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.

Partners for Water is seeking organisations with expertise in water management to contribute to a pivotal project aimed at enhancing water efficiency and biodiversity conservation within the Colombian coffee sector. Through the Netherlands International Water Ambition (NIWA) we aim to strengthen strategic partnerships by increasing water security for humans, plants and animals.

Visit TenderNed for more information on the tender and procedure


The collaboration between Colombia and the Netherlands on water efficiency and biodiversity conservation has a solid foundation, marked by significant milestones and studies over recent years. In 2020, a pilot study assessed costs and benefits of enhanced irrigation efficiency within the Colombian palm oil sector. In 2021, a project focused on Aquifer Storage and Recovery was conducted to promote sustainable banana production in the Magdalena region. A year later a collaboration with the Water Governance Platform was established, to contribute to the participation of all relevant stakeholders in decision-making processes for water conservation.

Following this, in 2023, comprehensive data collection efforts were undertaken to understand the water/biodiversity/food nexus, in order to stimulate understanding of the intricate relationships between production activities, conservation efforts, and ecosystem services. Building on this momentum, a subsequent study pinpointed opportunities for international collaboration in projects designed to bolster collaboration with counterpart organisations while working on a sustainable coffee sector, focusing on the Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta (CGSM) area.

The Project

The new Partners for Water project will support a larger effort funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), targeting environmental challenges in the CGSM area, specifically within the Fundación and Aracataca water basins. The project’s objectives include stimulating water efficiency and biodiversity conservation efforts that directly benefit the Colombian coffee sector, positive ecological impacts on the CGSM-area and community resilience.


The selected contractor for the PfW project will be required to closely coordinate and collaborate with local stakeholders, emphasising the importance of understanding the regional context and building strong relationships with local partners. This collaboration aims to ensure the local appropriation of technologies, taking into account both the benefits and barriers. Through data collection and the application of surveys the ultimate goal is to identify and implement technological improvements or management alternatives that enhance water efficiency and decontamination processes within the Colombian coffee sector, tailored to meet the needs of the local conditions and communities, particularly the families working in coffee production.


The project aims to deliver actionable strategies for the adoption of water saving and decontamination technologies. These strategies will form the foundation for the GEF-project’s incentives for coffee growers and the establishment of demonstrative farms, showcasing sustainable practices in the coffee sector.

Invitation to Apply

Organisations with a proven track record in water management and a commitment to sustainable development are invited to apply for this tender. This is an opportunity to be at the forefront of international efforts to combine water efficiency with biodiversity conservation in one of Colombia’s most vital agricultural sectors.

Visit TenderNed for more information on the tender and procedure

Application Process

Interested parties are encouraged to submit their applications, detailing their expertise, experience in similar projects, and understanding of the Colombian coffee sector’s specific challenges and opportunities. This project not only aims to make a significant impact on a sustainable Colombian coffee production but also offers organisations the chance to strengthen strategic international partnerships, contributing to global water security, safety and biodiversity conservation efforts.

For more information on how to apply, please visit the TenderNed website and read the official tender documents. Questions about this tender can only be submitted through the procedure described in the tender documents.

“Colombia’s current challenges in water and climate demand innovative solutions.” It’s an endeavour that many water professionals attending the Colombia Platform meeting on Thursday, 7 December are eagerly undertaking.

Over 45 individuals from public and private organisations, knowledge institutions and NGOs gathered in The Hague to discuss the bilateral collaboration between the Netherlands and Colombia, forge new connections and discover the various business opportunities the Colombian water and climate sector has to offer.

“I’m so pleased to see you all here today,” began Barbara Swart, Delta coordinator from the Ministry of Infrastructure & Water Management, as she initiated the meeting. “Together, we’ll discuss the ongoing collaboration between Colombia and the Netherlands, share valuable insights on successful practices and explore new market opportunities within Colombia’s water and climate sector.”


