Den Haag Debrief 5: An international, multicultural city

By Paula Echeverría Suárez

The Hague (Den Haag in Dutch) is the third largest city of the Netherlands. It is located along the North Sea about 40 minutes south of Amsterdam. It is the seat of the Dutch government and the majority of foreign embassies and international organizations in the country. Out of a population of 520,000 (as of April 1, 2016), fifty percent have Dutch ancestry while the other half have one or two “foreign born” parents. The Hague is an international city with many faces and different cultures.

The Hague’s reputation as an international city began in the middle of the 19th century when it became the Royal Residence of the House Oranje-Nassau. As a government town and seat of the monarchy, the city attracted many embassies and welcomed visitors from near and far, overcrowding the town and forcing development to continue outside the original city center. By the 20th century, The Hague was internationally known as a city of peace and justice, helding the First Peace Conference in the world.

The Hague is built on sand dunes in the northwest and peat in its southeast (the border roughly runs parallel to Laan van Meerdervoort). Wealthier neighbourhoods like Statenkwartier, Belgisch Park, Marlot, Benoordenhout and Archipelbuurt are generally located “in the sand” closer to the sea, and those Hagenaars speak bekakt Haags (“posh”). In the poorer neighborhoods like Transvaal, Moerwijk, and Schilderswijk, the Hagenezen speak plat Haags (“vulgar”). In the 1970s and 1980s, mostly white middle-class families moved to neighbouring towns like Voorburg, Leidschendam, Rijswijk and, most of all, Zoetermeer. This led to the traditional pattern of an impoverished inner city and more prosperous suburbs.

That pattern has partially reversed, as The Hague today has a mix of 100 ethnicities, languages and cultures living side by side. Most inhabitants at least speak two languages fluently (15% of the population speaks Turkish or Arabic as a native language). There are many yearly events celebrating the different heritages of The Hague’s inhabitants. For instance, the “Welcome to The Hague” programme for expats; the Tong Tong Fair, a celebration of the Indonesian-Dutch heritage, and The Embassy Festival for the diplomats that live in the city.

For the City Water Project, the idea of starting our initiative in a city so culturally diverse seemed interesting and exciting. However, we did not realize that our connections should not only focus on The Hague as a single community, but The Hague as a variety of small communities, each with their own language and culture. You can read more about our efforts to connection to them here.



Den Haag Debrief 4: Talking with Dunea

By David Zetland

The CWP wants to improve communication between water utilities and customers to “improve people’s access to clean drinking water by promoting consumption where water is already clean and improving quality where it is not.”

We began in Den Haag (The Hague) because that’s where LUC is located, and we wanted to see how easy (or hard) it was to involve locals in our efforts, talk to the utility (Dunea), etc.

In this post, I want to record how our “conversations” with Dunea went.

They did not start out well, as Dieneke’s attempts to chat with Dunea went from initially hopeful to “please use our existing outreach materials to understand how Dunea provides clean water.” Although we must agree that Dunea probably runs one of the best water treatment operations in the world (using sand dunes to filter river water, limited or no chemical treatment — e.g., no chlorine — and a 6 percent leakage rate in their system [pdf]), we were less concerned about water quality than the perception of water quality in the community. According to data from the city [Dutch], only half of Den Haag’s population is “autochtoon” (defined here as “both parents born in the NL,” which could be interpreted as “Dutch in culture” rather than as “Dutch in appearance” — but often isn’t). Of the remaining 250.000 people, only 20 percent fall into the “diplomat/expat” category that plays a big role in Den Haag’s life as an international city of justice and political capital of the Netherlands.* The question of interest, in other words, is how 200.000 people from Surinam, Turkey, Morocco, Eastern Europe, etc. perceive water quality in Den Haag.

After a few meetings and phone calls, I was able to chat with one of Dunea’s staff (DS) about the CWP, and he was supportive of helping us spread the word, but I didn’t get any response to my request that we have a meeting until CWP announced it was collecting survey data from anyone and everyone who would reply, in 5 languages (Dutch, English, Turkish, Arabic and Spanish).

Within 24 hours of sending out that email, I got an invitation to have a meeting with Dunea’s communications expert (CE), so she joined DS for us to talk about water quality.**

A good part of our conversation was about the CWP, and what we were trying to do. The CE was worried that even mentioning “water quality” could make customers nervous about trusting their drinking water, but she was fascinated by our attempt to connect with the 40 percent of their customers who may not have grown up with Dutch as a mother tongue. (Dunea’s website is only in Dutch.)

