“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

Two winters ago, Partners for Water received a request from the Egyptian state authority for water and sanitation to provide advice on how to reduce the environmental impact of the three water treatment plants in the Nile delta. In order to do this, Partners for Water contracted the Dutch environmental engineering consultancy firm TAUW and connected them with an Egyptian counterpart. We spoke to TAUW advisors Julia Opdam and Paul Telkamp about the results and the lessons learnt from this international cooperation.

‘We calculated the environmental impact associated with the use phase of three types of water treatment plants. In order to do this we worked out what the quantity of additives, electricity and emissions per cubic meter of treated water would be,’ explains Paul. This data can be used to calculate the annual impact of the operations that keep the treatment plants running and in which areas ‘environmental savings’ can be made.

Using local data

‘Our counterpart in Egypt, Holding Company for Water and Wastewater (HCWW), collected the necessary data for us. We then made the calculations from our office in the Netherlands,’ explains Julia. On the one hand this seemed to work efficiently, but on the other it also created challenges. Paul explains: ‘You can only really get to know the treatment if you’ve also been on site to see that treatment. Then you can better understand the results that you get from the data. The fact that we couldn’t check the data on site sometimes made the interpretation a little more difficult.’

Understanding the local context

‘When you visit the water treatment on location and talk to the people who work with it, you also learn to understand the context better. This means that you’re not only dependent on the data, but you can give more critical and targeted advice with the help of detailed information,’ explains Julia. ‘A visit to Egypt didn’t fit within the scope of this specific project, but we will take these insights with us for any future projects,’ adds Paul.

Contextual factors

One of the outcomes of the research was that improvements can still be made regarding the energy used by the treatment plants. ‘Green electricity is an important factor when determining the environmental impact of the energy use. But compared to the Netherlands, Egypt mostly uses grey electricity. So you automatically get a relatively high environmental impact.’ Julia adds: ‘In the Netherlands we’re accustomed to adjusting the aeration based on the contamination in the incoming water flow and the quality which the outgoing flow must comply with. This saves a huge amount of energy. But this is not the standard for water treatment in Egypt. It’s essential to take into account these contextual factors when formulating advice for the client.’

Market opportunities

For TAUW there is no project planned in Egypt in the near future, but both Julia and Paul see many opportunities in the field of water treatment and wastewater collection. ‘There is still plenty of room for innovation in the field of products and technology,’ adds Paul. Julia indicates that there is also a need for process automation.

“From foe to friend,” the water management approach in the Netherlands and worldwide is evolving.

We asked water envoy Meike van Ginneken for her perspective on World Water Day and this year’s theme: Water & Peace.

Improving global water security begins with awareness

“World Water Day coincides with the beginning of spring,” Meike says, prompting us to reflect on the importance of water. “Although clean and sufficient water is commonplace in the Netherlands, many around the world lack this privilege.” Improving global water security and management begins with awareness. Hence, on March 22, we celebrate how water connects us and fosters cooperation while raising awareness about water-related challenges and solutions.

From water as an enemey to water as ally

It’s undeniable that the Netherlands, with its history of water struggles, now leads in embracing water, utilising Nature-based Solutions, and collaborating with water. “This shift, from water as an enemy to water as an ally, is a global phenomenon,” Meike explains. With climate change and population growth, more countries face the challenge of sustainable water management. This goes beyond technical hurdles, often involving administrative complexities, knowledge gaps, and conflicting goals. For instance, some countries inadvertently exacerbate water issues by subsidizing agricultural practices that deplete groundwater.

This shift, from water as an enemy to water as an ally, is a global phenomenon

Meike van Ginneken

Dutch Water Envoy

Knowledge exchange is a two-way street

“Looking beyond our water-centric perspective,” Meike notes, “we must examine how water intersects with agriculture, climate policy, and financial considerations.” While the Netherlands excels in water security and technology, there’s much to learn from other nations, for example in coping with extreme drought. Knowledge exchange is a two-way street.

