Toespraak van minister-president Rutte bij opening Amsterdam International Water Week

Deze toespraak is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It's fitting that I am addressing you here in Amsterdam today. Because if there's one city that owes a debt to water, it's our capital. The American writer Russell Shorto even based his brilliant history of Amsterdam on this fact. He describes how the city owes its name and existence to the dam built across the river Amstel in the thirteenth century. The city's wet and marshy location made it unsuitable for farming, so it didn't have a feudal structure. And that fostered an early form of democracy. A democracy based on a shared interest: making the city safer by protecting it against flooding. As time passed, Amsterdam's waterside location caused trade to flourish. By the seventeenth century it had become a shining example for the world: a prosperous, liberal and tolerant city. And where would Amsterdam be today without its canals? Please do read Russell Shorto's excellent book, because he explains it all much better than I can here in a few sentences. But the point I'm trying to make is this: water shapes cities, societies and countries. It always has and always will.

Unfortunately, more and more people around the world are experiencing the destructive power of water. Problems caused by too much water, too little water or polluted water. So working together in the field of water is more crucial than ever. It's why we're here today: to exploit the opportunities it presents, but also to tackle the problems it creates. Amsterdam International Water Week provides an excellent platform for government bodies, cities, industry, water companies, young people and NGOs to create alliances, share knowledge and turn promising plans into practice. To make real progress towards solving one of the most pressing issues of our age: how do we deal with water?

This issue is forcing us to sit up and take notice: whether it's floods in Bangladesh, droughts in Somalia, or hurricanes in the US and Caribbean. The Kingdom of the Netherlands has been hit too, with the people of St Maarten still dealing with the destruction caused by hurricane Irma.
To put it in numbers: if nothing changes, in the next fifty years two billion people will be affected by rising sea levels and flooding, and another two billion people will face water scarcity.

Awareness is growing that we can only tackle these issues together. And that's what we're doing around the world, with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. The new Dutch government also feels that urgency, and has made climate one of the spearheads of our coalition agreement. An ambitious climate policy transcends party politics: it's simply a necessity. Here in the Netherlands we're setting high standards for ourselves and we're working to reduce carbon emissions by 49 per cent by 2030. We want to play a pioneering role in the European Union. Worldwide, it's through water - either too much or too little - that we feel the impact of climate change most acutely.

It's a big issue in the Netherlands too. So we remain fully committed to our Delta Programme, which will now focus more on urban and national infrastructure that is both climate-proof and water-robust. And at international level we will open doors with the world's first Global Center of Excellence on Climate Adaptation in Rotterdam and Groningen. It will be launched at the UN Climate Change Conference this year.

I've said it before: climate, water, poverty - and all the other SDG themes - are interrelated. Trying to tackle them is like trying to solve a Rubik's cube. In the Netherlands, we always start with the blue side. With a lot of our country below sea level, we have centuries of experience when it comes to water technology, urban delta management and maritime technology. Thanks to our location, we can act as a laboratory, testing what it means to live with water. We try out new technologies and solutions, and we go on learning every day.

We feel a responsibility to share our findings, and that's what we do in projects around the world. Through the Dutch Risk Reduction Teams, for example, which help rebuild countries hit by natural disasters. Because it's not only about sweeping up the debris afterwards. It's also about equipping communities to cope better with extreme weather in the future. These teams work on large-scale projects, for instance in the Philippines and Myanmar.

We're also helping Bangladesh draw up a Delta Plan. A plan that seeks to build long-term water resilience in the world's most complex delta. We're working with Bangladesh to adapt the plan to its traditions, culture and governance. It's through this process of learning from each other and balancing interests that we get the best results. We're using the same step-by-step approach to implement a Delta Plan for Vietnam and various projects in South Africa.

It all comes down to one thing: valuing water. As a member of the High Level Panel on Water I've lobbied hard for this theme in recent years. Valuing water is key to all the water-related SDGs. If we know what water is worth to each stakeholder, we can make the most of trade-offs and maximise the total value of water to society.

For centuries, my country believed that managing water simply meant fighting it. Building dykes to keep the water out and our feet dry. It's only in the last few decades that we've learned to look beyond that struggle and balance water's destructive potential with its economic and social value.
The re-routing of the Waal river between Nijmegen and Lent is a good example. At times of very high water, the river threatened to overflow its banks. By digging an extra channel and giving the river more room, we reduced the danger of flooding.  At first, local residents were concerned about the impact of this ambitious plan. But they're delighted with the result: a riverside park with room - not only for water - but also for housing, recreation, culture and nature. Experts now come from all over the world to look at the project, which has not only solved a problem, but has also provided added value for its surroundings: for people, animals and nature. A combination of security and quality. That's the Dutch approach that we want to broadcast to the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bottom line is this: we learn most by working together and sharing knowledge. All of us - government, business and citizens - face the same task. And International Water Week is a great platform on which to forge new alliances. Industry, science, business, government and technology need to come together and act now. We're putting that into practice this week with the Amsterdam Agreements. There's so much expertise and experience gathered here - it would be a shame not to take this further, working in project teams.

Together we're trying to solve issues and exploit opportunities related to water. And it seems fitting that today we're doing it in Amsterdam. A city that would never have existed if someone in the thirteenth century hadn't had the foresight to build a dam.

A dam that made it possible to secure the city's future, and make it the beautiful place it is today.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my great pleasure to declare Amsterdam International Water Week open. I hope you find it inspiring!

Thank you.