I’d love to say more about how we were brought into their strategic meetings to help us understand how Dunea communicates about water quality (I wanted them to publicize their  tests of quality in random customers’ homes, for example), and for us to help them do a better job communicating with their broad customer base, but the CE did not return any of my follow up emails.

Bottom Line: Even the best run utilities have a hard time sitting on the other side of the table, to think of better ways to communicate with their customers.


* Amsterdam is the seat of the royal family (for historic reasons), but the government is based in Den Haag.
** I’m leaving names out of this post, as they are less relevant than the ideas. Let me also repeat the obvious, that this post collects my thoughts and facts on these communications, but I may be wrong or misguided in places.




Den Haag Debrief 3: Survey results

By Ailish Lalor

When we began our project in The Hague, we offered our survey in five different languages (English, Dutch, Spanish, Turkish and  Arabic) in order to appeal to the city’s multicultural population. We received 70 responses on our English survey, 7 on the Dutch, and 1 in Arabic. The other two languages did not receive any responses. We were quite disappointed with this, because 15% of the population of The Hague speak Turkish or Arabic as a native language. In this blog post we’ll be examining only the Dutch and English versions for the purposes of accuracy.

The first part of the survey dealt with our respondents’ background. In the English survey, the majority of respondents were between 18-24 years of age, whereas with the Dutch survey, there was an equal spread of ages. The Dutch respondents had mostly lived in The Hague for longer than seven years, whereas the majority of English speaking respondents had recently moved there. The majority of English speaking respondents earned less than €1000 per month, but the Dutch speakers eared between €3000 and €5000 per month. Before coming to The Hague, the English respondents had lived all over the world, but the Dutch speakers had lived exclusively in the Netherlands. This could be explained by the fact that one of our main sources of respondents was the student community of LUC The Hague, a highly international environment. This was probably the source of most of the English responses, while the Dutch responses probably came from outside the university.

Next, we asked our respondents about their usage of tap water. The Dutch respondents all said that they drank tap water in the city they had lived in before The Hague and in The Hague itself. They used it for drinking, cleaning and cooking, with a minority also using it for gardening and other outdoors activities. The majority of English-speaking  respondents had drunk the water of the city they lived in before The Hague, and an even higher proportion drank the tap water from The Hague (only one respondent did not). This respondent claimed that tap water in general was unhealthy and unclean.  The English respondents used tap water for the same purposes as the Dutch respondents did, with a similarly small number using it for outside activities.

Finally, we asked our respondents how they would like to alter people’s relationship with water. When asked how awareness should be raised about the high water quality in The Hague, most responded by saying that extra information, advertisements, and education on the disadvantages of bottled water would be helpful to those who persisted in drinking bottled water. They said, in general, they would be happy to use recycled waste water for anything other than consumption – agricultural irrigation, outdoor and gardening uses, industry, and household uses excluding drinking. The majority of them were willing to pay an extra tax on water of €200 per year, with some students raising concerns about whether they personally would be able to pay such a tax.

“I think it is fair to tax for drinking water. I just think the taxes for students is much too high (over 230 euro for half a year!). This really hurts students’ finances. There are water tax exemptions but then sometimes you just dont meet the requirements.”

All respondents agreed that polluters of water should have to pay this tax, with the Dutch respondents leaning more towards everyone paying it as well.

Our survey showed us that the majority of respondents believed that the tap water in The Hague was of a high quality and had no problem drinking it. There was a small number of respondents who had lived elsewhere in the world, who had distrusted the water when they first arrived.

“I would say it is also the matter of adaptability. First month in Hague I also didn’t drink it, even though I knew it is safe, my body had to adapt it for it. This is normal part of settling down in new country […] they just have to adapt.”

The majority of respondents believed that if the water authority released more information about the water, this minor problem would be solved. The majority of respondents seemed to trust Dunea and the quality of the water it provided; more here [link Lucas’s post]. It also seems that in light of our failure to bring those whose first languages are not English or Dutch into the water quality conversation, it would be a good idea for Dunea to release its information in a multitude of languages, rather than only Dutch, as is the current state of affairs.



