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Water management
Waterproof 2024

The next steps to improving global water security collaboratively

‘Deep listening, system approaches and embracing biodiversity.’ Are these the key elements to taking the next steps to improve global water security? This question and many more were discussed by almost 400 international water professionals during the Waterproof 2024 event, organised by Partners for Water on 6 February in Utrecht. The event facilitated a dialogue to fast-track sustainable water management. “It’s time to shift from talking to action.”

“Today is about action and matchmaking” said Liliane Geerling, programme coordinator of Partners for Water. Together with Water Envoy Meike van Ginneken and moderator Tracy Metz, she kicked off the long awaited Waterproof 2024 event. Through panel discussions, networking and deep dive sessions, water professionals with a wide range of backgrounds, from the public and private sectors, NGOs and knowledge institutions would outline the next steps for improving global water security. Liliane: “Let’s focus on collaboration and dare to zoom out and look at the whole system, in order to realise a net gain rather than make things less bad.”

Liliane Geerling, Tracy Metz & Meike van Ginneken – Photo by Peter Venema.

As part of the Dutch water sector, it’s essential to establish connections with partner countries on an equal basis, ensuring that we not only share our knowledge but also remain open to learning from other nations and local stakeholders.

Water Envoy

Meike van Ginneken

Biodiversity, Water Technology and Social Inclusion


“Biodiversity must be integrated from the start when generating new ideas,” Nico Tillie (TU Delft) explained, initiating the first of three panel discussions at the event. The panels consisted of various experts from the water sector who touched on the themes of water technology, biodiversity and social inclusion. Tillie and his fellow panellists Harro Wieringa (Witteveen+Bos) and Ivo Walsmit (RVO) came to a consensus that biodiversity should always be considered when developing water solutions. Walsmit: “When we view separate water initiatives as interconnected elements of a larger system, we enhance our collective capacity to influence these projects in ways that bolster biodiversity.”

“When it comes to biodiversity, it’s not just about minimising harm; it’s about achieving positive gains.” – Nico Tillie, TU Delft

Nico Tillie, Harro Wieringa & Ivo Walsmit – Photo by Peter Venema.

Water Technology

“The Netherlands is renowned for its innovative water technology and collaborative work ethos. Yet there is a need to accelerate the application of these innovations in our own country,” explained Hein Molenkamp (Water Alliance). In the discussion with Michiel Staatsen (NX Filtration) on the ambitions of Dutch water technology, Michiel noted that his company faces more challenges to apply their innovations in The Netherlands than abroad, and that our country is lagging behind looking at the low water quality of surface water in the Netherlands. Both panellists highlighted the global significance of Dutch innovations and underscored the necessity of confronting domestic water-related challenges. Staatsen concluded: “Numerous Dutch companies possess great water solutions. Now it’s time to shift from talking to action.”

Heijn Molenkamp – Photo by Peter Venema.

Social Inclusion

“For centuries, the Dutch have used a participatory approach in addressing water challenges, and we aim to bring that mindset when collaborating with foreign partners,” says Rob Steijn. He, along with Shahnoor Hasan (Deltares) and Melvin van der Veen (Both Ends) discussed the importance of social inclusion in sustainable water management. Hasan challenges this view: “I don’t think it should be about what Dutch experts believe is a good approach. We need to rethink our understanding of social inclusion and avoid oversimplifying it.” Van der Veen adds: “My invitation for the water sector is to reach out to the local people and civil organisations when developing water solutions, because otherwise, you might end up building solutions that the locals did not ask for or are unable to sustain.”

“We need to rethink our understanding of social inclusion and avoid oversimplifying it.”- Shahnoor Hasan, Deltares

Shahnoor Hasan – Photo by Peter Venema.

Explore more about social inclusion

Deep dive sessions: key outcomes

After the networking lunch all participants split into groups to join one of the thirteen deep-dive sessions in which they delved into important water themes and discussed them collectively. Below are the key outcomes of these breakout sessions, categorised into overarching themes.

