Video message by His Majesty King Willem-Alexander for the Plenary Session, High-level Panel on Water and Disasters in New York
Watch video message on YouTube
Most of you will know the Netherlands as a country that lies partially below sea level. A country that has over a thousand years of experience in water management. But what you might not know is that the part of our Kingdom most threatened by sea-level rise is not in Europe, but in the Caribbean.
Bonaire, off the coast of Venezuela, is a special municipality of the Netherlands and a beautiful island with a population of 20,000.
I know the island well. In fact, I visited it two months ago with my wife and my eldest daughter. During our visit, we were taken on a guided boat tour through the mangroves. These play an essential part in coastal protection as they help prevent flooding. However, these natural ‘coastguards’ are gradually being suffocated by the seaweed that’s proliferating due to the increase in water temperature.
A combination of frequent storms and rising sea level is making Bonaire ever more vulnerable. It’s alarming to think that one-fifth of the island, including its capital Kralendijk, could disappear under water before the end of this century. At the same time, it’s fantastic to see how the island’s people have joined forces to save the mangroves and hopefully prevent such a disaster. Together they are cleaning up the seaweed and keeping freshwater creeks and streams open.
There are many islands similar to Bonaire, and each one has its own challenges. Many are independent members of the United Nations. One in five of them is a Small Island Developing State. I have great respect for their efforts and advocacy, urging us to take action quickly.
Because the urgency is crystal clear. Today, more than 3.5 billion people live in areas that could be seriously affected by climate change. In fact, they’re already feeling the impact. Last year, the United Nation’s climate panel, the IPCC, painted a truly alarming picture. Devastating floods. Forest fires that threaten nature, homes and vital infrastructure. Extreme drought and famine.
These are disasters that turn people’s lives upside down.
But just as dangerous are the problems that sneak up on us.
Loss of biodiversity.
And let’s not forget the loss of valuable farmland. Even if we were able to curb global warming to no more than 1.6 degrees Celsius, about eight per cent of the world’s farmland would still be lost. This alone poses a huge threat to food security in Africa and other parts of the world. And in the Netherlands, too, where salt water is seeping through our dikes and dunes.
Clearly this is a huge concern. But even so, the greatest threat we face lies not in the water challenges we need to meet or the disasters we need to prevent. The greatest threat lies in ourselves. In the risk that humanity will slowly sink into despondency and apathy.
Together with you, I want to help prevent that from happening.
The main reason for my commitment to water management has always been the firm conviction that there is so much we can do. Not only in the Netherlands, but internationally too.
We have the knowledge. We have the technology. We even have the finance. What we need to do now is strengthen the governance of water.
We should acknowledge the economic, social and environmental value of water. We should treat water as a global common good and as an integral part of all our policies. It’s high time the world’s many water streams flowed together in a roaring river!
So let us join forces – governments, NGOs, businesses, local communities – and move forward.
As the world convenes here for the UN Water Conference and New York Water Week, we have a unique opportunity to inspire each other with ideas for initiatives and action.
Many of them will be human solutions. But let’s not forget or underestimate Mother Nature’s potential. She is our strongest and most faithful ally when it comes to water and disaster risk reduction.
So much can be done using nature-based solutions: solutions provided by our planet. Consider the mangroves of Bonaire’s coastline. Simple, yet effective. Why not visit the island and see for yourselves?