Our comprehensive approach
to solving water problems of cities

Water as Leverage – Semarang

Climate change is a reality and the Netherlands are affected by its effects like few other countries. However – unlike Bangladesh, India, Indonesia or many other countries, over hundreds of years, the Dutch have developed, maintained and continuously expanded a water management system. The knowledge the Netherlands have accumulated around water questions is unique. So unique that the Dutch government has appointed a special envoy for water questions: Henk Ovink. In his capacity, he promotes and initiates solutions for mankind’s biggest challenge: dealing with the currency of climate change – water.

‘Worldwide, water is the connecting challenge, the number one global risk and the opportunity for transformative and sustainable impact and comprehensive cultural change.’

Henk Ovink
Special Envoy for International Water Affairs for the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Sherpa to the UN High Level Panel on Water

Together with the national agency for the promotion of businesses RVO, Henk Ovink initiated an open call for projects in three cities across Asia: Chennai in India, Khulna in Bangladesh and Semarang in Indonesia. For each of the cities two teams were appointed to develop concrete and implementable solutions for the water related problems of the cities.

Semarang in the context of Java, Indonesia

3 cities, 6 projects, 1 aim: solving water related problems and adding water related qualities

For Semarang MLA+ was selected as leader of a consortium ‘Cascading Semarang’ also consisting of Stichting Deltares, FABRICations, Witteveen+Bos Indonesia, UNDIP, UNISSULA, IDN Liveable Cities.

The other team, led by ONE Architecture ‘One resilient Semarang’ consists of Inc, Deltares, Wetlands International, Kota Kita, Sherwood Design Engineers, Hysteria Grobak, Iqbal Reza, UNDIP.

Both teams worked in parallel and in collaboration to maximise the interaction with local, regional and national stakeholders.


Step 1: Understanding Semarang and the Problems

Understanding the multi layered problems too much water or a lack of water create requires carefully looking at the real causes. Often, they are not immediately clear and often the problems have a history which usually is a combination of natural processes and human activity.

The four key challenges for a successful Water as Leverage project

The teams met with a wide range of experts and conducted intense site visits together with the local partners. Namely UNDIP, the local university was crucial in getting access to the right sets of information. Also, high level talks were conducted with the local political establishment and the administrative bodies tasked with water and urban development questions.

Survey and analysis of Semarang


Step 2: Understanding the People

The team produced initial ideas and concepts as a testing bed for meetings with local stakeholders and representatives of the local community. In a workshop, using serious gaming, the different ideas formulated were scrutinized, where possible improved and discussed in the real context of Semarang and where they could provide solutions to existing problems.

Stakeholder workshops in Semarang

Serious gaming to shape ideas and identify places

This interaction not only delivered a better understanding of the potential solutions, it also helped developing a feeling for the do’s and dont’s and the feasibility of the ideas. It also showed, where local champions see their way in and how both could be linked to existing water management structures.


Step 3: A comprehensive water masterplan

All knowledge and insights accumulated the ‘glocal’ team developed a comprehensive water masterplan. Water challenges and urban challenges are addressed together, not only improving the one or the other, but both simultaneously.

A series of five different strategies provided solutions to both resulting in a system collecting and storing rainwater and delaying or avoiding the runoff while adding new and needed qualities to Semarang. These solutions are covering the entire urban area of the city, breaking vicious cycles and adding new opportunities.

“Climate change and water challenges offer the opportunity
to solve two problems at the same time – water and city improvement!”

“Spongy mountain terrace” uses the century old tradition of terrace farming and introduces it as a water storage system in the urban context. It allows to store significant amounts of water for the dry season and it introduces water in the urban context where it can become a unique quality.

Rechanneling the city” uses existing networks of canals and relinks them in such a way, that their purpose changes from quick release of storm water into the sea to a water storage and release system that provides public space qualities as well.

“Feeding the industry” tackles one of the big causes for land subsidence in Semarang: ground water extraction by factories. Large new water reservoirs in the future provide surface water for industrial use.

“Micro inventions – resilient Kampung” look at surface and rainwater use in the different districts of Semarang. On a micro level, a collective water storage and management system can provide new economic opportunities and a theme around which neighbourhood upgrade can take place.

“Recharging the aquifer” finally refills the aquifers to reduce or eventually stop land subsidence.

“No single drop of water is lost!”

Each measure alone will already have a positive impact. Together, will help Semarang dealing with its current flooding and water scarcity challenges but it will also enable the city to accommodate the future growth without worsening the problems. In the contrary: The new qualities added, will make the city a more liveable place for current and future residents.


Step 4: Getting the message out and getting local buy in

Comprehensive masterplans only have an effect, if they enjoy wide support by key stakeholders and the local communities. Therefore, together with Water as Leverage, we made and still make sure, the plan is a local plan and not a plan that comes from elsewhere without any local rooting.

Additional benefits and reaching SDG goals

The ideas of the plan have been adopted by the local administrations. The plan is further refined and detailed under the lead of Indonesia based experts and further steps and funding will have to be defined by the local team. The role of the international partners changed from driving the process to supporting it with expertise.


Step 5: Securing funds and promoting the projects

The comprehensive masterplan for Semarang is costly. But not taking action will be even more costly. Moreover – not acting will remove the economic and the physical grounds the city is built on.

Vicious cycles to be broken

Implementation cannot take place without funding from national and international financing institutions. To set first steps in reaching this milestone, all the different measures where assessed against their effect, their contribution to reaching the sustainable development goals and their funding needs. These findings were pitched in meetings with World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, WWF and a number of other national and international funding bodies. Currently the projects are being structured in such a way, that they meet each of these party’s funding requirements.


Step 6: Pilots & spin offs

It is planned to start with pilot projects with the aim to quickly scale them up to city wide infrastructures. Next to implementing the concrete projects, the Water as Leverage Asia work also serves as inspiration and an open source of ideas with as many spin offs as possible. Currently MLA+ is using the ideas in projects in China and others have been using them in other locations in Indonesia.

“Climate change is happening now! We need to disseminate
ideas quickly to develop solutions as fast as possible.”

To master climate change, feasible concepts and ideas are paramount. They need to develop into scalable solutions quickly. Therefore, everybody is invited to use the knowledge gathered. In turn, we would be happy to get to know how and where these ideas played a role to keep track of the indirect impact, ideas have.



Cascading Semarang project report April 2019 – english version


Cascading Semarang project report appendix April 2019 – english version


Cascading Semarang project report April 2019 – indonesian version


Water as Leverage website

List of all reports issued



Location: Semarang, Indonesia
Client: Rijksdienst voor ondernemend Nederland RVO

Programme: Comprehensive water masterplan for a 1.5 million city

2018 Masterplan strategy
2019 Feasibility study

MLA+: Markus Appenzeller, Emanuel Dad Khan, Olaf Gerson, Anna Khodyreva, Wenchi Yang, Robert Younger
FABRICations, UNDIP, Witteveen& Bos Indonesia, Deltares, Stichting Deltares, UNISSULA, IDN Liveable Cities, Roy Kraft van Ermel