Water as Leverage Programme

Water is the leverage for best climate impact, yet 'it takes millions to invest billions wisely' – that is the conviction of the Netherlands Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Mr Henk Ovink. The Water as Leverage programme invests these catalytic first millions, with the aim of leveraging the necessary investment for the implementation of catalytic projects, that in turn leverage water for real urban climate resilience.

Water as Leverage aims to involve the international financial world, development banks and governments in the advancement of this innovative approach, to create an inclusive and innovative pre-project preparation facility.

Water as Leverage published its first booklet describing its story in the three cities. It portrays the people and places through the beautiful photography of Cynthia van Elk. And as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words! The booklet is online available here.

For more information see the documents:

Setting the Scene for a Call for Action: extensive research-based document that narrows down from water-related challenges on a global level towards why we chose for the three cities in the first edition of WaL – Chennai, Khulna and Semarang. This document and its sources also provided a head start to the interested teams and generated a level playing field in terms of knowledge availability.

Call for Action document

Infographic: Rethinking the approach for urban climate resilience

Water as Leverage Reflect: an in-depth analysis and reflection on the program, its inclusive, integrated and sustainable approach, the process, the design methodology, the partners, the places, the impact and follow-up

Water as Leverage Namami Clean Ganga

All photographs were taken on location by Cynthia van Elk. If you have any questions, please contact wal@rvo.nl

Asia and its cascading risks

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. Over 83 percent of Asia’s urban population are affected by rising sea levels, sinking cities and polluted rivers. This is the region where innovative and integrated action is most urgent, but also where it has the greatest potential. With Water as Leverage we are convinced that Asia’s cascading risks—as they are profoundly intertwined and often relate to water—can also be countered and tackled through organised action and used as the catalyst for change.

After extensive research, we selected the first three cities, three hotspots for water, climate and urban opportunities. Here the water issues are most urgent. They are compounded by urgent infrastructure demands, demographic growth and economic and urban development. Our goal is for these cities to become resilient and tackle sustainability and climate risks all at once, coupling the dynamics of water-related risks with innovative forms of urban planning,

The three cities where Water as Leverage started pilot a transformative design approach with a view to replicating its principles in Asia and the rest of the world. The initiative involves a dedicated group of partners from governments, financial institutions, investors, experts and innovators and community stakeholders committed to the aim of using Water as Leverage as a blueprint for other cities and regions facing water challenges.

See more: the city specific trailers Semarang - Khulna - Chennai


Chennai is the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, located on the southeastern coast of India. Recent immigration has made Chennai the fifth most populous metropolitan area in India.

As a consequence, informal peripheral settlements in low-lying coastal areas that lack access to infrastructure and services house many of the recent arrivals. This rapid increase of population also affects the expansion of impermeable soil and failure of the drainage system. Chennai’s position on the southern coast of India, which suffers from land subsidence, makes the region extremely vulnerable to flooding and landslides.

See more:

Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia - City Report for Chennai, India (PDF in English)

City of 1000 tanks Phase 2 report (PDF in English)

RISECHENNAI | Rising Waters, Raising Futures Executive Summary (PDF in English)


Khulna is part of the largest delta in the world: the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta. Most of the delta is composed of a labyrinth of channels, swamps, lakes, and floodplains and consists predominantly of alluvial soils, making it a very fertile region.

Besides direct water issues caused by poor drainage, high baseline water stresses, seasonal river flooding, and sea level rise, the increase in salinity in the Khulna area poses another severe challenge for the sustainable development of the city: crop yields are falling and food prices are rising, threatening the city’s food security and clean water supply.

See more:

Khulna as a water inclusive enclave - Executive Summary (pdf, in English)

Water as Leverage: Natural Drainage Solutions for Khulna City Executive Summary (PDF in English)


Semarang is a harbour city in the Indonesian archipelago with a dynamic shoreline, stemming from natural sedimentation processes and man-made extensions.

The city has always faced hazards such as drought, land subsidence, landslides, water pollution, and floods, but these are likely to become more severe and frequent as a result of climate change. This will result in higher surface temperatures, an increased rainfall intensity, rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns, and water pollution, creating income fragility, decreased food availability, and migration.

See more:

Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities: Asia - Semarang Report (PDF in English)

One Resilient Semarang - Executive Summary (pdf, in English)