Delft, The Netherlands, 16 Jun 2015

Mission to India: collaboration on coastal engineering and sanitation initiatives

Staff members Professor Rosh Ranasinghe and Associate Professor Tineke Hooijmans joined the Dutch Government economic mission focusing on water and agriculture sectors. The mission objective was to foster new business, networking and knowledge sharing initiatives between India and The Netherlands. Among the many initiatives discussed during the mission, particularly relevant to UNESCO-IHE are The Mumbai coastal road project and the rejuvenation of the Ganges River integrating infrastructure and nature.

Coastal Road project

The mission to India was led by the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the Minister of Agriculture and comprised of more than 50 delegates from the Dutch private and public sector.

The Mumbai coastal road is a proposed Coastal Freeway from Nariman Point to Kandivali with a length of 35,6 km. The new road aims to reduce traffic jams and air pollution in and around Mumbai (total population of 20 million). The Mumbai Coastal Road concept, which adopts the Building with Nature philosophy championed by the Dutch water sector, was developed by Rijkswaterstaat (the Dutch Department of Waterways and Public Works) and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment, in close cooperation with major Dutch consulting companies.

Professor Ranasinghe provided critical advice to the preparation of the associated concept note, which was presented to the Chief Minister of the state of Maharashthra at the Coastal Road seminar in Mumbai. The concept note promoted the integration of infrastructure projects in Mumbai (e.g. freeway and metro line) and advocated capacity sharing between Dutch and Indian ministries and expert institutes such as the Dutch institute for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and UNESCO-IHE. The 1 Billion Euro project was approved by the Environment Ministry of the Government of India last week. Within the project, the Institute is likely to take on an independent quality assurance role in terms of coastal modelling and provide tailor made training programs for Indian professionals as required.

Tineke Hooijmans gave a presentation during a Water Seminar on the Ganges about the possible role of UNESCO-IHE in the rejuvenation the Ganges River. Dr. Amarjit Singh, IAS, Additional Secretary Ministry of Water Resources River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation, was present on behalf of the Government of India.

Building sustainable schools

Architect and India expert Gert Jan Scholte initiated the NewSchool Challenge, which brings together dedicated experts from around the world to rethink, redefine, design, and build the most creative, innovative and low-cost self sustainable ‘school of the future‘ for India. The challenge aims to change the traditional way of designing and building schools to a more sustainable way, including making use of bio-based construction material, and solar panels. UNESCO-IHE advises Gert-Jan Scholte and these schools with regard to sustainable drinking water and sanitation solutions.

Together with Gert-Jan Scholte, Tineke Hooijmans visited several charitable foundations set up by large Indian companies in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore to see whether they were interested in the NewSchool Challenge and in cooperating with UNESCO-IHE in the field of university education. Since 2014, Indian companies are obliged to contribute 2 percent of their annual profits to social and charitable causes. Many of them allocate their funds to school as well as university level education.

Fruitful discussions and follow-up

Professor Ranasinghe and Tineke Hooijmans also visited the National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA) in New Delhi. Professor Ranasinghe discussed cooperation in the area of climate change impacts and coastal risk in India. As an immediate outcome, Professor Usha Raghupathy of the NIUA will submit a concept note this week to the Rockefeller Foundation on the application of Coastline recession models developed at UNESCO-IHE at several vulnerable locations along the Indian coast.

NIUA was also very much interested in raising awareness of the effects of climate change in coastal zones among local government staff who deal with on-the-ground coastal zone management day in-day out.  Professor Ranasinghe is currently exploring possibilities for UNESCO-IHE to provide such training through the Dutch Embassy in New Delhi.

Shymala Mani, Professor in wastewater, environmental health and waste management, is working on school sanitation and a prototype school of the future in Gujarat, commissioned by the Indian Government. Tineke Hooijmans and Professor Mani agreed to partner on water, sanitation and energy. Her colleague, Siddharth Pandit, CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra) Smart City Chair, decided to visit UNESCO-IHE to discuss training and capacity building possibilities.

Further discussions are currently underway with the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT-Mumbai) to develop an innovative satellite image based methodology to derive reliable nearshore bathymetry information via a PhD study jointly supervised by IIT-Mumbai and UNESCO-IHE staff. Professor Balaji Ramakrishnan of IIT-Mumbai will be visiting UNESCO-IHE in July to discuss this and other joint initiatives.