Hermen Smit teaches Water Governance at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education. His research focuses on how knowledge and power take form in water infrastructures.
After receiving his MSc in civil engineering with distinction from TU-Delft in 2003, he worked as a consultant for Water Boards in the Netherlands and in Bangladesh on participatory assessment, operation and maintenance of drainage systems. In 2008, Hermen joined UNESCO-IHE as a PhD fellow and (later) assistant professor in Water Governance. Hermen’s PhD research focused on how knowledge and power inform water development in the Nile basin (with a focus on soil conservation campaings in Ethiopia and irrigation reforms in Sudan). He currently teaches the courses ‘who and what make water management expertise?’ and ‘institutional analysis’.
Since 2008, Hermen has been involved as a researcher, advisor and project manager in several water research and education development projects. Between 2012 and 2016, he was the leader of a project with 8 Ethiopian higher education institutes to make irrigation education in Ethiopia more practice oriented and interdisciplinary. Between 2014 and 2017, he was the leader of the Accounting for Nile Waters research and education project about the politics of representing water. As part of this project he initiated - with others - the nilewaterlab.org. In 2019, Hermen started working on an education and research project about ‘community involvement in climate proofing Rotterdam’. He is also currently leading a project with the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation in Sudan to set up a new training department and to revitalize linkages with national and international knowledge organisations in the water sector.
My recent project ‘Making Water Security’ examines Nile water security through the morphology of the river: it uses the always changing form of the river as a theoretical and empirical device to map and understand how infrastructures and discourses dynamically interact with the Nile. By bringing a history of two centuries of dam development on the Nile in relation with the drainage of a hill slope in Ethiopia on the one hand and irrigation reform in Sudan on the other, the project shows how the scales, units and ‘populations’ figuring in projects to securitize the river emerge through the rearrangement of its water and sediments. The analysis of ‘Making water security’ is more than yet another story of how modern projects of water security have legitimized often violent dispossessions of Nile land and water. It shows how no water user is confined by the roles assigned by project engineers and planners. As ongoing modern ‘development’ of the river reduces the prospects for new large diversions of water, the targeted subjects of development and modernization make use of newly opened spaces to carve out their own projects. They creatively mobilize old irrigation and drainage infrastructures in ways that escape the universal logic of water security.