Guest Editorial by Zuhal Demir, Flemish Minister for Environment


I’m from Flanders. A plucky region in north-western Europe. You might have heard of it. But did you know that the word ‘Flanders’ originally referred to something like ‘waterlogged land’, ‘flooded land’ or ‘water currents’? It’s no coincidence that my small, beautiful region – my home – bears that name. Here in Flanders water is everything, even if many of us lost awareness of that fact. It’s everywhere. It’s our ‘blue gold’.

There is a flipside to all this: we are particularly vulnerable to water related crises, be they floods or draughts, abundance or scarcity. Scientists have long since been pointing to this vulnerability. But their warnings were not heeded. They were clamoring in the desert. Past policy-makers were ill-informed, misguided and made all the wrong decisions.

When I took office in 2019 science-based water-policy or water-related climate adaptation were all but nonexistent in Flanders. When I launched my Blue Deal in 2020, we were pioneers. Not just in Flanders, but in Europe as a whole.

‘Room for water’ became our rallying cry: room for water to flow, room for water to be absorbed, room for water to accumulate where necessary. Instead of a resource to exploit, or a force of nature to be irrationally feared, water became an ally; an ally against extreme weather events.

We restored wetlands, restored the meandering flow of rivers that were straightened out in the past, we invested in weirs and basins,… It’s but a small sample of the smorgasbord of measures that are contained within our Blue Deal.

Other countries and regions now look at our example as something to emulate. Belgium, the country that hosts my home region of Flanders, currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union. We need to leverage this position to advocate for a European Blue Deal. The momentum is there, of that I’m sure.

A recent EEA-report warned that Europe is woefully unprepared for climate disasters, such as droughts and floods. It serves as a wake-up call: climate adaptation can no longer just be an afterthought, but should be a policy priority.

I’m confident that there is a lot in what we achieved that can serve as an inspiration: the core philosophy of ‘room for water’, water as an ally and last but not the least, the mere idea that water should be an important policy consideration.


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