“Focusing on water and peace,” Meike emphasizes, Dutch principles like poldering find practical application globally, mediating conflicts between farmers and nomadic herders or shaping transboundary river management. “I am convinced that we have prevented many wars over water by bringing people together in peacetime,” she adds. Sometimes it’s as simple as people from neighbouring countries or communities having each other’s phone numbers and getting to know each other.

Water as a symbol of unity and peace

“I am very proud of the role the Netherlands plays in supporting international initiatives to coexist with water,” Meike concludes. As a water envoy, she aims to share Dutch water expertise globally and facilitate dialogue between our nation and others. Together, we strive for a future where water is a symbol of unity and peace, not division and conflict.”

The world is facing an escalating global water crisis that demands urgent action

Water resources are under increasing pressure, and the need for a collaborative international approach is more evident than ever. In response to this challenge

Wavemakers United is aiming to engage, educate, and motivate young people all over the world to actively participate in the water sector.

The urgency to act

Water challenges affect our health, safety and future prosperity. Gijs van Nes, Youth Community Manager at Wavemakers United, emphasises the imperative role young people play in addressing the water crisis. “The water sector desperately needs young minds with new ideas and skills to make a meaningful impact,” says Van Nes. The goal is clear: raise awareness, share knowledge, and accelerate breakthrough innovations. “We do this by creating a global impact community with a passion for water innovation.”

Connecting and activating youth networks

Wavemakers United is on a mission to connect and activate global youth networks for the sustainable development of water, food, and energy. “We have committed ourselves to the Water Action Agenda. And through our initiatives in sports, education, and social innovation, Wavemakers aims to create both awareness and partnerships in local communities. This way we create a network in which young people can develop their talent and make an impact in their community,” Gijs continues.

Creating ‘Waves’ around the world

In 2023 Wavemakers United organised the UN 2023 Game Changer Challenge, a global collaboration with IHE Delft that brought together more than 2,000 students from over 62 countries. Gijs: “The challenge was a huge success. But it also revealed a crucial need for an enabling environment for young people interested in water sustainability. To address this need, Wavemakers United decided to establish local chapters or ‘Waves’ around the world. These Waves will be instrumental in achieving our goals: educating and training students, building communities, integrating sports, promoting innovation, and empowering them to take concrete actions in their communities. Since education is essential in our approach, all Waves will have a university as a strategic starting point.”

Blueprint for Waves: Timeline to WWF Bali

Wavemakers United is preparing to launch the Indonesian Wave at the World Water Forum in Bali in May 2024. “We are aware of the uniqueness of local water challenges, still Wavemakers seeks to provide a blueprint: a format and system of processes to facilitate the establishment of Waves in various countries. No matter the location, our goals for every Wave are the same: building consortia, integrating sports for local engagement, developing educational initiatives, enable capacity building, driving innovation. We are positive that with a solid format, it will take less time to create a network of Waves, each tailored to local needs, yet united in their commitment to water sustainability”, Gijs explains.

World Water Day Event: Shaping the Future

On 22 March, Wavemakers United will organise a workshop facilitated by Partners for Water in The Hague, offering students an opportunity to learn more about Wavemakers and the upcoming World Water Forum in Bali. Participants will engage in brainstorming sessions focused on key topics in regard to the upcoming Indonesian Wave. The workshop is a great opportunity to optimise the launch in Indonesia and at the same time create a blueprint for future Waves.

The workshop

In five rounds participants will dive into subjects such as:

  • Utilising local youth capacity for solving water issues
  • Bridging knowledge gaps
  • Leveraging youth capacity of involved organisations
  • Structuring effective collaboration among universities, students and authorities
  • Identifying and categorising potential obstructions.
  • The aim is to gather valuable input to create a format for Waves, with the ultimate goal of presenting it at the World Water Forum in Bali.

For the students this is a chance to test and enhance their problem-solving skills, join a network of young water professionals, meet international water experts and explore potential career paths. And above all else play an active role in making an impact on water challenges.

