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AIWW preview by Henk Ovink


A conference to contribute progress on resilience

‘I hope Amsterdam can be a platform for sharing knowledge and inspiring each other, and hopefully setting an agenda for the future,’ says Henk Ovink. Appointed earlier this year as the first Dutch Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Ovink has been helping shape the programme of the AIWW conference track on urban resilience and adaptation to climate change. With 90% of the world’s disasters being water-related and with the prospect that they will become more frequent and severe in future, this sharing and inspiring and agenda setting is needed to create a world where we don’t just react to events, but are ready for them: ‘I would like to invite everybody to the Netherlands to help get this paradigm shift from response to preparedness,’ he adds. 

Ovink is ideally placed to contribute to a successful conference. Previously Acting Director-General of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs at the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, he has for example advised the US on its disaster preparedness and on its rebuilding following Hurricane Sandy. 

‘Worldwide, most countries focus on response strategies,’ says Ovink. Resilience is about being prepared and about being able to deal with uncertainty. ‘Resiliency is actually a process – it builds in learning,’ he adds. The result is that, if a disaster does strike, what comes after is informed by the learning. ‘You don’t bounce back in the same way, you actually bounce back better,’ he says. 

Institutional capacity is crucial to this ability to learn and bounce back and to sustain this process over an adequate timescale. ‘Not for a year or a decade, but for generations to come,’ says Ovink. Capacity building will therefore be one of the important focal points for the conference, he explains, adding that the three other crucial aspects for resiliency are getting the core comprehensive strategy with accompanying projects in place, a collaborative process for all stakeholders, and improved financing. 

‘Innovation is critical and key for all four of these corners of resilience,’ continues Ovink, who instigated the Rebuild by Design contest for reconstruction of the New York and New Jersey region, which has sparked similar initiatives for the whole USA and beyond. This innovation can be fostered by creating a trusting environment in which partners can work together, outside of regular working constraints, bringing together innovators and all stakeholders, he explains, adding: ‘And you need ambition to drive catalytic change.’ 

Dutch expertise will be evident during AIWW, combining that of government, businesses and research institutes. Ovink notes that this expertise is founded on a water heritage spanning centuries in which collaboration has been a key to building water resiliency. ‘The pride of the country when it comes to this culture of water will be felt through the conference,’ he says. But there will also be modesty, he adds. ‘That pride will not build resiliency across the world.’ Instead he points to the need for a collaborative approach. ‘We don’t want to showcase how we do it. We want to partner with others to come up with new solutions – of course with our expertise, but more importantly by building capacity around the world so that everybody can come up with their own necessary approaches.’


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