A project of the General Economics Division of the Bangladesh Planning Commission funded by the Government of the Netherlands

  • ‘Decisions taken must reflect cooperation’

    ‘Decisions taken must reflect cooperation’

    In conversation with Jos van Alphen, who recently visited Bangladesh to meet various stakeholders of the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100 Formulation Project to share his experience of delta management:

    Jos van Alphen is a member of the Delta Commissioner’s staff since 2010, as a Senior Advisor of Strategy and Expertise. He recently visited Bangladesh to meet various stakeholders of the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100 Formulation Project to share his experience of Delta management, focusing on how the Dutch Delta programme evolved over the years, and how a joint process of strategy development and decision making led to implementation success. The BDP 2100 is a project by the General Economics Division (GED) of the Ministry of Planning of the Government of Bangladesh, supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The two and a half year project was formally launched on August 27, 2014 by the Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal. The strategies in the BDP 2100 will address issues of flooding, drought, sea level rise, salt water intrusion, water safety, coastal polders, land management, river system management, agriculture, and food security from an integrated and adaptive delta management viewpoint.

    Based on the interactions you’ve had in Bangladesh, what is your impression?

    Firstly, this is not the first time I’ve been in Bangladesh. Between 2004 and 2006, I visited Bangladesh four times – these were study visits to identify areas of cooperation between the two governments. I also had the opportunity to visit specific hotspots of Bangladesh, such as the drought prone northern areas. In the current visit, I’ve actually interacted with a lot of organisations, such as the Ministry of Water Resources, GED, WARPO, etc and I’m very impressed with the quality of professionals I have met.

    For how long have you been involved in the area of delta management?

    I’ve been involved in this area since the very beginning of the delta programme in the Netherlands, since 2007 when it was conceptualised. Prior to the formation of the Dutch Delta Commission, where I am focusing on Strategy and Expertise, I used to work for the Rijkswaterstaat, which is part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The Rijkswaterstaat is comparable to the Bangladesh Water Development Board.

    Tell us a bit about the Delta management programme in the Netherlands. What is the role of the Delta Act and Commission?

    The Netherlands is not governed centrally like Bangladesh, the Dutch government and ministries do not directly have control on local institutions, which are quite autonomous and democratic organisations in nature. This is really why a Delta Committee was needed in the first place, to develop a shared Delta Vision, as a basis for common action. In 2008 this Delta Committee presented its vision and advised to implement it in a Delta Programme, supervised by the Delta Commissioner and funded by a special Delta Fund, containing about one billion euros per year.  This Commissioner was appointed by the Queen herself in February 2010. He has a small staff to support him, with only about 10 people; a much larger group of people is working in projects at hotspots and national policy frameworks. The Delta Act was approved in 2012. The Act lays down the legal agreements on the Delta Programme, and stipulates that a rolling on programme is to be drawn up every year comprising plans to protect the Netherlands from high water and ensure a sufficient supply of fresh water. It must also contain a time schedule and an overview of the costs. Finally, the Delta Act states that the Delta Programme must be presented to Parliament every year, and this emphasises its importance. The Act also defines the role of the Commissioner and the legal status of the Delta Fund.

    The general perception is that the Bangladesh experience in Delta management can greatly benefit from the Netherlands experience. How accurate do you think that perception is?

    I think that perception is accurate. The water challenges are similar – sometimes there’s too much water, sometimes there’s too little! And both the countries are facing challenges of climate change, sea level rise and sustainable urban development. However the size and urgency of the challenges differ: population density and growth is much larger in Bangladesh and the size of the water systems is much larger. This is why I think the sense of urgency and potential for impact through Delta management is massively greater in Bangladesh.

    From 2020 onwards, the Netherlands has announced a large Delta Fund of about one billion euros per year to provide stability in financial resources used in Delta management. How is the Delta Commission working at the moment in the absence of funds and how does this one billion fund change things?

    The Delta Fund ensures that there is sufficient funding available for the investments needed in the delta management programme. Up till 2020 there is already government budget to implement the present programmes on flood protection and water management. The Delta Fund reduces dependency of funding on political priorities and creates stability in funding on the long term. This is critical for future-proof implementation of the programme. The kind and amount of funding depends on the measures that come out of the planning exercises being conducted through the BDP 2100 Formulation Project right now. In the Netherlands experience, we use a risk based approach where we look at the most effective combination of protective measures  and measures which reduce the consequences of  potential disasters (like flood proof buildings and disaster management, which are less costly and more adaptive). In addition, protective measures can exist as fixed constructions, like sea-walls or river training structures, or as natural measures, like beach nourishments and oyster walls. The latter is more flexible and easier to adapt to changing conditions. This approach ensures value for money in achieving the Delta vision.

    With the BDP, Bangladesh is, besides strategy making and planning, preparing its institutional framework required for integrated Delta management. What do you think is the most important factor in the implementation of the Delta Plan which the Bangladesh government needs to focus on in the first few years?

    The most important factor is cooperation amongst different ministries and government organisations. It is normal, also in the Netherlands, for each Ministry to prioritise its own issues, since that’s the reason for their existence, but in achieving a shared Delta vision, different organisations will have to find common ground and see themselves as part of a much larger picture. Decisions taken must reflect this cooperation in order to balance between the multitude of interests, all of which are important, but are unlikely to receive the same priority when put together instead of individually. Building of trust is vital in this process, without which inter-ministerial cooperation is unlikely to be fruitful.

    And in the long run, what should Bangladesh be concerned with, in more developed stages of implementation?

    This is actually very crucial since Bangladesh is expected to emerge into a middle income economy beyond 2021. In that stage, the influx of foreign development funds may be much lower, increasing the demand for adequate funding from within the country and from the government’s own revenues. The effective implementation of a Delta management programme is dependent on not only building and placing structures, but also on proper repair and maintenance over time. Bangladesh, like many other countries, already struggles in that respect. Therefore, when selecting measures, it is important to include future maintenance efforts in the decision making.

    Interviewed by Zahidul Naim Zakaria, collected from Dhaka Tribune

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