Partners for Water’s perspective

Liliane Geerling, programme coordinator at Partners for Water, explains why they support Wavemakers United with this workshop: “World Water Day raises awareness about the importance of freshwater resources and advocates for its sustainable management. Many people around the world take water for granted, not fully understanding its scarcity and the need for conservation efforts. And many others already experience how climate change affects our water systems, with either too little, too much, too saline or too dirty water. Healthy freshwater ecosystems are crucial for biodiversity and provide essential services such as regulating the climate, purifying water, and supporting livelihoods.”

Partners for Water focuses exactly on these aspects and involving water management students in their activities is crucial for raising awareness and empowerment, networking and to encourage young people to harness their energy in developing creative and innovative solutions for global water management challenges. Liliane: “Our programme is also responsible for the promotion of the Netherlands as a Centre of Excellence, which highlights the contribution of the Dutch water sector to the SDGs. This promotion goes beyond just water security, as water plays an important facilitating role in relation to other SDGs. Therefore, we will also join the WWF in Bali.”

A ripple effect

Gijs adds: “I hope we can inspire many young people to get involved in the water sector. Even though the problems are on a global scale, small steps can lead to a big impact. I am positive that establishing Waves and organising events such as the Game Changer Challenge will have a ripple effect, which will enable a new generation to make a change.”

Read about Wavemakers United

How can you collectively achieve successful implementation of sustainable solutions? This question lies at the heart of Stephanie Janssen’s work. As a researcher at Deltares, she specialises in social inclusion.

In anticipation of the ‘Social Inclusion in Water Climate Adaptation’ event, organised by Partners for Water and Deltares on 12 September, Stephanie discusses the significance of fostering inclusive transformation within the water sector.

In reaching genuine sustainable solutions, Stephanie believes it takes a collective effort. She cites a walk across clayey fields along the Friesland coast as an example. Here, the power of diverse voices became vividly apparent to her. “With local farmers, researchers and individuals from nature organisations and water institutes, we thought about sustainable coastal defenses in Friesland., we went out into the field together to devise solutions. The valuable ideas that surfaced could not have been conceived alone by one individual.”

Expect the unexpected

Conceiving ideas in a Friesian field is just one of the many examples Stephanie passionately highlights while emphasising the significance of social inclusion. “Water challenges are complex and lack of a single solution. The beauty of social inclusion is that you don’t have to face these complex challenges alone. Every time I collaborate with fellow stakeholders and remain open to the unexpected, powerful solutions emerge. And I see that this open mindset is gaining momentum within the water sector.”

Significant critiques

While the water sector is now actively pursuing an inclusive transformation, this hasn’t always been the case. A few years ago, the sector faced significant criticism from scientists, NGOs and journalists. Stephanie explains: “Professionals in the water sector often work with a passion to create positive change. However, solutions didn’t always align with the local context, stakeholders were insufficiently engaged and marginalised groups were often overlooked.” In response to this critique, a turning point emerged. “In the water sector, we made the collective decision to enhance our practices and deepen our understanding of social inclusion.”

Stephanie Janssen – Photo by Guus Schoonewille

Putting into practice

“Our challenge? To listen with an open mindset and curiosity,” Stephanie explains. She clarifies that she doesn’t limit this challenge solely to the design and implementation of water-related solutions, but to apply it at all levels. “I believe this mindset is equally important during discussions and reflections on social inclusivity. I make an effort to identify and set aside my own assumptions and to be genuinely curious about others’ perspectives. It’s not always easy, but it consistently brings valuable insights,” she emphasises.

Learning Together

The desire to embrace social inclusion at all levels is not unique to Stephanie. “The theme resonates greatly within the international water community. For instance, this became clear during the UN Water conference in March this year, where inclusion was one of the core values. I’ve noticed that motivation to collaborate on improving social inclusion is evident on all sides. That’s also one of the reasons why we’ve organised the ‘Social Inclusion in Water Climate Adaptation’ event,” she explains. The event is intended for professionals from private and public organisations, NGOs and knowledge institutions. “We will exchange ideas and experiences and explore how we can collectively progress on this theme as individuals, organisations and collectively in the water sector.”

