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Published on: 29/06/2015

This blog has been written by Jeske Verhoeven of IRC and Erma Uytewaal associate consultant of IRC.

In October 2014 the Dutch government and the World Bank signed a strategic partnership agreement. An integral part of this agreement forms the commitment of US$ 50 million from the Dutch government for the coming five years to the World Bank's new Global Water Practice. The Global Water Practice, established in October 2013 as part the World Bank's new strategy, brings together irrigation, water resources management, hydropower and water and sanitation service delivery. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to spend their contribution to the Global Water Practice in a coordinated manner with input from the Dutch water sector.

The Directorate General of International Cooperation of The Netherlands requested IRC in December of 2014 to develop a position paper on the possible Dutch input for the Global Water Practice. Selected Dutch organisations with expertise in water and sanitation were invited by IRC to contribute to the paper (1). A consultation meeting with the Dutch water and sanitation sector was also organised in January 2015 (2). In the meeting the role of the World Bank in the water, sanitation and hygiene sector and the potential engagement of Dutch sector expertise were discussed.

This blog shares the possible Dutch input in the implementation of the Global Water Practice new strategy. It is the final part of a series of three blogs (published in June 2015) which share the outcomes of the consultation process with the main Dutch water and sanitation actors on the future of the sector, the role of the World Bank in water and sanitation and the potential Dutch role in the Global Water Practice.

Dutch approach to increase World Bank effectiveness

The blog 'The future of water and sanitation: a common Dutch vision' elaborated on the fundamental paradigm shift the Dutch believe is necessary for achieving universal access to safe water and sanitation for all by 2030. According to the main Dutch water and sanitation actors this paradigm shift involves a process of systemic change that focuses on establishing strong country sector systems. In a second blog 'The Dutch urge, World Bank take a lead in driving change' details were discussed on the lead role the World Bank should play in this transformation, according to the Dutch water and sanitation actors.

The Netherlands can support the World Bank in achieving their joint vision and increase the effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of the World Bank with the 'Dutch approach' to water management, which includes sanitation and hygiene.

The 'Dutch approach' involves forming and building partnerships in a multi-stakeholder approach which is based on sustained long term engagement. This approach moves beyond the public and private sector to include civil society and the beneficiary. Examples of the 'Dutch approach' with its areas of expertise are:

  • Holistic water management; The Dutch integrated approach enables effective coordination of water tasks for more efficient water management which covers the entire water cycle, ultimately leading to a higher quality product and better services. An example of this Dutch 'water cycle thinking' is the 'Amsterdam model' where the Amsterdam water utility (Waternet) manages the entire water cycle from drinking water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment to water system management. The 'Amsterdam model' also looks beyond the direct water cycle and address problems that are closely linked to water issues such as water management for food production. For example the Amsterdam utility Waternet also gives attention to the loss of agriculture-purposed water due to inefficient irrigation systems or pollution by solid waste and groundwater contamination by industry.
  • Management of water utilities; The Dutch water supply companies are publicly owned corporations. Owned by mostly municipalities, but also by regional governments. In this model of 'publicly owned privately managed' water utilities the state-owned enterprises are organised in the same manner as private corporations. This successful management model can assist other countries in finding an adequate and efficient management model with support of the Netherlands.
  • Democratic water governance; The Dutch water boards (i.e. waterschappen or hoogheemraadschappen) are a good example of effective democratic water governance. The water boards in the Netherlands are regional government bodies which manage water barriers, waterways, water levels, water quality and sewage treatment in their area of jurisdiction. These regional water authorities are among the oldest forms of local government in the Netherlands. Some of them having been founded in the 13th century. The water boards hold elections and levy taxes. The Netherlands, particularly Dutch NGOs, have expertise in strengthening water, sanitation and hygiene governance in developing countries. Dutch NGOs have a long record of supporting national participatory processes, strengthening of local governments and civil society organisations.
  • Financing of water service provision; For more than sixty years the Netherlands has had a successful system to finance water infrastructure as cheaply as possible. The Nederlandse Waterschapsbank (NWB Bank or Dutch Water Bank) was established in 1954 to finance the Dutch Water Boards without aiming at profit maximisation. The fact that the NWB is backed by a guarantee from the Dutch national government, made it possible to attract money at low interest rates and long tenures. Today, the NWB has a balance sheet of 88 billion Euros and there has never been a default on a loan This system could be used as an important reference in building the national infrastructure for sustainable sector financing in low and middle income countries. With support of the Dutch government, opportunities for establishing national Waterbanks can be explored as a means to help water utilities to access loans for long term investments and in developing national capacities for domestic resource mobilisation.
  • Water Operator Partnerships; are peer-to-peer relationships which draw on direct engagement and exchange of practical knowledge. In the partnership, a "mentor" partner works with its "recipient" peer to identify and overcome service delivery challenges through a jointly defined work program. The power of the 'Water Operator Partnership' concept is that it is not for profit, but aims at strengthening the capacity of local human resources. It is demand driven, flexible and directed by the achievements of Performance Indicators. For instance Vitens Evides International, the largest water utility in the Netherlands, is co-responsible for water and sanitation services provision to over 15 million people in the cities and towns of Mozambique, Ghana, Yemen, Vietnam and Mongolia through a 'Water Operator Partnership'.
  • Increasing sustainability; The Netherlands is a global front runner in developing approaches and instruments to increase the sustainability and accountability of water and sanitation projects. Instruments developed by the Directorate General of International Cooperation of the Netherlands as the sustainability clause, -check and -compact can be applied by the World Bank to increase the sustainability throughout the entire project cycle and beyond: from assessment of project proposals to implementation and impact evaluations.For example the sustainability compact, a signed agreement between the implementing agency and the government of the recipient country, stipulates the roles and responsibilities of both parties to secure the sustainability of services for up to 10 years after project conclusion. This enables and enforces the leadership of the recipient country government to lead its own development. Another sustainability tool developed by a network of Dutch Non-Governmental Organisations, the FIETS approach, provides sustainability criteria as a checklist to include and assess sustainability in project proposals. It can also be used to identify and monitor specific activities that are implemented as part of the project on sustainability. Tools such as the sustainability clause, -check and –compact or the FIETS approach can be used and adapted by the World Bank to support the sustainability of its investments.
  • Green water and sanitation sector; Dutch Non-Governmental Organisations, knowledge institutes and businesses have specific expertise in climate adaption and mitigation, waste-to-energy schemes, reducing energy, artificial re-charge and recycling of waste.
  • The Netherlands Water Partnership; a public – private platform, can also serve as an engine for innovation, including innovative public private financing models for water and sanitation.

In addition, the Dutch water and sanitation sector has a comparative advantage as it is more agile and has the possibility to work with grants in comparison to the World Bank. In this way the World Bank and the Netherlands can complement each other's activities in partnership.

To realise sustained universal access to safe water and sanitation for all by 2030, the World Bank needs to strengthen its partnerships at national level in order to support countries in establishing strong sector systems. Involving Dutch parties with in-country presence or experience and their wealth of knowledge on sustainable and equitable water management within World Bank operations can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the World Banks activities towards reaching this goal.

Next to strengthened collaboration at country level, the partnership between the World Banks' Global Water Practice and the Dutch government provides for additional opportunities to leverage Dutch knowledge and expertise in the international policy debate. For example the World Bank can establish a learning platform for regularly sharing of experiences in providing sustainable and equitable services and by jointly assessing progress and bottlenecks in the water and sanitation sector. The Dutch actors could make an effective contribution to the World Banks capacity to stimulate innovation towards realising access to safe water and sanitation for all forever.


1. Gerard Soppe of Vitens Evides International (VEI) and Harold Lockwood (Aguaconsult) contributed to the position paper on the possible Dutch input for the Global Water Practice.

2. Organisations who participated in the consultation meeting in January 2015 were Simavi, Royal Haskoning DHV, Aqua for All, Waste, Both Ends, Netherlands Water Platform, UNESCO-IHE, Waternet, World Bank, UVW and Directorate General of International Cooperation of The Netherlands.


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