Both actively engaged in supporting the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 (BDP2100), we spoke with Neeltje Kielen and Richard Jorissen about the Support Implementation Bangladesh Delta Plan (SIBDP) mission in March. From their respective offices in Dhaka and the Netherlands, they elaborated on the significant collaboration and knowledge sharing between the Netherlands and Bangladesh and explored plans to continue this valuable partnership
As the Delegated Representative for Water on behalf of the Partners for Water Programme, Neeltje is part of the Netherlands Embassy team in Dhaka where she shapes the water agenda and oversees the transition away from official development aid. As a programme director at Rijkswaterstaat and equipped with extensive expertise in water safety and flood defenses, Richard provides guidance and shares his knowledge for the implementation of the Bangladesh Delta Plan.
The Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) is aimed at creating a resilient and prosperous delta region and both Neeltje and Richard are deeply involved with its implementation. Neeltje explains: “Through the SIBDP-programme, the embassy provides support to the Bangladesh government in implementing the BDP. This includes direct budget support and technical assistance from a consortium of Dutch and Bangladeshi consultancies. The support and shared expertise of Rijkswaterstaat is funded through the Partners for Water programme and linked to the SIBDP-programme.”
Buriganga River Dhaka (photo Joep Jansen)
After four years, the completion of the SIDBP-programme is on the horizon. That's why Richard traveled to Bangladesh last March to address the various aspects necessary for a successful continuation of the collaboration. This visit was the follow up of a visit in December 2022. Richard explains: “With the programme ending in June, our focus this time was on the post-SIBDP phase and building relationships with our Bangladeshi counterpart, the Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), who are ultimately responsible for implementing the BDP."
He enthusiastically highlights their joint exploration on coastal and river management. Two major themes from which the Netherlands already learned valuable lessons. Richard asks: "How do we prevent Bangladesh from encountering the same pitfalls as the Netherlands? Nature cannot always be constrained. We are now paying a costly price to learn that”. He advocates for maintaining such knowledge exchanges in the coming years. In fact, during the mission, two concrete future collaboration proposals emerged: infrastructure rationalization and knowledge sharing in the field of 'Adaptive Delta Management'.
Severe erosion in estuary in coastal area
"What is Adaptive Delta Management (ADM)? Well, it's all about long-term strategies that provide flexibility for future decision-making, but also about recognizing the importance of nature as a key pillar in future water engineering projects", explains Richard. He goes on: "Within ADM, we employ the concept of Adaptive Delta Design (ADD). This is the bridge to implement a long-term strategy in such a way that you still have choices available in the future." These approaches haven't always been the norm. "In the Netherlands, we are currently addressing the negative consequences of our last 200 years of river management. Now, we're sharing these experiences with Bangladesh", says Richard.
An integral part of ADM is exploring and developing different pathways for future interventions. Neeltje explains that the debate in this field is gaining momentum in Bangladesh. And the discussion amongst academia goes beyond just focusing on floods and riverbed subsidence, it also considers the implications for biodiversity conservation.
Neeltje emphasizes the importance of translating these discussions into practical implementation: "There are still many practitioners who prefer steel and concrete over a natural meandering river. While the Netherlands already made its choices in the past, they are still largely open for Bangladesh. But how do you translate current knowledge into action? This question is relevant for both Bangladesh and the Netherlands, making the knowledge exchange so intriguing".
Jamuna River riverbank protection with traditional concrete blocks
Thanks to sedimentation from the rivers, Bangladesh is not only losing land, but it also regenerates explains Richard. "There are numerous developments and choices that the country is currently facing", Neeltje adds. She continues: "The decisions being made now will determine whether the coastal growth through natural sedimentation remains a viable pathway or if this pathway will be cut off. We have learned that the 'adaptivity' is not only important in design but also in planning. That’s why we always strive to incorporate the principles of ADM into the various projects and programmes in which the Netherlands provides support."
Unprotected riverbank of the Jamuna River
When asked about the lessons learned during the government-to-government (G2G) partnership, Richard easily responds: "It's truly learning by doing. The strength of the Bangladesh Delta Plan lies in its comprehensive and top-level integration. However, this also means that its implementation requires a significant effort. It demands challenging horizontal and vertical coordination. We can contribute to that, but at the same time, this scope is unprecedented for us." Neeltje continues: "Indeed, when it comes to horizontal and vertical coordination, the journey is still in its early stages. It is crucial to take these steps collaborative."
Richard emphasizes that this G2G collaboration is also incredibly instructive for the Netherlands: "The scale and challenges of the BDP go beyond what we have experienced. What can we learn from it for the major transitions we will face in the Netherlands?" he ponders. After two months in Bangladesh, Neeltje has also learned that patience is a virtue: "We are sometimes accustomed to impatience, but it is truly important to adapt to the pace and allow these complex matters the time they need."
Attempt of local community to close breach of polder embankment the Khulna polder
"We are currently working on a one-and-a-half-year extension to continue the current phase of the SIBDP. During this time, the Delta Wing will formulate what they need in terms of knowledge and skills to lead the Delta Program after this period", says Neeltje. As Bangladesh transitions into a middle-income country, the relationship between the Netherlands and Bangladesh is shifting from traditional development cooperation to a partnership focused on sustainable trade, investments and knowledge exchange. This also presents opportunities for the Dutch water sector.
Richard adds: "While construction companies in the Dutch water sector may not see immediate opportunities, this transition will definitely bring new possibilities for consultancy, advisory services and research". Embracing shared expertise and fostering a resilient partnership, the Netherlands and Bangladesh are creating a pathway towards a prosperous and sustainable future.