Taking the next steps

“During the event, we will delve into what participants currently perceive and experience in the water sector, along with the challenges they encounter,” explains Stephanie. “Various individuals will share cases and insights, including Meike van Ginneken, the new Water Envoy of the Netherlands. Through interactive sessions, we aim to listen deeply to each other and collectively set new goals to enhance inclusivity within the water sector. Together, we will take the next steps towards a more inclusive water world.”

This May, Tamar Meibergen joined Partners for Water as a Programme Advisor

She will work on various projects, such as the Vietnam programme, the subsidy scheme, the monitoring and evaluation framework and an event about Nature-based Solutions.

In her spare time, she is also all about water sailing competitively on an all-female team. Nice to meet you, Tamar!

International Ambition

‘While I was studying, water was always the focal point. First with my bachelors in Social Geography and Planning in Utrecht and then later with my masters in Environmental Geography in Amsterdam.’ As a part of her studies, Tamar did an internship at the NGO Wetlands International in Mali. ‘I worked on many interesting projects there, like a flood warning system for illiterate farmers and figuring out how to make gold extraction sustainable.’ After her studies, Tamar worked for 2,5 years as a Water and Climate Consultant at TwynstraGudde. ‘Although I learned a lot, I also realised that I want to invest more time in implementing projects internationally, while working together with all kinds of different people. So, when the opportunity arose to work with Partners for Water I decided to go for it.’

Innovation and Experimenting

Tamar believes her consultancy experience will prove to come in handy at Partners for Water. ‘Although I have only just started, I can already tell that there is a lot innovation and experimenting here. If you see an opportunity there is room to go for it. Applying a proactive approach is something I learned both at TwynstraGudde and while doing a ‘Inclusieve Groene Groei’ (Inclusive Green Growth) internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These work experiences also taught me how to develop strong networks. It will be interesting to be on ‘the other side’ as now I’ll be working with consultants instead of being one myself. I think knowing both perspectives will help me too.’

Vietnam Experience

‘I’ll be working on several topics over the next few months. For example, I will spend time on our Vietnam programme while the designated Programme Advisor is away. Luckily, I already have some prior knowledge of Vietnam. I was there for my master thesis, which was about the export of Dutch water expertise and how trade missions contribute to them. I will also work on our subsidy scheme as well as our monitoring and evaluation framework, which will helps us see the results of our work more tangibly. Lastly, we will organise a Nature-based Solutions event when the World Bank and Asion Development Bank delegates visit in June.

Meaningful Cooperation

Tamar appreciates the changes made in the way the Dutch water sector works with international partners. ‘We used to present a solution without really consulting with our counterparts. Nowadays, there is meaningful cooperation in the whole process making use of local knowledge.’ Water is not only important to Tamar in her professional life, but also in her private life. That is why she devotes a lot of time to competitive sailing. ‘I’ve been on the water since I was young. The team I’m involved in is all-female,  which is pretty unique in the competitions we enter. When I’m sailing, I not only see trash in the water, but also the daily problems that are connected to water management. This make it all the more motivating to make the most of my time at Partners for Water.’

The newest addition to the Partners for Water-team is Luciel Bakker

As part of her  government traineeship she joins the programme from March until September. She wants to learn as much as possible and of course we want to learn about her too. So, we sat down with her for a chat. Nice to meet you, Luciel!

‘My journey as Rijkstrainee started last September when I joined the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. There I coordinated the pre-financing of urgent programmes on topics such as water, nitrogen and nature. To learn more about the implementation side of such programmes, I joined the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and their Partners for Water (PfW) programme. A place where I feel at home because ever since I was young, I’ve been fascinated by climate change, nature and biodiversity.’

