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The challenge

Water has been a key element in shaping Cartagena, enabling many positive aspects that have configured the city´s urban development and generating unmet challenges for its population. Climate change, fast-paced urban development, and unequal socio-economic conditions will continue to impact Cartagena’s water system in the future.

Colombia and the Netherlands have joined forces to develop the Water as Leverage (WaL) Cartagena project to improve the city’s water system and help create better living conditions for all Cartageneros. The work executed by the consortium is part of WaL Cartagena, financed by the Dutch government, in partnership with the Alcaldía de Cartagena.

The solution

Arcadis was selected to lead the consortium tasked with co-designing solutions for water, urban, and social challenges in the Ciénaga de la Virgen, the Bay of Cartagena, the Coastal Marine Front, and Cartagena's internal canals and lakes. In phase one of WaL, conceptual designs were prepared. In phase two (2024), three designs will be elaborated in more detail to the pre-feasibility stage. In phase three (2025), one design will be detailed to a feasibility stage, keeping  bankability in mind. Thereafter, the project will be ready for construction and implementation.

The city of Cartagena has a long history with the surrounding water systems that have shaped its culture, architecture, and social dynamic. The consortium has opted to introduce these cultural elements in the design approach by connecting with experts and stakeholders. Using the Dutch water management history and Colombia’s rich history of living with water for a greater understanding of sustainable and resilient solutions allows the consortium to develop designs that align with the local context and include novel approaches for future challenges. Circular and nature-based solutions are key in the designs, such as reusing dredging material and mangrove restoration for integral coastal protection.

The WaL process encourages stakeholder engagement with several planned local design workshops to ensure exchange and feedback on the development of the designs. Furthermore, financial workshops will be held throughout the two-year project to ensure the designs are bankable, reach implementation, and positively impact the local community. A full ESIA is being conducted in alignment with international standards. The consortium already uses the first phase to assess risks and adapt designs accordingly. In addition, the consortium organized additional workshops to engage with the communities potentially impacted by the project. These workshops are spaces for co-design processes, trust development, feedback, and a possibility for the consortium to see the socio-ecological system through the eyes of the stakeholders.

The private consortium executing the project includes Arcadis, Deltares, Taller Arquitectos, ONE Architecture, JESyCA, Fundación Herencia Ambiental Caribe, Selfinver, and P3Nomads.

The impact

The Water as Leverage (WaL) Cartagena project contributes to sustainability, resilience, and inclusivity on various levels. While the project's overarching objective focuses on developing a project that can alleviate water challenges, it is also an opportunity to unlock financial flows to increase climate resilience and sustainability. The WaL concept’s premise is a joint laboratory with stakeholders and experts to create an arena for pre-project preparation wherein different voices are heard. WaL, as a project, entails a learning process to look beyond panaceas or quick judgment. Right from the start, financing organizations and experts are involved to ensure project funding.

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