UNESCO-IHE, 27 Mar 2014

Interview with Margreet Zwarteveen, Professor of Water Governance

Margreet Zwarteveen started recently as professor of Water Governance at UNESCO-IHE. She is an irrigation engineer and social scientist, who has been working since 1998 at the Centre for Water and Climate at Wageningen University. From 2012 onwards she was an Associate Professor, and also assumed responsibilities for coordinating gender studies education at the university.

How do you like your new position at UNESCO-IHE?

I've just started, so it's hard to say yet, but I've got a very positive impression so far. I am supervising two Master students and am very impressed by the quality of their work. I don't have to intervene much, as they are very good students. I notice that they have more experience than the average student, as they are mid-career professionals.

How do you experience teaching in such an international group of water professionals?

I find working with such an international group very refreshing. At the Wageningen University the distribution between Dutch and international students is about half half. The staff at UNESCO-IHE is much more diverse than I'm used to.

Can you elaborate on the research you are doing at the moment? What are the developments in your area of expertise?

I just came back from a week in Morocco where I lead a research project on drip irrigation. This technology is perceived in many countries as a way to use water more efficiently in agriculture, but whether this is really the case, is not certain.  Where does the saved water go to? What looks like a water saving may turn out to be a re-allocation. I am interested in understanding such re-allocations of water - for instance from agriculture and rural areas to cities and industries - : how do these happen, with what effects, who benefits and who loses, and how are they legitimized in policies and knowledge?

Re-allocation is a political issue, but technologies and discourses of efficiency may work to make it seem merely technical. With our research we demonstrate that some people benefit from it and others don't, in sometimes paradoxical ways. This happens through re-distributing water and water-related benefits, but also through changing cultural possibilities of being. The use of new water technologies such as drip irrigation allows some farmers to carve out new 'modern' farming identities. By using advanced drip systems, male youngsters positively distinguish themselves from their fathers, and re-invent irrigated farming as something that is clean and high-tech. And more masculine: for girls it is more difficult to positively associate with this new technology. Water re-allocations and the use of new water technologies may thus also transform gender relations and gendered identities.

What should UNESCO-IHE focus more on in its educational programmes in your opinion?

With my arrival there are expectations for gender becoming a more important topic on the agenda, however gender is not a standalone issue. I would like to see it linked to larger diversity and justice agendas.

What are your ambitions for the Water Governance Chair Group?

It is a very energetic group already and I hope it stays that way. I hope it can become an institutional space for critical thinking about water governance and water management. I am very happy to be here and am very excited to start working here!

Learn more about Water Governance here.

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