Scientific perspective

‘I have a bachelor’s degree in political sciences, but that didn’t feel substantial enough. I became aware that I wanted to gain more background knowledge on what interests me. That’s why I decided to study Governance of Sustainability for my masters. With this, you get a good combination of the scientific perspective on climate change as well as how to best address it. I specialised in nitrogen, a topic which connects everything together: economics, nature, farmers and all of the social implications.’

International field

‘I’ve always been fascinated by Dutch agriculture and I even did an internship with Rabobank, the “farmers bank”. Given how closely linked and intertwined the topics of water and the agricultural are, joining the PfW programme felt like a logical next step. What I’ve done up until now has always been nationally focused. So, I look forward to getting insights into how our national developments relate to the international political field and what factors to take into consideration when working internationally. How, for instance, to take into account cultural differences.’

Cohesion and interaction

‘In my first weeks at PfW I reviewed several subsidiary request applications, which I felt were well written and thought out. That means I can learn a lot from them which is great. It’s also fun to read about the innovative solutions the applicants have proposed. I’m honoured to be able to comment on them and the team’s guidance has been great. In the coming time, I hope to contribute to the programme with what I’ve learned in the first part of my traineeship: analysing the cohesion and interaction between the different actors operating in the field.’

Middle East

‘I’m originally from Zaandam, but I now live in Amsterdam. Taking the train to The Hague can sometimes be a bit of a nuisance, but it’s a sacrifice I happily make. My future plans? Part of my traineeship is being sent to another ministry, province embassy or consulate for half a year. A consulate would be my preference. I would love to be stationed abroad and work on a project related to climate change. I’ve always had a deep love and interest for the Middle East, so ultimately my dream is to do valuable work there.’

Neeltje Kielen is the new Delegated Representative for Water (DR) at the Netherlands Embassy in Bangladesh

On the 4th of March she’ll make the move to Dhaka, to stay for 3 years. To get to know Neeltje a bit better, we sat down with her to hear about her plans.

‘I’ve always worked in the field of water, for governments and international organizations. My first job was in Punjab, Pakistan. An interesting assignment for a research institute, on the influence of waterlogging and salinity on agricultural production. After working, amongst others, for the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Italy and the Environment Agency in England I’ve been with Rijkswaterstaat for the past fifteen years before joining RVO.’

Balanced relationship

‘My position in Bangladesh mainly focuses on supporting the Bengal government with executing their Delta Program by providing our support and expertise. After all, the Dutch have been working on our delta since – basically – the Middle Ages. Therefore, our governmental organizations, knowledge institutes and companies have a lot to offer. Now that Bangladesh is predicted to becoming a middle-income country in the next few years it means our relationship with Bangladesh will transform into a more balanced one based on working together in the ‘golden triangle’ of government, knowledge institutes and the private sector.’

Process and content

‘A large part of my time with Rijkswaterstaat I worked on the Dutch delta programme. That experience I’ll be able to use as DR in Bangladesh. When it comes to knowledge, policy, or implementation, process and content always go hand in hand. For example, when I read “It’s our goal to provide millions of people with clean drinking water”, I immediately think: who’s goal is this, how do you want to accomplish this, who gets to participate and who gets to take decisions? Content-based objectives raise process-based questions – and vice versa.

Action is needed

‘I’m a strategic thinker who likes to analyze complex playing fields. To have an overview, learn the rules, and get to know the players. And then decide which chess piece to move at which time to make sure good interventions are made. However, when I arrive in Dhaka I can’t sit around and only study. Action is also needed. For example, on how we’re going to continue with the currently ending SIDBP-program (Support to the Implementation of the Bangladesh Delta Programme).’

Discover together

‘Adaptive water management is crucial. Social-economic developments go fast, we’re dealing with a climate and ecological crisis: we’re investing in an unknown future. If you do this in adaptive way with short cycles, taking the latest insights and expected developments into account, you can make small but meaningful interventions towards a shared vision. How we can give this form in Bangladesh is something we’ll need to discover together.’

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