Spring 2016

Water lies at the root of 90% of all the disasters affecting the world: in one place there is too much, in another too little, in another it is contaminated. Special Envoy Henk Ovink wants to further raise the international profile of the renowned Dutch knowledge and expertise in water and maritime technology. 

To maintain the position of the Netherlands as an excellent example in water technology and strengthen its distinctive capability, we must continue to invest and innovate. The special envoy sees the necessary potential for the geosynthetic materials and systems of TenCate in environmental and water management.

henk ovink (pieter magielsen)
Henk Ovink (photo by Pieter Magielsen)

As special envoy, Henk Ovink is the ‘thematic ambassador for the international water ambition of the Netherlands’. It is down to him to effectively market internationally the renowned Dutch knowledge and expertise in water and maritime technology. The key task is economic diplomacy.

Water is a unifying challenge worldwide and one in which our country can play an important role. Many issues come together through water: it has an international dimension. Without water no food, no power, no life. However, although water underpins trade and quality of life, and despite the huge dependence on water from the social, cultural and economic perspective, management of this resource is poor and fragmented. The binding power of water affects all sectors and is at the basis of growth and prosperity ... and misery, crises and disasters. 

henk ovink NYT

The prospect that he outlines based on available figures is sombre. ‘You can see that water constitutes one of biggest crises worldwide. Of all disasters, 90% are water-related and in 15 years from now 40% of the world population will be victims. By 2050, 2 billion people will be faced with too much water and 1.9 billion people with too little – some 4 billion people or 40% of the world population! Approximately 1.2 billion people have no access to clean drinking water and in time this will apply to 50% of the world population.’ Figures from the FAO and UN substantiate these claims so, as he says, ‘No time to waste, even though it will certainly take two generations.’

henk ovink geotube new jersey
As part of dune restoration, dune dykes were constructed on the coast of New Jersey (US) using TenCate Geotube® technology

Henk Ovink sees three challenges for him on the world stage. First he mentions the need to globally increase water awareness (the realisation of the seriousness of the situation) by speaking to leaders, communities and institutes about water, the urgency and how to respond and cooperate on better and more accessible research to increase knowledge and its relevant applications. The fact that there is little international awareness of this urgency impedes a rapid decisive approach.

tencate geotube animation

According to him, institutional awareness among governments and companies is paltry, except in the Netherlands. ‘The Netherlands is traditionally one of the few countries with a true water culture. This culture is visible in the way we have formed and organised the country. Water belongs to the core of state power, and the Dutch delta and water technology and our maritime sector are acknowledged worldwide. Springing from the delta of four rivers, the Netherlands is the waterhole of Europe. 'Water culture is in our blood; we are drenched in it. Yet even the Netherlands must take care that water awareness does not seep away. According to the OECD, social water awareness is under pressure even in the Netherlands. Thanks to centuries of experience, need and necessity, the Netherlands is one of the few countries leading the way in knowledge and application. This advantage carries obligations, as the three ministers point out: “Water presents an immense challenge, one in which our country can lead the way.” We must give it greater attention and focus. Better research is essential, and we must make the knowledge more accessible and action-oriented in an innovative way.’ 

Henk Ovink refers to Dutch knowledge and expertise as ‘unique, with capabilities that can be utilised internationally more effectively. Given the scale of our country, our integrated approach to water scarcity, security and quality is an excellent example of how to do this. This knowledge must be internationally recognised and acknowledged.’

henk ovink geotube new jersey beach

TenCate Geotube® units help protecting beaches, like at New Jersey

Seconded to the Presidential Task Force of President Obama, Henk Ovink developed and supervised the competition Rebuild by Design concerning rehabilitation after the damage wreaked by Hurricane Sandy in the New York and New Jersey region in 2012. ‘Obama has seen to it that the United States is well prepared in terms of what to do if a disaster takes place. With reference to Hurricane Sandy, he is calling attention inside and outside the US to climate change. Immediately after Sandy, he stepped in and established his Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force to enable the rapid and coordinated reconstruction of the New York region. With Rebuild by Design, I have developed an approach for the Task Force that is focused on innovation and strengthening the resilience of the region socially, physically and institutionally. This ensures that the region is not only prepared for a storm but its destructive impact is also reduced. “From responding to preparing”, as we say in the Netherlands.’

The question arises as to what function and role the materials and systems of TenCate play, and could play, on the international stage. The importance of water and environmental management is increasing worldwide, and there is a growing need for sustainable solutions for the building and heightening of dykes and embankments, civil engineering structures, dyke monitoring, and the dewatering and containment of contaminated water. TenCate wants to draw greater international attention to the importance of system solutions and continue to innovate. Such efforts do not go unnoticed, as Henk Ovink well knows. 

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