Water as Leverage

2016 - 2020

Since the legendary ‘water biennale’ of 2005, The Flood, water has been a blue thread connecting the programming and research programs of successive IABR editions. And right from that beginning, deliberately, a relationship has been established between research, presentation and implementation. In projects in the Netherlands as well as abroad, such as in and with the cities of São Paulo and Istanbul, the IABR used the water challenge as leverage for an integrated approach to sustainable urban development.

To identify and initiate such projects, in 2016 George Brugmans, the president of the IABR, and Henk Ovink, the Dutch Water Envoy, signed a Memorandum of Understanding. IABR was instrumental in the launch of and, together with a broad international alliance of partners, is active in the World Water Atlas instigated by the Water Envoy and the Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities program that Ovink is spearheading and for which the first three projects were set up in Asia, in and with the cities of Chennai (India), Khulna (Bangladesh) and Semarang (Indonesia).

Water as Leverage workshop in Singapore. Foto: Cynthia van Elk / UN Habitat
Water as Leverage workshop in Singapore. Foto: Cynthia van Elk / UN Habitat
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Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia

Spearheaded by the Dutch Special Envoy for Water Affairs Henk Ovink, the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Global Center on Adaptation, 100 Resilient Cities, and Architecture Workroom Brussels launched the collaborative project Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia at the UN Climate Conference COP23 in Bonn, Germany, on November 9, 2017.

Overstromingen in Chennai, India. Foto: OOZE team Wa/Asia

No time to waste

We have no time to waste if we want to safeguard our planet and our future, and achieve our climate goals, our sustainable development goals, and reach beyond.

To realize the necessary changes we need to build strong and result-oriented coalitions with the ambition to proactively connect innovative and integrated design, good planning, and a strong process to financial commitment and implementation.

Taking up the challenge, the Dutch Water Envoy and the IABR have initiated Water as Leverage. In partnership with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), 100 Resilient Cities (100RC), UN-Habitat, FMO Dutch Development Bank, Pegasys, Partners for Resilience, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), OECD, Architecture Workroom Brussels and Water Youth Network, and supported by the UN/World Bank High Level Panel for Water, the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) and, we have launched our first project, Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia (WaL/Asia), on November 9, 2017 at COP23 in Bonn, Germany.

Water represents man’s most challenging and complex risk. Over 80% of all climate change caused urgencies and calamities are water related.Floods and drought, pollution and water conflicts combine in conceivably disastrous ways with rapid urbanization, a growing demand for food and energy, migration, and climate change. Yet while the water challenges carry with them the risk of disruptive transitions, the omnipresence of the water challenge also offers us the opportunity to use water as leverage for truly comprehensive change by realizing transformative projects, everywhere and at every scale level.

South and South East Asia

Nowhere on earth are water-related disasters as widespread and costly, both in terms of human life and loss of (social) wealth, as in South and South East Asia. Asian cities account for 83 percent of the population affected by sea level rise. That is why, together with the AIIB and 100RC Asia, we decided to test how water can be used as a lever for change in Asia first.

Three cities, six design teams

After a short and intense period of thorough research, fieldwork, and workshops, the Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia–consortium partnered with the cities of Khulna (Bangladesh), Chennai (India) and Semarang (Indonesia). These partnerships are carefully chosen, based on the explicit articulation of water-, urban-, and climate-related challenges that these city regions have, the strategic position as a pilot for similar cases they could be and, as such, the potential in terms of sustainable solutions and transformative capacity.

In 2017 a worldwide Call for Action was launched after which, in June 2018, the Advisory Board of WaL/Asia selected six design teams, two for each city.

Water as Leverage workshops in Singapore. Photo's: Cynthia van Elk

IABR 2020: Down to Earth

The Water as Leverage agenda is the guideline for two research projects that the IABR set up in 2017, the IABR–Ateliers Drought in the Delta and Dordrecht: Water Safety as Leverage for Sustainable Urban Development, and for Waterschool M4H+.

Un/World Bank High Level Panel on Water meets with Dutch PM Mark Rutte for a work session at IABR 2016. Photo: Fred Ernst

World Water Atlas

The World Water Atlas is an initiative of Dutch Special Envoy for Water Affairs Henk Ovink and part of the Action Plan of the UN/World Bank High Level Panel on Water (HLPW).

The IABR investigated the feasibility of the World Water Atlas in 2016 under the authority of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The outcomes and recommendations ensuing from that investigation prompted the ministry to ask Deltares, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, and the IABR to form a consortium to realize the Atlas under the auspices of the Dutch Special Envoy for Water.

The World Water Atlas focuses on the water challenge against the background of climate change. Its aim is to provide local and (inter)national decision makers, governments, companies, and citizens from all over the world and all walks of life with tools with which to take absolutely necessary, concrete action, as effectively and rapidly as possible. To achieve this, the World Water Atlas collects, links, unlocks, and distributes knowledge, data, best practices, and inspiring local initiatives and then integrates them into a coherent and mobilizing narrative that provides prospects for action and thus encourages people to rise to the challenge. Various media are implemented, including a digital platform and film. See