Henk Ovink

Special Envoy for International Water Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands


Water as leverage, by design

August 17, 2018
 | Time: 
14:30 (Streaming Speech)

How will society confront climate change? Faced with more extreme droughts, rising sea levels and more powerful storms, we all know that what worked in the past will not work in the future. The climate challenge is too urgent to ignore and too big to confront with our existing methods.

In 2015, we set down a climate agreement and endorsed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). But paper alone will not change the world. And across the globe, we still repair the damage caused by natural disasters rather than committing to the prevention and increasing our resilience for this uncertain future.

The climate crisis is a water crisis. Nine in ten natural disasters are water-related with increasing humanitarian and economic damage worldwide. Too much water is coupled with too little water; longer periods of drought align with flows of refugees and conflicts. And while we are depleting our natural water supplies at a ruinous rate, sea level rise is jeopardizing our cities and deltas.

This all underscores the need for a fundamentally different approach to create more resilient cities and coastlines. In the New York region, in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, Rebuild by Design was this innovative, inclusive design process: confronting established federal, state and local practices, building coalitions and creating innovative solutions. The competition’s groundbreaking formula for bringing all stakeholders to the heart of resilience planning, presents governments and communities around the world an approach to become more responsive, more effective and more prepared in the face of climate change.

Following Too Big’s** narrative Ovink in his talk will address the urgency of a battle we cannot afford to lose, and explore a way forward to inform and inspire all who have the ambition to change the world.

**Too Big. Rebuild by Design: A Transformative Approach to Climate Change


Henk Ovink was appointed by the Dutch Cabinet as the first Special Envoy for International Water Affairs (2015). As the Ambassador for Water, he is responsible for advocating water awareness around the world, focusing on building institutional capacity and coalitions among governments, multilateral organizations, private sector and NGO’s to address the world’s stressing needs on water and help initiate transformative interventions.

Ovink is also Sherpa to the High Level Panel on Water, installed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and President of the World Bank Jim Kim with 10 Heads of State / Heads of Government including Prime Minister Rutte from The Netherlands to catalyze change in water awareness and implementation.

Henk is Principal for Rebuild by Design, the resilience innovation competition he developed and led for President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force where he was Senior Advisor to the Chair. He has been Director General for Planning and Water Affairs and Director for National Spatial Planning in The Netherlands.

Ovink teaches at the London School of Economics and at Harvard GSD and is member of the International Advisory Board for the City of Rotterdam. He was Curator for the 5th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam 2012 ‘Making City’, and curated the debate series ‘Design and Politics: the next phase’ for Aedes network Campus Berlin. He initiated the research program and is chief editor of the series of publications with NAI010 Publishers on Design and Politics.