Water as Leverage Programme

Climate change-induced floods, droughts, pollution, starvation, diseases, and conflicts are fundamentally related to water. Coupled with rapid and unplanned urbanization, these issues threaten the resilience of life support mechanisms on earth. Cities worldwide face water-related challenges, growing population density, and urban expansion. Siloes between science, national and local governance, communities and financiers of urban infrastructure and housing development is causing a disconnect and is hampering sustainable urban development. Thereby often aggravating water and climate risks instead of mitigating them. But cities can become part of a solution when water is a lever and a unifying force for sustainable urban development.

The global Water as Leverage (WaL) initiative is based on this conviction. The programme facilitates resilient solutions by connecting long-term urban planning with short-term innovative transformations, ambitious climate adaptation plans with bankable projects, and water system knowledge with the construction of resilient cities. WaL integrates science and research, design, finance and implementation practices with inclusive urban partnerships.

The objective of the global Water as Leverage program is to accelerate climate change adaptation through innovative interventions developed in and with communities at risk, and with the partners that need to see through the implementation.

Quote “Water as leverage is all about resilience. As citizens we will feel the impact of climate change. If we want to have liveable cities, we have to leverage water through engaging communities.” Meike van Ginneken, Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Water is the leverage for best climate impact, yet 'it takes millions to invest billions wisely'. 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. Thereby involving 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.

For more information see the documents:

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

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



As part of the bilateral collaboration between Colombia and the Netherlands on the topics of water, climate and resilience, a trajectory based on the methodology of Water as Leverage has started in the city of Cartagena, in partnership with a group of local, national and international stakeholders. ‘Water as Leverage Cartagena – Construyendo con el Agua’ aims to invest ‘the millions’ in this early project development phase to unlock ‘the billions’ for implementation finance. As such, the cooperation supports sustainable, resilient economic development in Cartagena, in line with key policy ambitions such as the ‘Plan 4C Cartagena Competitiva y Compatible con el Clima’ (2014) and the ‘Plan Integral de Gestión del Cambio Climático’ (2022).

The objective of Water as Leverage is to deliver significantly different, design-driven solutions to water and climate change adaptation related challenges, aiming for leverage through investments in infrastructure. The projects must address climate change adaptation and/or urban water management challenges through physical infrastructure, and be able to count on local partners’ support and collaboration. The multidisciplinary teams should become an integral part of the Water as Leverage Cartagena process, facilitated by the Government of the Netherlands, in partnership with the Alcaldía de Cartagena de Indias, Colombian national authorities and national/international strategic partners.

Read more: The tender documents: SBIR Water as Leverage Cartagena The Water as Leverage Cartagena Knowledge Repository

Asia and its cascading risks

Cynthia van Elk

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 city specific trailer:

Water as Leverage Asia: Chennai - Khulna - Semarang

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