Q&A with Dutch Special Envoys Dirk-Jan Koch & Henk Ovink on Water in Mining

In the run-up to Mining Indaba, two Dutch Special Envoys fire questions at each other. The one, Dirk-Jan Koch, knows everything about natural resources, the other, Henk Ovink, knows all about water. Let’s combine both areas of expertise and explore if there is any cross-fertilisation in water and mining.

First things first: who is who?

Henk Ovink (HO) is the Netherlands’ Special Envoy for International Water Affairs. Mr. Ovink has served as a senior advisor to the US Government and the former Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Taskforce. For the reconstruction of the New York and New Jersey region, he developed and lead the Rebuild by Design contest. Read his full profile here.

Dirk-Jan Koch (DJK) is the Netherlands Special Envoy for Natural Resources. Mr. Koch is a diplomat, writer, scientist and highly committed to a world in which natural resources are used in a sustainable way.At Mining Indaba, he will hold a keynote speech about the Dutch approach on the disasters and opportunities in water and mining. Read his full profile here.

DJK: “To start with: the Netherlands does not have any mines. Why would two Dutchmen – you and me – have this conversation anyway?”
HO: “The Netherlands has quite some experience to offer in water management, distribution and treatment. Because the Netherlands is not a major mining country, we can operate from a more objective and multi-purpose integral approach on water and mining. Particularly governments in resource rich emerging countries have a great opportunity to develop a sustainable long-term water and mining policy. Mines need to consider water usage as part of the ecosystem and as an integral part of development solutions.”

HO: “Since we agree that water management is a big challenge in mining: how can the mining industry treat water as an opportunity rather than a threat?”
DJK: “By creating an inclusive water management system, companies can gain an enormous amount of goodwill with communities. By giving communities a role in the water management system, they become a positive change agent. By creating shared interest between the mines and the communities, win-win situations will prevail.”

DJK: “What I am interested in still, is how you would describe the Dutch approach to water management, particularly in the field of mining?”
HO: “The Dutch water sector is strong in its comprehensive approach. This means matching long-term planning with short-term innovations in a connected and integrated way. We are good at combining water challenges – too much, too little, too polluted – with economic, urban, environmental and cultural opportunities. Additionally, finance and public-private partnerships increase transparency and accountability, and aim at an inclusive process. All in all for a lasting impact and increasing capacity amongst all stakeholders. This comprehensive approach is an asset of dealing with mining consequences.”

HO: “Now I would like to return that question: how can the mining sector contribute to sustainable water resources management?”
DJK: “Very easily: by getting their human resources right. They need to employ water experts that have the technical skills, but also the communication skills. If you have the right people for sustainable water management, you are already halfway! In the Netherlands we have learned that sustainable water management requires a collaborative approach, in which companies, communities, research institutes and the government all work together. No single actor can create a sustainable water management system by itself.”

HO: “Fair enough. So, how do we organise a fruitful dialogue between the mining sector and the water regulating authorities, to meet the OECD water governance principles?”
DJK: “Two ingredients are needed for any fruitful dialogue: getting the right people around the table talking about the right topics. It is better to get the right people agree on a small change, than the wrong people on a big change! So getting the right people and the right agenda is key. And if you have got that sorted: timing is of the essence too. Let’s hope that we don’t wait for a disaster to happen, but act proactively. It is never too early to get a good dialogue on water going, but very often too late!”

DJK: “Talking about safety issues: the last tailing dam failure occurred in Brazil killed 18 people. Which other producing countries are particularly at risk, you think?”
HO: “All resource rich countries with mining operations. We should not forget the problems that might arise with water from abandoned mines after mine closure. To give you an idea: in the United States alone 40 million people live in the vicinity of abandoned mines that still pollute ground water. The Netherlands is strong in the circular economy. Innovation and technology that aim to circularize mining operations can be used for new products that contribute to a clean environment. These solutions can help prevent a tailing dam disaster like the one occurred in Brazil, but it also contributes to the reduction of waste production.”

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