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Managing water is managing the future

“A partnership based on water” summarised Gerhard van den Top the relationship between the Netherlands and the Philippines in the 4th Louwes Lecture. He emphasised the significant role of international and intercultural cooperation in managing the complex challenges brought forward by climate change. Water is a critical resource, he stated. "How do we make sure that the next generation sees the importance of water management?"

Gerhard van den Top  © Marc de Haan

International water governance

On Thursday 14 April, Dr. ir. Gerhard van den Top, Chairman (Dijkgraaf) of the Regional Public Water Authority Amstel, Gooi en Vecht, held the Louwes lecture under the title ‘Living with water in the Dutch Delta: an international reference case in water governance’. In his lecture, Van den Top related flooding and natural disasters as typhoon Haiyan to unregulated land use and climate change and drew a comparison with Dutch floods and the excessive rain showers in 2015. He stressed the important task for international water governance and research on water management. "You have to look at it not just as a biodiversity issue but as a crucial issue for the future."

Rethinking how to do research

To get ready for the future and manage the complex challenges, researchers and policy makers should step out of their own system of cultural convictions, Van den Top insisted. He suggested a broader support for joint academic research, government to government exchange and learning, and engaging the private sector. This would provide investments for research on the economics of environmental impact,  water risk analysis and management, and more transparency and public engagement. Especially interdisciplinary research as conducted through the Water Course, creating common ground and new territory, underlines the role of research in all of this. "Research sets things in motion; it is a way of making people aware and generating policy and protection."

The Water Course in the Philippines

Since 2011, every January the international course Water and Water Management – ‘the Water Course’ – in the Philippines is organised by Isabela State University, Leiden University and the Mabuwaya Foundation, with support of the Water Board Rijnland. In this one month course, 14 Leiden University students and 14 Philippine students of the Isabela State University participate to learn about water and environmental issues and gather practical experience in interdisciplinary, international teams. Their background is diverse and includes anthropology, biology, forestry, agriculture and civil engineering among others. The students visit (inter)national organisations in Manila and Los Banos and conduct a short field study on a theme related to water management.

Our earth, our future, our choice

The Philippine part of the collaboration was represented by the representatives of the Isabela State University and 3 Philippine students who were invited (and flown in through a crowdfunding call). After a lively recapitulation of 5 years Water Course by Merlijn van Weerd, founder of the Mabuwaya foundation, the students together with their Dutch counterparts gave inspirational presentations on their experiences. Nervous at the beginning, in doubt whether they had something in common with the tall European students, they had started the adventure and completed the course with new ideas, strategies, research methods and confidence. "We gained learning by the head, the hand, and the heart."

Life changing experience

The Dutch student presenters agreed. In their presentations they also recollected the presumed cultural differences and insecurities at the start, one of them stating "the first time she saw me she ran away and cried." But the teamwork, the social scientific research methods and the sometimes creative ways to collect data all brought forth a transformation and life changing experience. "The course is a valuable edition to our résumé. It has taught us a different approach and it really exceeded our expectations on all levels: in research and personally."   

Merlijn van Weerd, Philippine Ambassador Jaime Victor B. Leddae, Isabela State University representative Mercedes Masipiqueña, and Gerard Persoon. © Marc de Haan

The World of Water

Preceding the lecture Hanna Swaab, Dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, delivered a speech, stressing the importance of the collaboration between the Philippines and the Netherlands and congratulating the international partners with the success over five years of the interdisciplinary and intercultural research course in water use and management. For the occasion, the reports of all the students participating these last 5 years are bundled in the publication 'The World of Water'. The Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Jaime Victor B. Leddae, present at the lecture, was officially presented with the first copy of the book.

Water is life

‘The World of Water’ is a book of colourful images and culture. It shows the challenge of intercultural and interdisciplinary research that the University of Leiden and the Philippine Isabela State University took up together. The book has a clear message: Water is life. Gerard Persoon, Scientific Director of the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, proudly states: "Water is the source of all life and, therefore, education and research in the field of water are crucial. In the Netherlands, we take many things for granted; we hardly ever experience floods, and there is always running water from the tap. None of these things are commonplace for Filipino students. To study water use and management together is an extraordinary and enriching experience."

Teams on their Water Course experiences

Thomas Schmitt and Raymond Andres: "It is great to see each other again. We took part in the Water Course of 2015. It was fascinating to work on research combining various disciplines, experiencing different ways to get involved in environmental development and the collaboration of anthropological social scientific research." Raymond: "I'm trying to enroll now in Leiden to study further on developmental solutions in water and environment." © Marc de Haan
Nynke Römer and Dayan Darween Q. Delos Santos: "We participated in the Water Course 2016, just three months ago. Our partnership was great!" Nynke: "Dayan was very hardworking and enthusiastic. She was a great help and I really couldn't have done without her translations." Dayan: "At first I thought 'How to deal with those tall people, how different will their culture be?' But after a while we realised we were so much alike, we were even specialising in the same topic. We had a lot of fun as well. Nynke even made me oatmeal." © Marc de Haan
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