Science - June 30, 2005

'The Dutch learn from their mistakes'

Anil Pokhrel, a Nepali student from Yale University, is on a ten-week visit to Wageningen. At the Centre for Water and Climate, Alterra, he hopes to learn from the Dutch experiences in coping with the impact of climate change on water resources.

Pokhrel worked for more than six years in Nepal on development projects mostly on water supply, sanitation and irrigation. In his first year as a Master’s student in Environmental Management at Yale University, he encountered the climate change researcher Professor Pavel Kabat of Alterra. He was so inspired by what he heard about the Centre for Water and Climate and its work that he decided to come to Wageningen.

Of course the Netherlands is a totally different country from Nepal. ‘We live on top of the world,’ says Pokhrel, pointing to his T-shirt with the 8848 metre high Everest on it. ‘The geographical setting might be different, but the Dutch way of dealing with the environment is just as applicable in my country. A quarter of the area is flat, and crossed with rivers that often flood. The flat plains are the bread basket of Nepal; agriculture is intensive there and more and more people are migrating to the area.’

‘The best thing is to look at how the Dutch have learned from their previous mistakes,’ according to Pokhrel. ‘The Dutch have been very progressive in dealing with climate change and they are especially good at planning in advance. It has been a hard struggle for the Dutch to manage their water resources. They have to deal with river and sea floods, land subsidence, salt intrusion and water quality and then to cope with these issues in their land use. They are also used to competing where land is scarce.’

Pokhrel has noticed that the general public is also very aware of climate change problems. ‘My sixty-year-old landlady is aware of the consequences of climate change and feels that more needs to be done.’ This is a big difference between the Netherlands and other countries. ‘In Nepal, the poor are confronted with climate change in their daily lives, but there is little awareness and even less initiative taken. As a developing country of course we lack the institutional and financial capacity, but even in many developed countries climate change is still being debated. They do not feel it as directly as the Dutch. Some even think that climate change is beneficial within their political boundaries – they don’t consider the entire planet.’

In the Netherlands, Pokhrel is learning how user groups have prepared in the past for adversity and what they are doing at present. ‘It is interesting to see how the water boards put plans into operation, taking the future into account.’ Pokhrel thinks his experience – coming to the Netherlands via the US – is an example for both international and Dutch students in Wageningen. It is not that difficult, he says. ‘Money is not a problem. There are funds.’ He invites Wageningen students to go and study at Yale University – ‘they would like Wageningen students there’ – and also in Nepal. / MW

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