Bilateral collaboration

The delta collaboration between the Netherlands and Colombia has been facilitated through various instruments of the Dutch government, such as Water as Leverage (WaL), BlueDeal and Partners for Water (PfW). Key components in these cooperations include promoting local ownership, co-creating with stakeholders and collaborations with the local public and private sectors. The ‘Water as Leverage Cartagena – Construyendo con el agua’ programme illustrates this aptly. PfW Programme Advisor Robert Proos enthusiastically explains: “WaL Cartagena aims to develop sustainable, integral solutions for water adaptation and climate adaptation in Cartagena. This is carried out by two multidisciplinary teams and in partnership with local and international stakeholders. WaL Cartagena can also be an interesting launching pad for other water security innovations, so it’s a worthwhile exploration for the Dutch water sector.”

Blue Deal Programme in Colombia

“We aim to enhance the implementation power of solutions that improve water security in Colombia,” explained Ellen Bollen-Weide from the Dutch Water Authorities while introducing InspirAgua Colombia, a component of the Blue Deal Programme. This initiative, a collaborative effort by the Dutch Water Authorities, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Water and Infrastructure of the Netherlands, strives to provide access to sufficient, clean and safe water for 20 million people globally.

Partners for Water subsidy scheme

Another initiative enhancing water security in Colombia is the ASR4WS project, co-funded by Partners for Water. Marta Faneca Sànchez, a hydrogeologist at Deltares, enthusiastically elaborated on the feasibility study her team conducted on six banana plantations in Colombia’s Magdalena Delta. “During the dry season, the local rivers experience freshwater scarcity, which leads to the salinization of groundwater and soil, loss of biodiversity and conflicts among water users. With Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) technology, we aim to address these challenges by storing fresh water during the rainy season that can be utilized during the dry period,” she explained.

Sànchez noted that the Partners for Water subsidy supported the project not only by providing funds but also by establishing vital connections with local stakeholders and partners, and it has been crucial for the project’s continuation. “The study reveals promising potential for adapting an existing well into an ASR system. To validate these findings, a pilot project will be conducted on one of the farms, with continued financial support from Partners for Water.”


Obtain funding through the Partners for Water subsidy scheme

Do you want to know if your project is also eligible for the Partners for Water subsidy scheme? Projects with innovations in the field of WASH, water quality & availability, water & climate, water & biodiversity, sustainable agriculture and water infrastructure can apply for the subsidy from 19 January until 16 February 2024.

Apply or explore the terms and conditions here

Market opportunities

“Colombia is taking big steps towards treating 100% of its wastewater and providing drinking water to an additional 3 million Colombians by 2030,” said Wessel Mol from the bilateral chamber ‘Holland House Colombia’. Speaking from his office in Bogotá, Mol shared his excitement about the numerous opportunities for the B2B market across various regions in Colombia. The most significant ones are highlighted below:

Significant opportunities in various Colombian cities:

  • Cartagena: improvement of drinking water and sewerage coverage in rural areas, equipment needs for the new treatment plant El Cerro, IT tools for storage and distribution of water.
  • Santa Marta: drinking water and sewerage coverage, and rainwater capture.
  • Bogotá: wastewater treatment
  • Cúcuta, Neiva and Duitama: wastewater treatment systems

Colombia is a land of vast opportunities and significant water challenges. Thanks to our robust democratic institutions, we offer a stable foundation for building strong business and collaborative relationships. This ensures substantial government support for those seeking to invest or collaborate in enhancing Colombia’s water security.

Embassy of the Republic of Colombia

Mr. Julian Silva

A promising water and climate sector

As this fruitful meeting ended, Swart concluded with a hopeful summary: “Today we’ve recognized that working at the regional level is just as important as collaborating at the institutional level, and I believe we can all agree there are numerous opportunities within Colombia’s water and climate sector. The current challenges require innovative solutions, and I am confident that you have the products and expertise necessary to enhance water security in this promising delta country.”

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