Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities Asia

Last checked on:
28 October 2019
Published on:
20 February 2018

The Special Envoy for International Water Affairs and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) have taken on the challenge of addressing water crises in urban areas. The programme Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities Asia is collaborating with the cities of Chennai (India), Khulna (Bangladesh) and Semarang (Indonesia) to tackle urban water-related challenges innovatively and inclusively

The programme invited internationally operating multidisciplinary teams to develop innovative, bankable and implementable design proposals. Actual implementation is the final aim. To achieve this, Water as Leverage entered a partnership with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bankthe Dutch Development Bank FMO100ResilientCitiesPartners for ResilienceArchitecture Workroom Brussels,  International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam and the Global Center on Adaptation. Furthermore, Water as Leverage for Resilient Cities Asia is supported by the United Nations/World Bank High Level Panel on Water. Visit the Water as Leverage website to find out more and keep up-to-date with developments.

Call for Action

On World Earth Day, 22 April 2018, Water as Leverage launched its first call. It is no longer possible to submit a bid. Water as Leverage now enters the next phase. 6 international teams of water and climate experts, engineers, scientists, architects and urban planners have been selected to develop groundbreaking, innovative approaches to tackle the immense climate and water challenges in three cities in Asia: Semarang (Indonesia), Khulna (Bangladesh) and Chennai (India).

Overview of winning teams


  • Team 1: "Rising Waters, Raising Futures" Deltares, IGCS, IIT Madras, Care Earth Trust, CUDi (Center for Urban Design Innovation, Karlsruhe Institute for Technology, Waggonner & Ball, Benthem Crouwel Architects, Arcadis and VanderSat.
  • Team 2: "City of 1,000 Tanks" OOZE VOF, Madras Terrace, Goethe Institut, Ramakrishnan Venkatesh, Vanessa Peter, IHE Delft, Rain Centre, Care Earth Trust, Paper Man, Pitchandikulam, IIT Madras, TU Delft, HKV.


  • Team 1: "Creating inclusive and natural water synergies in Khulna urban region" Euroconsult Mott MacDonald B.V., Khulna University of Engineering & Technology, Urban and Regional Planning (KUET-URP).
  • Team 2: "Khulna as a Water Inclusive City" CDR International, Defacto Ubranism, Nelen en Schuurmans, DevConsultant, Khulna University, RoyalHaskoningDHV, Wageningen University and Research.


  • Team 1: "One Resilient Semarang: Water(shed) as Leverage" One Architecture & Urbanism, Inc, Deltares, Wetlands International, Kota Kita, Sherwood Design Engineers, Hysteria Grobak, Iqbal Reza, UNDIP.
  • Team 2: "Cascading Semarang - Steps to inclusive growth" MLA+, Stichting Deltares, FABRICations, PT Witteveen+Bos Indonesia, UNDIP, UNISSULA, IDN Liveable Cities.

The challenge

Water represents the most challenging and complex risk faced by man. Floods and droughts, pollution and water conflicts combined with a growing demand for food and energy, rapid urbanisation, migration pressures, and climate change are potentially catastrophic. Yet, water's connecting and interdependent strength provides us with an opportunity that cannot be ignored: water can be used as leverage for impactful and catalytic change.

The challenge is to match long-term comprehensive urban planning with short-term innovative transformations, ambitious climate adaptation plans with bankable projects, the development of more knowledge on water systems with the construction of more resilient cities; research, design and implementation with inclusive urban alliances. Result-driven collaboration is essential, across all sectors, all layers of government, and all stakeholders, from activists and vulnerable communities to private and public institutions.

The programme

Water is the leverage for climate impact, yet 'it takes millions to invest billions wisely' – that is the conviction of the Netherlands Special Envoy for International Water Affairs, Mr Henk Ovink. The programme Water as Leverage will provide these catalytic first millions, to develop conceptual designs that will leverage water for natural urban climate resilience. The 3 cities where Water as Leverage is to begin will pilot a transformative design approach with a view towards replication of its principles in Asia and the wider world. The initiative involves a dedicated group of partners from governments, financial institutions, investors and community stakeholders committed to replicating Water as Leverage in other cities and regions. The President of the AIIB, Jin Liqun, put it like this:

"Asia is at a critical juncture. Its role on the world stage is increasing, but the region now faces new and complex challenges. We will not, and cannot, change the course of the planet alone, but we will step up, alongside other members and partners, to do our part to build a sustainable tomorrow."

Water as Leverage wants to be different. Aiming to involve the international financial world, development banks and governments in advancing this innovative approach. Creating an inclusive and innovative pre-project preparation facility. Using water as leverage for making cities resilient.


The initially selected cities, Chennai (India), Khulna (Bangladesh) and Semarang (Indonesia), all face complex water-related challenges. All related to, or on top of, rapid urbanisation and unprecedented migration flows. This challenging landscape of problems and opportunities is the focus of the first design. Not against each other, but to find the best resiliency approach for the highest ambition.

Commissioned by:
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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