The city of Cartagena, located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, faces major challenges due to water-related issues such as floods and declining water quality

In order to improve the city’s water system, Colombia and the Netherlands have joined forces as part of the Water as Leverage Cartagena project. Within the International Call for Action, two multidisciplinary teams were selected to address the issues.

The teams will be responsible for co-designing solutions to water and climate change adaptation related challenges. The Water as Leverage Cartagena project aims to address these issues by designing programmes that provide benefits in terms of employment, economy, biodiversity and health. The two multidisciplinary teams for Water as Leverage Cartagena consist of Dutch, Colombian and international experts.

The following organisations are a part of the two respective teams selected consortia:

  • The consortium ‘Roots of Cartagena’, consisting of Witteveen+Bos (lead organisation, the Netherlands), Felixx Landscape Architects & Planning (the Netherlands), Aqua & Terra (Columbia), University of Cartagena (Colombia), CSC Strategy & Finance (the Netherlands)
  • The consortium ‘Cartagena Con Agua’, consisting of Arcadis Netherlands (lead organisation, the Netherlands), Deltares (the Netherlands), JESyCA (Colombia), Fundación Herencia Ambiental Caribe (Colombia), Taller Architects (Colombia), Selfinver (Colombia), ONE Architecture (USA), P3 Nomads (the Netherlands)

The selection of the teams was executed by RVO, in consultation with the Water as Leverage Cartagena Advisory Board which consists of the Mayor’s Office of Cartagena, Invest International, the Netherlands’ Embassy and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management.

Columbia, Cartagena

Innovative, integral, implementable and inclusive solutions

The objective of this Water for Leverage Cartagena project is to generate innovative conceptual designs to address climate change adaptation and urban water management challenges in the city. The selected teams will be responsible for generating innovative and inclusive concept designs, developing project proposals to a pre-feasibility level and transforming them into ready-to-tender projects.

The aim is to create inclusive holistic projects, that take into consideration: nature; water and resilience; the exclusion of vulnerable communities; urban planning; transport and mobility; governance and finance. The first phase of the project will start at the end of February 2023 with the completion of the last phase expected to be in January 2025. Work on implementation will continue after that.

Collaboration between the Netherlands and Colombia

Water as Leverage Cartagena is facilitated by the Government of the Netherlands, in partnership with the Alcaldía de Cartagena de Indias, Colombian national authorities and national and international strategic partners. Water as Leverage Cartagena is financed through the ‘Partners for Water 2022 – 2027’ and ‘PSD Toolkit’ programmes.

More about Water as Leverage Cartagena
Watch this video about the challenges the city of Cartagena is facing.

We previously featured an article on the activities of Partners for Water in Colombia. In the city of Cartagena, two multidisciplinary teams are working to improve the city’s water system as part of the ‘Water as Leverage Cartagena – Construyendo con el agua’ programme.

Both teams design strategies and project proposals related to water and climate change challenges. We catch up with Programme Advisor Robert Proos to give an update on the status of the programme.

Since February 2023, the teams have been working on 11 proposals for inclusive, innovative and comprehensive designs to adapt the city to climate change impacts. They do this together with the city of Cartagena, the Colombian government and other stakeholders, including community representatives, the private sector and local academia.

An important focus of the programme is identifying and developing projects which are feasible and impactful. ‘What we notice is that there is often plenty of internationally funds available for the implementation phase of projects’, Robert explains. ‘However, a lot of interesting projects never reach that stage. That is why we want to close the gap between identifying promising projects and matching the available funds for implementation. In order to achieve this, we work together with financial partners such as Invest International and the European Investment Bank.’

Tested method

‘The programme aims to integrate local knowledge and experiences in designing solutions for the city’s challenges’, Robert explains. ‘That means it’s important to involve local communities. By connecting to their contexts, we are enabling inclusion and co-creation.’ This method has been tested and developed in Water as Leverage Asia, in the cities of Semarang (Indonesia), Khulna (Bangladesh) and Chennai (India). Robert adds: ‘The idea is to look beyond technical features. How will the solutions be socially embedded? How can we involve local communities, the private sector and NGO’s?’

Local Design Workshop 3 (September 2023)

Water as Leverage Cartagena

‘We learn about risks, ecosystem vulnerability and the needs of local communities from workshops. By listening and interacting, communities give important information as to how to move forward and at the same time we create broader support for the programme and the proposed projects. By introducing topics like policy and finance, we connect to policy ambitions of local governments and get them talking to potential financiers at an early stage.’

Real differences

Robert feels the integrated approach leads to more results than just siloed, single-focused solutions. ‘The right type of investments in water infrastructure can trigger so much more than just dry feet; integrated projects can improve the livelihoods of the ‘cartageneros’. For example, in addition to improving water management around the Ciènaga de la Vírgen wetland in Cartagena, the communities also see a potential for eco-tourism, supporting their livelihoods in a sustainable way. This type of integration uses water as leverage for the broader development of a city.’

The eleven proposals will soon be further developed and analysed to determine if they’re feasible from a technical, social, environmental and financial standpoint. ‘So, these great projects actually get implemented and the people of Cartagena start to notice real improvements.’

There are two teams working on improving the city’s water system. Why two teams and not one?

‘Of course, we could have gone for one big team with twice the budget’, Robert says. ‘However, what we noticed in other programmes and want to encourage, is that teams learn and get inspired by one another. Doing so creates synergies and new ideas.’

‘Because the teams are structured slightly differently in terms of who is in it, they work from different perspectives and ideas. Having two teams in this way enriches the process as a whole. and allows for greater collaboration with various local as well as Dutch partners. This is a good thing, as there is a lot of interest from the international water and climate sector to work on this programme.’

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