning point on thinking about water safety. Not only keeping the water out, but also letting it in. It is an open barrier. Coming out of a societal debate on what water really means for the Netherlands. Perhaps even for the world. Looking at all values that come in with water. Economic value, to protect livelihoods and people. The value for culture. Environmental and fishery values, so that we make sure that water behind this barrier also still is salt and fresh and that fish can swim.”
Narrator: “And fish there are, in the Oosterschelde. Bert and Margriet know all about that.”
Jindal: “Hi, hello. Looks like you are getting ready to go for a dive.“
Bert Moet, diver: “Yes, this area is the diving site for the Benelux and the Netherlands. And that's because we have a lot of dykes here, and thus a lot of stones. And if there are stones, there is life. Fish, lobsters, crabs. By the way, there are also porpoises here, which are a kind of dolphins. They look like them. Of course, that is awesome.”
Narrator: “The Oosterschelde Storm Surge Barrier is an example of what the first Principle entails:
1. recognise and embrace water’s multiple values to different groups and interests.
But how does this work in cases of conflicting interests? How can you start that dialogue? Ambika’s off to the Noordwaard Polder, to see what they have done to reconcile the different values.”
Jindal: “Peter, can you tell me a little bit more about the Dutch approach to river management?”
Peter Glas, deltacommissioner: “There used to be a dyke here. Three metres high, you could not see the river. Now you can. The dyke was removed. Well that is part of a new approach to water safety in the Netherlands, which goes under the heading of ‘Room for the River’. We have the value of safety. We have the value of the agricultural industry in this area, but also nature conservation. They all benefit. And so we can accommodate more water at a higher safety level and have agriculture, recreation and even the eagles have returned here.”
Narrator: “Removing the dyke means the polders occasionally flood when water levels are high, to protect the cities behind the polders. This is a profound systemic change in the Dutch water management approach and it required a redesign of the area. Ad is one of the inhabitants of the Noordwaard Polder, who was confronted with the consequences of the programme.”
Ad van Berchum, inhabitant of the Noordwaard Polder: “Our house was simply situated too low. So our house had to go. The regulations stated that the people whose houses were situated too low were allowed to stay in the area. Either in a house that became vacant or build a new house at a higher and safer location. And we chose and got the last option.
Jindal: “When all of this was being planned, were you involved in the decision-making and the planning? How did it all go?”
Ad: “We have always worked with the government in a good and constructive manner. However, I did realise that you have to put in a lot of effort yourself. In the Netherlands we have a problem. If you accept that, you will try to look for a solution rationally, together with the partner. And that is how it all went.”
Narrator: “The Noordwaard shows us how important it is to reconcile these different values and to build trust among all involved. Like Ad says, it’s not an easy process, but it’s the only way forward. While Ambika is taking the long road to Dordrecht, we will move on to the third Principle. The third Principle reads: ‘Protect the sources’. To illustrate this, we’ll start in the 1980’s when Rotterdam saw that the river Rhine and the river Meuse were becoming increasingly polluted. The city was suffering from this pollution, which came not only from the Netherlands, but also upstream from Germany and France. The Dutch river area is at the end of the entire river basin. Rotterdam hired a small research agency to travel along the Rhine in a boat packed with measuring instruments. They were able to compile a fact-based research report, showing exactly where the pollution entered into the river. With legal force, Rotterdam was able to achieve a large-scale clean-up in collaboration with other countries. Protect the sources, including watersheds, rivers, aquifers, associated ecosystems, and used water flows for current and future generations.
Next up is the fourth Principle: ‘Invest and innovate’ and here too we see how water transcends national borders. The Rhine is partly dependent on glacial ice from the Alps. With global warming, these glaciers are melting. And as a result, the flow regime in the Rhine will alter drastically. This is the Pannerden Split, a beautiful place where the Lower Rhine splits off from the Waal River. The Integrated River Management Programme is looking at investing in large-scale hydraulic engineering that will enable control of the amount of water going into either of the two river divisions. This way, water shortages in parts of the country can be avoided in the future. The fourth Principle encourages adequate investment in institutions, infrastructure, information and innovation to realise the many benefits derived from water and reduce risks – now and in the future.
Ambika has now arrived in Dordrecht, where she is meeting with the Deputy Mayor, Piet Sleeking.”
Sleeking: “We are standing here right on the edge of the inner-dyke area, which is a low-lying area, and the outer-dyke area, in particular this new area, which is situated higher and is therefore relatively safer. We are now investigating how we can use the outer-dyke area, which we call De Staart, in the future as a safe haven, where people can go in times of need. You can continue to fixate on the safety of the dykes, but we also want to further investigate the possibilities to properly organize the evacuation within your own municipal boundaries.
Jindal: “What if there really is a flood? What is the chance that this can happen?”
Sleeking: “Of course we hope that will never happen, but we see everywhere in the world that disasters can always happen at unexpected times. In the past we have been hit by massive floods in this area. If you look at the effects of climate change, such as the rising sea level, but also territorial torrential rains that lead to enormous water supply via the rivers, we want to be prepared that such a situation could arise in the future.”
Narrator: “What Dordrecht is doing here amounts to nothing less than a systemic change in the Dutch approach to water management. Citizens and businesses in De Staart evacuation area will be involved closely in the coming months and years to make it all concrete. Ambika hits the neighbourhood to find out how they feel about it all.”
Bianca van Rooij, De Staart Dordrecht inhabitant: “We have only been informed about it, so there are still all kinds of mixed feelings.
Jindal: “Do you know how all of this would work, if the unthinkable was to happen? If there was a flood?”
Van Rooij: “I live alone right now, so it will take some time to get used to it. I hope I will have enough food at home, so that’s the only thing that I should do: stock up. Let’s have fun with each other, it’s already a bad situation so let’s make the best of it.”
Narrator: “Informing the citizens means informing the children too. Dordrecht does that in a fun and innovative way: the Mayor invited children to be part of a ‘secret society’ and organised a four weeks training program on how to build rafts and rescue people, as part of a larger information and communication campaign. A very thoughtful approach. Dordrecht shows us how important it is to educate to empower and to promote awareness among all stakeholders about the essential role of water in all aspects of life. And that is what the fifth and final Principle stands for.”
Jindal: “And I’ve come to the end of my journey. When looking at how the Dutch use the five Valuing Water Principles, what I’ve learned is that we need to transform how we think about water. Water is not only a threat, but it can also bring ecological, economic and even recreational values. The other very important thing is that water means very different things to different people. It’s difficult to reconcile all of these interests, but it is essential to do if we want water security to be a shared responsibility for everybody. Thank you for joining me on my journey.”