Den Haag Debrief 2: Making connections in the Hague

By Lucas Barinaga

Following yesterday’s blogpost, we will move from our visit to Dunea into a brief overview of our pilot project in the Hague. This post will review where we failed and succeeded in our efforts in the Hague. One of the major demands of the model which our project takes on is integration and connection within the relevant city. Most our actions were thus in pursuit of this.

To get started, we created a survey which could be accessed on our website in order to gauge the perception which the citizens of the Hague have of their drinking water system. We advertised this online via social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook), and gave out flyers. We were lucky enough to have our project pitched in the newsletter of “duurzaam”, and lastly emailed as many people as we could find. The flyers didn’t work so well because we spent a lot of time handing them out for few survey results, and our social media efforts also didn’t get a lot of attention. What seemed to work best was contacting organizations to ask them to contact their members about the CWP.

In further efforts, we entered the Hague Innovators Challenge of 2017, which if we had won it would have gotten us capital, exposure, and further contacts within the Hague. Unfortunately we did not win. Defeated, but not discouraged we gained valuable feedback on our project. Licking our wounds, we stepped to the Innovators Hub, more specifically the organisation of Humanityx. A center for social entrepreneurship, focused on innovation through the acquiring of data, we realised that most of the efforts in Humanityx or the Innovators Hub were not related to drinking water quality within the Hague or other cities. They did however, provide us with two valuable leads.

First was Museon, a museum for science and culture in the Hague that focuses largely on youth involvement and citizen science. From there, we gained a contact person at the OPCW. Jonathan E. Forman invited us for a tour of their facilities to later take us into a meeting room where he demonstrated his simple yet effective efforts that he had undergone relating to citizen science and getting youth involved. Handling the kit like an excited scientist (which he was) he showed us how he had ingeniously attached water testing kits to an amphibious drone that could collect water samples from various sites in Den Haag. Before his demonstration had come an insightful explanation of the “off the shelf” water testing kits and their efficacy. This gave us an understanding of the possible water testing kits that we could invest in in potential future projects.

We also visited Dunea’s impressive facilities at Scheveningen

In conclusion, our efforts here in the Hague were fun, exciting, new, informative, and humbling.

We found that in the Hague our ethos of connecting people to drinking water utility was less relevant. People were at ease with the drinking water quality with which they are provided. In addition, it is relatively easy to get in contact with Dunea and they are quite approachable through the outlets that they have. It seems however that drinking water quality is not a worry on the mind of the people of our little, busy, engaged the Hague.



Den Haag Debrief 1: Our visit to Dunea

By Ailish Lalor

On 24th November last year, some members of the City Water Project went on a tour of the dune water production facility of Dunea, the drinking water company for the Den Haag region. We were met in the visitor’s entrance by a lovely guide, who practically forced tea and cakes upon us.

After an introductory video about the company’s history, technology, performance and water souces, we braved the freezing outdoors to visit the dunes that Dunea uses to filter river water into a cleaner state. The interesting part was that Dunea has protected its dunes as  a nature reserve, with wildlife that included birds eager to check out the recorded calls he played from his phone.

At the beginning of our tour  we stood on a grass-covered area under which, we were told, was the finished product— clean tap water. Until recently, they had left this open to the air, but in order to stop adding chlorine to the water, they had covered it, in order to prevent contamination from animal feces or drownings.

Then we were taken around the different buildings which cleaned and processed the water in different ways. One of the most interesting buildings held a tank of water which was slowly being decalcified by the use of small balls which the extra minerals naturally adhered to. We also saw a rather spectacular waterfall room where oxygen was reintroduced to the water according to government regulations; when water is kept underground for a long time it loses much of its oxygen. It was an impressive sight. We also visited the control centre, where the treatment systems were constantly monitored for water quality. Our guide said that the company preferred not to release information on all their successful test results because people might worry at the mere mention of quality. This belief seems to be misplaced, because our survey data show that people would like to hear more about the quality of their water.

After our return to thevisitor centre and very welcomed warm drinks, we talked for awhile longer with our helpful guide. Dunea is clearly working hard for its customers, but we wanted to see if we could improve the impact of that work.




Den Haag today, tomorrow where?

