strategy+business: Water Experts for the World

strategy+business: Water Experts for the World

The Dutch turned adversity into a compelling economic opportunity. Other countries could do the same.

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the United States in 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) visited the Netherlands. Shaun Donovan had been asked to lead President Barack Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, aimed at the reconstruction of areas devastated not just by that hurricane, but by other natural disasters since 2011. The budget of the task force was nearly US$60 billion, and its mission was far-reaching. It would address housing, healthcare, the social and local economic impact of disaster, the overhaul of infrastructure, and preparation for other potential water-related threats in light of climate change. The storm had affected 24 states, from Florida to Maine and as far west as Wisconsin, with the most severe damage in New Jersey and New York. Sea levels were almost certain to rise again, and lowland flooding to recur, and the U.S. lacked the expertise to manage them.

Donovan’s host was Henk Ovink, deputy director general of Spatial Planning and Water Affairs at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment in the Hague. It was his job to show Donovan how innovative practices in the Netherlands — including water technology, finance, and public–private collaboration — had continued to hold back the floods there, and how they could do the same elsewhere.

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