“Bangladesh is a treasure trove for water experts.” Last year, we spoke with Neeltje Kielen about her three-year tenure as the Delegated Representative for Water (DR) at the Dutch embassy in Bangladesh. With the first year behind her, it’s time for a check-in. How has she experienced this past year, what stands out to her and what are her plans for the coming year?


“What I expected came true,” begins Neeltje. “As a water expert, you can truly lose your heart here; it’s like a vast treasure trove.” The combination of specialised expertise, the dynamic nature of the country and the transition to integrated collaborative partnerships “make me excited to go to work everyday”.

Meaningful collaboration and phasing out of development aid

The collaboration between the governments of the Netherlands and Bangladesh has a robust history, but with Bangladesh’s expected transition to a middle-income country by 2026, the development aid (ODA) is phasing out. “I am currently drafting a plan for the final extension of the SIDBP program (Support to the Implementation of the Bangladesh Delta Programme). This involves assessing current operations and planning our collaborative efforts in the years to come. It’s crucial to determine what the Netherlands should continue to support and what responsibilities Bangladesh can take on until the full transfer is achieved. This with a view of continued partnership also after the Netherlands has phased out ODA”, explains Neeltje.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

The partnership, as it stands, is finite, yet there’s still a tremendous amount to be done. The delta of Bangladesh is as dynamic as its economy and population; the impacts of climate change are evident, and Bangladesh is keen to implement the Delta Programme effectively. Since the start of the Bangladesh Delta Programme, they’ve embraced this plan and are structurally working on its implementation. “While bureaucratic processes are often labelled as slow, I find this relative.”, Neeltje notes. In the Netherlands, for instance, the trajectory from the initiative to the actual opening of the Haringvliet sluice took nearly 20 years. The Dutch central government leads, but implementation is decentralised, involving entities such as RWS, water boards and municipalities. In contrast, Bangladesh centralises everything, which can be surprisingly efficient with the right approach.

Private investments for the water programme

It’s evident that Bangladesh cannot finance the water programme, accounting for 2.5% of its GDP alone. “Hence, we are now focusing on private investments. It would be incredible if we could achieve 20% of the total scope with the support of private entities. “I am currently collaborating with the World Bank’s Water Resource Group 2030 to explore how the Netherlands can contribute to water treatment plants for several economic zones in Bangladesh. The eagerness of the Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority to partner, even to the extent of proposing an MoU with the Netherlands, is heartening. I am actively forging connections with Dutch companies and establishing frameworks for private investment. This world of business case-driven enterprises is completely new for me”, Neeltje explains.

Proud of the golden triangle

“My prior experience with the Delta Programme has been directly applicable to the Bangladesh Delta Programme. My experience in government allows me to understand and work well with the systems here, helping me make connections. In the ‘golden triangle,’ I’ve secured a position that enables swift action to enhance private sector involvement, knowledge exchange and further development of the Bangladesh Delta Programme. Reflecting on the past year, I am most proud of expanding this network”, Neeltje adds.

2024: PPP & continuing the SIDBP-programme

The forthcoming year is dedicated to refining the plan for Dutch governmental collaboration in Bangladesh for the final phase of the SIDBP program. Another goal for 2024 is to establish an initial Public-Private Partnership agreement (PPP) to explore its efficacy for Dutch company engagement in Bangladesh.

Still much to accomplish

With one year down and many more ahead, Neeltje continues her journey in Bangladesh as the Delegated Representative for Water at the Netherlands Embassy, focusing on Dutch company involvement and the Delta Programme execution. She’s exploring Bangladesh’s vast treasure trove of opportunities for water experts along the way.

Partners for Water Subsidy scheme

Partners for Water (PfW) keeps an eye on Neeltje’s journey. On 2 April, a Bangladesh Sector Meeting was organised to explore opportunities, challenges and collaboration prospects in operation and maintenance in Bangladesh. At this meeting, PfW asked for those with innovative plans to enhance water security in Bangladesh and globally, to apply for the PfW subsidy scheme.

Apply for the subsidy scheme

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