By David Zetland

We are well along the way with our “engagement” in Den Haag/The Hague. In this pilot project, we have been running a survey (in 5 languages!) to ask residents of their OPINIONS of water quality, touring the impressive production facilities of Dunea, the regional water supplier, and talking with Dunea about ways to better engage with citizens, to make it easier to understand how they are getting excellent water at an affordable price (€1.10/m3!)

The CWP has a “hub and spoke” model in which we at “headquarters” in The Hague engage with local citizen groups in a distant city. Those groups will be responsible for collecting information that we can distribute via the CWP website and various social media outlets. In our local pilot, we played both roles to understand a little more of how local dynamics might work. The experience has been quite educational 🙂

We will be posting more on the site about our survey results, ongoing conversations with Dunea, etc., but we’re already looking for partners who can help us on our next city, starting from January 2017.

If you — or someone you know — has an interesting city in mind, then please get in touch. (You can also leave questions or comments here, as we’re happy to discuss all aspects of the project with anyone who’s interested!)

It’s what’s in the water that can kill you!

By Ailish Lalor

Last week, staff from the City Water Project tested several water samples from The Hague for contaminants. We had expected to find traces of bacteria, chlorine, or even sewage contamination — but what we found was much worse.

Dihydrogen monoxide (also known as hydric acid) is extremely dangerous when consumed at high doses. The first aspect we need to discuss is its impact on the environment. It is a major component of acid rain, which contributes to the destruction of forests and creates biologically dead lakes. It’s also one of the gases responsible for climate change, making up 1-5 percent of the atmosphere. It can damage landscapes through erosion of valleys, gorges, and cliffs, leading to deadly landslides. Its presence has been linked to infrastructure collapsing due to corroded, degraded metals. It always causes electrical failures if it gets near electrical components.

Dihydrogen monoxide can also be very dangerous to humans. In vapor form, it causes blisters and severe burns to human skin. It causes suffocation if inhaled. Forensic pathologists often detect its presence in dead bodies.

But we cannot avoid this substance, as it is used in industry as a solvent and coolant, for food processing, in nuclear power plants, in the production of paper, as a fire retardant, in the production of styrofoam, in the distribution of pesticides (even washing won’t get rid of this chemical!), in the treatment of sewage and drinking water, and as an ingredient in fast food and other processed foods.

Worried? Now that we have your attention, let’s reveal that dihydrogen monoxide is just another name for H20. But while water itself may not be dangerous, bad water quality can be life threatening. The City Water Project is working to improve it all around the world. If you are a resident of The Hague, then you can help us by filling out this survey (available in English, Dutch, Turkish, Arabic and Spanish)

Dutch Water Democracy

By Felipe van de Kerkhof

Water flows as a common theme throughout the history of The Netherlands – from the fields “reclaimed” from the water (polders) to the oceans conquered by the world’s first multinational: the Dutch East India company. Even the name Nederlands (‘low countries’), is derived from the country’s position relative to the water. Without water, The Netherlands as we know it today would not exist. The battle with water has brought the county economic prosperity, formed the stuff of legends, and inspired the American story of Hans Brinker, the boy who “put his finger in the dike”.

The Dutch make sure everyone does their part!

The Dutch make sure everyone does their part!

Quite impressive, but did you also know that the battle against water inspired one of the earliest systems of democracy in Europe? (Don’t worry Greece, we’re not taking this from you!)

To fight the water from drowning the people and destroying arable lands, the Dutch came together regionally to construct dikes (dijken) as early as the 12th century. Everyone had to contribute their fair share in money and work to the common defenses of their land. They would decide on a plan of action in meetings – similar to town hall meetings held today. Today, 24 waterschappen deal with ‘everything water related’ according to local needs. Although waterschappen are important, elections to their governing council are not popular, which is why the public is allowed to vote by post in their elections (de waterschapsverkiezing) every four years.

The Delfland water authority (Hoogheemraadschap van Delfland) manages water in The Hague (and neighbouring Zoetermeer and Wassenaar). Besides maintaining dikes and dams, the waterschap protects surface water quality by cleaning wastewater and limiting pollutant runoff.

The Dutch have known since the age of knights that cooperation the best defense against a common enemy, and the same holds for improving water quality awareness: we need your support and input!

If you live in The Hague, then please fill in our survey on water quality (available in English, Dutch, Turkish, Arabic and Spanish).