The climate crisis is a water crisis. Houston, Bangladesh, and Sierra Leone demonstrate the urgency of the problem. But whoever believes that repairs and infrastructure improvement investments will suffice, will have to think again. The Netherlands, as a water nation, is obliged to share its expertise with the rest of the world.
The UN IPCC 1.5 report couldn’t have been clearer: the difference between 1.5 and 2 degree warmer world (than pre-industrial levels) is too big to let happen: too big for our systems, our planet, ourselves, our economies and cities. We must do everything we can to get the world on track, prevent these losses and gain the rewards of sustainable development, starting now!
The climate crisis is a water crisis. Nine in ten natural disasters are water-related. Between 1995 and 2015, wind and water caused 1,700 billion dollars’ worth of damage worldwide, according to UN estimates. Without water, no energy and no food. Too much water and increasing “extremes” go hand in hand with far too little water; periods of drought align with flows of refugees and conflicts. While we are depleting our natural water supplies at a ruinous rate, sea level rise is jeopardizing our cities and deltas. And without water it are women and kids that have to walk the wells, but with water these women carry their communities towards more prosperity while their kids go to school and progress even further. So, the choice between prevention and repair is false. Both are essential. We need to start at the source: to reduce greenhouse gases, and make efficient and careful use of our planet and all its resources. Yet at the same time, we need to prepare boldly, comprehensibly and inclusive for tomorrow’s extremes.
„Never waste a good crisis"; of course catastrophes open up opportunities. But only if we think big and at the same time take care of and include the victims and those left vulnerable after a disaster. Someone who has lost his house, business, or loved ones only wants to turn back the clock. In such cases, a disaster is not an opportunity, but rather a reason to turn away from the future and then despair and distrust feed denial. After hurricane Sandy (2012) I joined President Obama’s taskforce to work on the recovery of New York. On a wall in New Jersey someone had painted: “We All Hate You Sandy”. It fed my conviction that by involving everyone in the recovery of their city – and not just building a dyke, but tackling the entire urban development, including the separation of rich and poor neighborhoods – we could give them a new perspective. And that meant investing in the future of people, rather than investing only in infrastructure.
There is no time to waste: the Harveys of this world will not stop. On the contrary: they are the new normal, becoming more extreme year by year. Climate change is a slow process but we have no time to waste. The need for fast results is an opportunity: ideal for setting up a good business case combined with political action. Long enough for political ambition, and short enough for the political reality of a single term. Ambitious enough to be attractive, and short enough for targeted actions. Five years gives us hope. We can and we must act now.