Interview with Kitty van der Heijden
Dutch ambassador for sustainable development and Director of Environment, Water, Climate and Energy at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague, the Netherlands

On 22 March the international World Water Day celebration will take place in The Hague, the Netherlands. The two main events have been programmed, a multi-stakeholder dialogue and a high-level platform. Both events will follow up the public debate that the United Nations started earlier this year on the post-2015 water goals. The General Assembly of the United Nations is expected to decide on the framework for new global poverty and sustainable development goals in September.

Water and food security are considered top priorities. The question of the current debate is whether or not to replace the current poverty goals, primarily focused on the basic need of water pumps and outhouses, and whether it should be broadened to include the sustainable use of water resources as well.

In the interview below, Dutch ambassador for sustainable development, Kitty van der Heijden, advocates to merge the global poverty development goals and the sustainability development goals. In the end, a water supply system is useless when the water well runs dry.

What has been achieved in the past 12 years?
The millennium goals gave the world community a rallying-point. It focused on global poverty issues that had never been addressed before. For the water goals, in particular, I believe that fresh water supply is now in the hearts and minds of all ministers of development and all health workers. That is a big achievement.

There is still a world to win for sanitation. This is especially true in terms of bringing the issue into the public debate. Politicians speak openly about childhood diseases and human rights for drinking water, but many dare not speak about defecation and urination.

Lack of adequate sanitation makes women hold their needs all day, causing all kinds of medical complications. They wait until night, but being out alone in the dark they risk violations. Menstruating girls don't go to school if there is no toilet.

Some consider proper sanitation a luxury compared to drinking water, but from the perspective of human dignity, it should have the highest priority.

We often forget that water may be clean at the village water pump, but when children don't wash their hands before carrying the water home, there is a good chance that it will become contaminated before the water is used.

Why is water such a complex issue?
The answer is simple. There is much more to it than delivering and installing hardware. A new tap, pump or outhouse is not enough. It requires a community to look after the water facilities, to maintain it, to pay for the costs, etc.

As a donor country, the Netherlands adopted a more pragmatic approach. For the water projects we finance, we demand a 10 year guarantee on the water service. Today's mobile technology makes it easy to report malfunctions in the water supply system and for repairs.

Local responsiveness is an important factor to achieve irreversible gains. There we encourage the creation of water community groups. Well positioned groups are important in the allocation of water rights.

What are irreversible gains?
You don't want a new water pump to break after five years and be left unused. That said, you also don’t want a new pump to lead to a drop in groundwater levels, making the land arid and limiting crop yields.

Our development policy concentrates on countries that are far off track in terms of water goals. This mainly concerns sanitation in African countries where we stimulate a leapfrog progress by taking sustainable development into account as well. Therefore, if the economy experiences a boost, as is the case in Africa at this moment, you encourage the use of renewable energy, preventing the construction of new coal-fired power plants that demand huge quantities of cooling water.

Is this issue on the agenda in The Hague?
Yes, we need to broaden the water goals. I hope that we are able to merge the poverty and sustainability goals, targeting on water, energy and food security. This includes the recognition of natural recourses such as global public goods.

This is where water cooperation comes in. Rivers don't stop at borders. The right to global public goods breaks the hold of national sovereignty. If we really want to address water scarcity and flood risk reduction we should talk about international cooperation. Who has the right to water?

In essence, it boils down to the question of how to manage such global public goods. Politically very controversial in nature, so it will take much arguing to come to a set of transparent and measurable sustainable development goals that include the current millennium goals on poverty.

UNICEF's Guy Degen reports on Community Led Total Sanitation efforts to build latrines and prevent open defecation in Mali.

Sanitation situation in Uganda, addressing landlords and tenants to improve living conditions.

About Kitty van der Heijden
Sustainable development has been the red line in Kitty van der Heijden’s career. Van der Heijden worked for the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the United Nations in New York for four years. In 2006 she moved to Vietnam as Head of the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator.

In 2009, Van der Heijden returned to the Netherlands where she is now Director at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ambassador for sustainable development. In June 2012 she represented the Netherlands at the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

About the Dutch Ministry of Foreign affairs
The Environment, Water, Climate and Energy Department (DME) serves the Netherlands' interests and aims to contribute to global sustainability and poverty reduction. The Netherlands takes a responsibility in tackling issues such as energy scarcity, environmental degradation and growing economic inequality which threaten international stability and the prosperity of current and future generations.

Follow this website for more news on the international celebration of World Water Day 2013 in The Hague.

The main events in The Hague on occasion of the international World Water Day 2013 celebration:

Wednesday 20 March
- Walking for Walk

Thursday 21 March
- Working hand in hand for groundwater governance roundtable
- Wings for water - multi-stakeholder dialogue(*)

Friday 22 March - official world water day
- World Youth Parliament for water conference - 22 March
- High Level Meeting on Water Cooperation and on the Global Thematic Consultation on Water - 22 March (*)
(* = on invitation only, will be broadcasted live by UN Water)

Read previous news items on World Water Day on this website:
- World Water Day – The Hague: "Water supply is more than fixing a pipeline"
- World Water Day – The Hague: "Water equity breaks the hold of national sovereignty"
- World Water Day – The Hague: Tomorrow’s water management is all about sharing water resources
- Unesco kicks off year of water cooperation in Paris, next event in The Hague
- First programme outline international celebration of World Water Day 2013 in The Hague
- Stockholm water week: Unesco and Dutch government take up World water day 2013

For the latest information on World Water Day 2013 see:
- International year of water cooperation
- International World Water Day 2013 celebration in The Hague, the Netherlands

Public consultation on post-2015 wash targets:
- The world we want 2015 - official UN thematic consultation - water
- The Broker Online - special debate Prioritising on water