Nature-based Solutions (NBS)

  • When it comes to NBS, don’t just talk and write but try ideas out to provide convincing proof of concepts. Keep it simple and start doing.
  • In a cost-benefit analysis of NBS, don’t just look for the benefits of NBS over traditional solutions, but also highlight the disadvantages traditional solutions may have in the long term.
  • Local ambassadors are key in order to take NBS forward.
  • Marginalized and vulnerable communities often encounter high risks but might benefit most from NBS. Look into the equitable distribution of the benefits of NBS vs the risks encountered.

“Essentially, it is all about deep listening. That is something we, as the water sector, are learning and we should keep on improving that.” –  Dennis van Peppen

Dennis van Peppen – Photo by Peter Venema.


Social Inclusion

  • When aiming for locally-led development, we need to unlearn old practices, learn to deeply listen and, instead of making decisions ourselves, facilitate local stakeholders in the development process.
  • Serious board gaming (using games as simulation tools to model real-life scenarios, strategies or systems for educational, training or decision-making purposes) shows how easy it is to fall into the trap of exclusion. Creating moments to reflect without judgement on what has happened – both after serious gaming and in real-life – creates space to become aware and ‘unlearn’ unwanted practices.
  • To enhance socially inclusive processes, listening to a representative group of local stakeholders and letting go of egos is key.
  • Socially inclusive processes require time. It is crucial to allow local stakeholders sufficient time to understand the issues and to avoid making any hasty decisions.

“It really struck me that all the people playing ‘locals’ in the Delta Planning board game didn’t say a word throughout the game.” -Stephanie Janssen, Deltares

Stephanie Janssen – Photo by Peter Venema.


Business & technology

  • With aid alone we will not reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To progress in global sustainable water management, the private sector needs to step in with sustainable, profitable business models.
  • Key principles for successful sustainable, profitable business models include being driven by local demand, ensuring fair and achievable risk sharing and fostering local ownership.
  • Bridging the gap between space technology and water management requires effective communication to educate water professionals about the value and interpretation of space-derived data.
  • Developing practical use cases can demonstrate the application and benefits of space technology within the water sector.

“Prioritising the development of water solutions should begin with understanding the society, culture, and identity of the people for whom we are building, before delving into the technical aspects.” – Riaz Hamidullah, Ambassador of Bangladesh in the Netherlands.

Riaz Hamidullah – Photo by Peter Venema.

Operation and Maintenance

  • The unwanted Build-Neglect-Rebuild (BNR) cycle is complex and requires a systems approach in which we take time with relevant stakeholders to understand root causes.
  • There will never be enough budget for Operations & Maintenance (O&M). A pre-condition is to raise awareness among local stakeholders and use the local capacity.

“No one has the complete picture of BNR. Instead of starting with solutions, map the root causes and establish an agenda.” – Frank van Steenbergen, MetaMeta



  • Many countries and individuals face similar but different challenges. Images and storytelling can be powerful means to show these interlinkages.
  • Through images and storytelling, knowledge can be democratized, moving beyond large reports and exclusive spaces to reach a broader audience.

“Visuals can be effective to attract people’s attention and can tremendously help written reports to have more impact.” – Kadir van lohuizen, photographer

Partners for Water Award

More than 300 people cast their votes to acknowledge the impact of one of the three projects that were nominated for the public Partners for Water Award. The three innovative projects by FieldFactors, Nelen & Schuurmans and Royal HaskoningDHV, were funded by the PVW-IVWW subsidy scheme and significantly contributed to global water security. After a day filled with suspense, the award was presented to FieldFactors who won with nearly half of the votes.

Hugo de Vries & Kieran Dartée – Photo by Peter Venema.

I am very proud that we won the Partners for Water Award today. The project was an important first step for us in Spain in implementing an initial water and climate solution to improve water security there. Hopefully, we will look back on this starting point in four years with many new projects that we can realise to accelerate the transition towards a climate-adaptive world.


Kieran Dartée

Time for action

It was a day filled with critical reflections, valuable insights and the initiation of new collaborations. However, the journey towards improving global water security doesn’t end at Waterproof 2024. As Meike Van Ginneken said, “Now it’s time to act. Carry forward the conversations held today with your partner countries, stakeholders and beyond the water sector. Let’s bring this movement forward.”

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