Each year on 17 June, the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought is celebrated. The purpose is to raise awareness of the presence of desertification and drought in the world and to highlight methods of preventing desertification and recovering from drought. This day was announced by the United Nations General Assembly resolution A/RES/49/115 on 30 January 1995, after the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification was drafted.
On this World Day to Combat Desertification and drought, we put the spotlight on GroundwatCh, our Joint MSc Programme on Groundwater and Global Change - Impacts and Adaptation. ‘’Groundwater, as the largest liquid reservoir on earth, is of course of huge importance for overcoming droughts. It is also a large invisible resource’’, says Senior Lecturer in Hydrogeology and Groundwater Resources Tibor Stigter.
The Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree Programme on Groundwater and Global Change – Impacts and Adaptation (GroundwatCh) offers a unique curriculum built on the cornerstones of hydrology, hydrogeology, climatology, impacts and adaptation. The reason GroundwatCh was set up, is because there is a clear need for more expertise in this area. The programme consists of three semesters, the first of which the students study in Lisbon, the second semester is spent at IHE Delft and the third semester in Dresden. After the third semester in Dresden, students have the opportunity to go to either one of the three universities to work on their thesis.
With four to five hundred applications per year, it can be concluded that GroundwatCh is a popular programme. During the programme, disciplines related to groundwater and hydrology, soil and climate science are taught, along with how groundwater is used in adaptation solutions to address global climate change. This gives students skills to assist in planning and implementing adaptation solutions. In addition, modelling skills in groundwater and climate are taught, so that they can really simulate the system’s behaviour in response to the solutions that are proposed. GroundwatCh is in its second phase of European funding, and the programme has been flagged as good practice by the European Commission.
Desertification and groundwater
To a certain extent, groundwater resources management also reduces the risk of desertification. However, land use management is perhaps more important in this aspect. Certain agricultural practices can increase the risk of desertification and erosion, and in particular overgrazing is a major cause of erosion and desertification worldwide. Deforestation is another factor that causes desertification.
There are factors that affect both desertification and the capacity to overcome drought, for instance through changes in groundwater recharge. Overgrazing, urbanisation and deforestation can all accelerate desertification, while at the same time affecting the amount of rainwater infiltrating into the ground, causing more runoff. Less water in the soil results in lower water availability for vegetation, further increasing the risk of desertification.
Salinprove is a project in which Tibor Stigter is the lead investigator. The purpose of the research in this project is to address the most widespread problem linked to groundwater exploitation in densely populated and often water-scarce coastal aquifers, namely that of saltwater intrusion. The team’s approach is to collaborate with the main users and stakeholders in three different settings: Mekong Delta (Vietnam), Peri-urban Great Maputo (Mozambique) and Laizhou Bay (China) to define the impacts and dimension of the current groundwater salinization problems.
Drought – A Youth Conference
Recently, IHE Delft organized a youth conference on the topic of drought. To celebrate World Water Day 2020, the Institute and its partners organised the first edition of ‘’Drought – A Youth conference’’ on 20 March 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event was held online
The programme consisted of sessions in which students received more information about drought and how this is a growing problem, not only in the Global South, but also in the Netherlands. Participants heard about two case studies, one in South Africa and the other in Palestine, where drought is a serious problem and how it is being addressed. In addition, participants could enter photography, painting or drawings to the ArtSci contest, on the theme of Water and Drought. One goal of the conference was to raise awareness that it gets hotter and drier every summer, certain parts of the Netherlands are already suffering from drought and it is likely to get worse over the years. The youth conference examined whether we can learn from other countries where drought is already a persistent problem.