Science - June 16, 2005

Integrated water management necessary but invisible

Cooperation between Wageningen University and Sana’a University in Yemen is taking shape with a new MSc in integrated water management. Scientists from Yemen came this week to take a look at what’s going on in Wageningen. Strangely enough the option Integrated Water Management as a research thesis has been scrapped.

‘It’s somewhat ironic,’ comments Leo Santbergen, of the sub-department of Water Management, who is involved in teaching on the subject. Integrated water management is a developing trend at present. The universities of Delft and Twente are creating special chairs in integrated water management. Wageningen collaborates for teaching with universities in Yemen, Egypt, Iran and Ukraine. There are also projects running in Russia, and more planned in Romania.

But despite these developments, integrated water management has become less visible in Wageningen, according to Santbergen. The subject is no longer listed as an option for a research thesis in the study guide. The MSc in Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management has no specialisation in integrated water management, while the number of students that have taken the introductory course on the subject at BSc level has risen in the last three years from forty to sixty.

Last Tuesday, Santbergen organised a seminar on integrated water management for the Yemeni guests. In his talk, Professor Ashraf Ghanem of Cairo University made it clear why an integrated approach to water management is needed in an arid country like Yemen. He painted a shocking picture of Egypt, which is just as arid, where the population has doubled since 1977, and 97 percent lives on four percent of the land available, concentrated in the Nile delta. The population is likely to increase by another thirty percent in the coming decade, told Ghanem, and since 1997 Egypt has been using all of the water sources that it has.

‘We are experiencing extreme water shortages,’ concluded Ghanem. And the consequences are enormous. There are already huge differences in the price of drinking water. In Cairo people pay 0.03 eurocents per litre, while in the south of the Sinai desert prices for drinking water fluctuate between one and five euros, depending on the season.

There are no simple solutions to the water shortages, said Ghanem. Agriculture uses 95 percent of the water available, but just doing less farming is not an option. The agricultural sector is responsible for a fifth of GNP and employs nearly a quarter of the working population. ‘You have to take these issues into account,’ says Ghanem. These are also the issues that need to be included in the new MSc in integrated water management.
/ MW

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