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.’

Like many coastal cities, Colombia’s city of Cartagena faces major challenges concerning climate adaptation. For instance, more than a quarter of the city could be affected by flooding by 2040.

As part of the collaboration ‘Water as Leverage Cartagena – Construyendo con el Agua’, two international multidisciplinary teams have started co-designing solutions for water and climate related challenges. Workshops with various stakeholders provided new insights on how to tackle these challenges and improve the city’s water system.

Water as Leverage Cartagena draws on the knowledge of two consortia comprising of a diverse group of experts from the Netherlands, Colombia and other international partners to develop projects that address the city’s water and climate adaptation challenges. In order to increase water security in Cartagena the main goal for these two multidisciplinary teams is to generate innovative and inclusive conceptual designs, as well as to develop project proposals to a pre-feasibility level and transform them into ready-to-tender projects.

Co-creating innovative conceptual designs

Local Design Workshops

On 6 and 7 July 2023, representatives from various sectors, such as academia, private enterprises, NGOs, governments and residents from Cartagena came together to participate in the second Local Design Workshop. Together, they proposed ideas for potential projects to foster sustainable urban planning for climate resilience and integrated water management.

Participants sharing their perspectives during the second Local Design Workshop

Opportunities and challenges

In order to jointly design suitable solutions, the teams highlighted the opportunities and challenges of Cartagena’s water management. One of the opportunities, they noted, is the city’s own ecosystem which includes characteristics similar to other cities such as Venice, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Rio de Janeiro. The city is surrounded by water, comprising of lakes, wetlands, canals and coastline. Since all of it is interconnected, it makes for a unique aquatic landscape.

The Cartagena ecosystem includes characteristics of cities such as Venice, San Francisco, Amsterdam and Rio de Janeiro

Given that the impact of climate change is projected to increase the drought and flood vulnerability of the city, the main challenge seems to be to try and coexist with water. In order to do this, it is necessary to reconsider how water functions as the center of urban planning and the engine of economic and social transformation.

Water as Leverage Cartagena

Co-creating water solutions

The central question during the workshops was ‘How can we rethink water as an opportunity, rather than a risk’. The two teams presented a range of innovative designs that included Nature Based Solutions and addressed the city’s challenges related to water and climate management. These designs not only considered flood reduction, but also social, economic and biodiversity issues. The participants shared their perspectives, as well as ideas about the problems in their areas. In the upcoming months, the multidisciplinary teams will continue their work on the conceptual designs and integrate the participants’ feedback. A third workshop is planned in September to present and discuss the revised designs based on the participants suggestions.

Group photo of the two teams and participants of the workshops

Water as Leverage Cartagena

Read more about the start of the Water as Leverage Cartagena project and the two multidisciplinary teams.

More information about Water as Leverage

Sign up for the newsletter