Water is, and will remain, essential for life. That idea will guide the UN Water Conference in New York. Nathalie Olijslager is working as the Program Director on behalf of the Dutch government. She talks about the usefulness and necessity of this conference and the role played by knowledge institutes such as Deltares.

 Why is the Netherlands co-hosting the conference with Tajikistan?

“The Netherlands was asked because of the wealth of knowledge we have acquired about water; Tajikistan wants a stronger focus on water and, five years ago, it launched the International Decade for Action, ‘Water for Sustainable Development’ (2018-2028). That country is mostly mountainous and its numerous glaciers are melting. Water is their gold. They are on a highland plateau; we are in a delta and we have islands in our Caribbean area. So we complement each other well, from source to sea. In addition to these two countries, the UN organisations UNDESA and UN-Water are involved.”

Why is this conference important?

“It has been 46 years since the last UN Water Conference was held, in Argentina. Our aim with this conference is to get alarm bells ringing in governments and to make them realise that water is a factor in almost every major crisis in the world. We hope that all stakeholders, from government leaders to corporate CEOs, will think about the importance of water and the impact it has for everyone on this planet. We hope this conference will establish a ‘water action agenda’ in which we all define the actions needed to meet water challenges and move ahead faster. Everyone can add a commitment to the water action agenda in the form of their planned actions. We bring people together by engaging in dialogue. The conference should generate more understanding and appreciation worldwide so that there will be enough clean water for everyone.”

“Governments must realise that water is a factor in almost every major crisis in the world.”

Nathalie Olijslager Jaarsma - Program Director for the 2023 UN Water Conference

Nathalie Olijslager- Jaarsma

Program Director for the 2023 UN Water Conference

Nathalie has worked for 25 years for the government of the Netherlands, in different positions and as a diplomat in South Africa, Hungary and the USA. She is particularly experienced in connecting different fields of experience and knowledge and bringing people from these different fields together, for example development cooperation and trade, NGO’s and the private sector.

At present, Nathalie is the Program Director of the 2023 UN Water Conference.

Is getting people to work together the main challenge?

“Yes, we could work together more. We have the knowledge and the funding, but cooperation and coordination in water projects could be better. An example is the ‘water and health’ programme. By working together on developing actions focused on health, you ensure that people continue to have access to clean drinking water. During the preparations for the conference, we are trying to facilitate the establishment of coalitions with representatives of countries, knowledge institutes, NGOs, banks, large companies and UN bodies. These coalitions will work together on problems in a region or country, such as protecting the coast from high water.”

Contribution from Deltares 

The UN Water Conference will be at the highest political level but it cannot do without scientific input. Deltares is supporting the Dutch government during the preparations by providing scientific advice, for example at meetings of the advisory board. In addition, Deltares is working with numerous partners to prepare events that are scientifically strong, covering themes such as Valuing Water, Resilient Cities, and Water, Peace and Security. Most of our sessions are linked to commitments for the Water Action Agenda. An overview of the involvement of Deltares in the UN Water Conference and the New York Water Week is available on the website. Whether you are at the conference in New York or not, be sure to engage with us in a dialogue about ways to achieve integrated water management.

At Deltares itself, on our own campus, we believe it is important to use water economically and sustainably. That is why we launched the #waterwegonnado campaign to engage Deltares employees under the slogan: And you, let us know waterYOUgonnado?

What role can knowledge institutes such as Deltares play?

“If you want to make changes as a government, you want to know how to go about them. We need data and research to make policy, and knowledge institutes help us in that respect. By asking the knowledge institutes how things work, you retrieve reliable information that you can share with everyone. Not all countries have knowledge institutes and they don’t always work closely with them. Knowledge institutes like Deltares can help these countries develop. Deltares experts are making contributions of different kinds for the UN Water Conference. They are helping the Dutch government during the preparations by attending meetings of the advisory board and our colleagues are providing scientific advice. They are also contributing to the water action agenda. In some cases with the Dutch government, for example to establish the International Panel for Deltas and Coasts. But they are also working with other partners and encouraging them to get involved with commitments.’

“The conference should generate more understanding and appreciation worldwide so that there will be enough clean water for everyone.”

Nathalie Olijslager-Jaarsma - Program Director for the 2023 UN Water Conference

About the water conference

The UN Water Conference will take place on 22 - 24 March at the UN headquarters in New York. The Conference aims to be a turning point for the world, bringing together stakeholders and triggering accelerated implementation and impact in the domain of water challenges. The conference will consist of six plenary sessions, five interactive dialogues and side events organised by participants.

And you also learn from local residents?

“Certainly. I spoke at a conference in Copenhagen to a Canadian professor with Home Nation roots. She said that her people had passed down stories from generation to generation about how they interact with the land and water. Many indigenous peoples don’t live in specific locations but in regions where they adapt to the environment. The Aboriginals learnt from nature where water was located below the ground and when it ran out so they could move on to the next well. It is interesting to appreciate more what these peoples know about nature. Knowledge institutes can also engage with these groups to look for solutions together.”

Can Deltalife readers do something to get water onto the agenda?

Spread the word and join the process. Share your knowledge, not only in your own network with your ‘water friends’ but also by passing it on to others. Talk to schools and organise guest lessons about how to manage water. Because in the end, we all need to be aware of how important water is for us. In Bermuda, there are slates on the roof of every house. Why? It sometimes rains hard in Bermuda but dry periods are frequent. Every resident is required to collect rainwater off their roof, which is exactly what these slates do. So you can see how everyone comes up with their own creative solutions: we can still learn a lot from one another.’

The New York Water Week will be from 18 - 24 March 2023 with an additional programme where all stakeholders, businesses, entrepreneurs, NGOs, schools, artists, innovators and creators will have the opportunity to present ideas and best practices.