When education, partners and research combine

Written by Michael McClain, on 22 January 2019

At IHE Delft, our mission is to strengthen capacity in the water sector and support sustainable development through aligned educational programmes, institutional partnerships, and research, addressing pressing development challenges. Professor Michael McClain shares a story on IHE Delft's impact, when he met seven alumni working at partner institutions in the Mara River Basin. 

A transition to sustainability

IHE Delft has worked in the Mara for more than a decade now, conducting research to better understand the interactions of water, ecosystems and people, and supporting national and local authorities to improve management. Many will know the Mara as the river flowing through Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. If you have seen images or videos of wildebeest and zebra crossing crocodile infested waters, you were almost certainly looking at the Mara. The river system is also the source of water for more than one million people, who rely on its modest flows to support socio-economic development. So the Mara is a river at risk.

Over the past decade, IHE Delft’s research and institutional strengthening in the Mara has aimed at the combined goal of supporting a transition to sustainability and accumulating a knowledge base to serve as a model for the region. From the beginning of our work in 2005, we engaged with national water authorities, intergovernmental organizations, and conservation partners to identify the important knowledge gaps. We also carried out dozens of MSc and PhD studies to fill knowledge gaps while educating the students involved and we consistently aligned our efforts with ongoing development initiatives, to increase the likelihood of uptake and implementation.

The accomplishments of IHE Delft and our partners through the years attracted additional attention to the basin and stimulated interest from national partners and international aid organisations to invest more and set higher goals. A nice example of this is the recently concluded MaMaSe project aimed at improving water safety and security in the Mara River Basin.

Transboundary plan of balanced water allocation

Fast forward to 2018 and an ambitious new joint Mara initiative of Kenya and Tanzania to formulate a transboundary plan of balanced water allocation to ecosystem protection and socio-economic development. In addition to the water authorities of each country, the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and Nile Basin Initiative are engaged, because of the Mara’s potential to serve as a model for other basins of the region. IHE Delft, along with the Stockholm Environment Institute, has been contracted to support key technical aspects of the planning process. The initiative is funded and jointly coordinated by the USAID Sustainable Water Partnership (SWP), the German development organisation GIZ, and WWF.

Talents and potential of our alumni

As the initiative partners met to begin planning our joint activities, I was pleased by the contribution IHE Delft’s decade-long commitment to the Mara played in reaching this point. Moreover, our engagement with these partners and lead role in applied research will almost certainly enhance the initiative’s impact. But my appreciation for IHE Delft’s impact to-date expanded in a delightful and surprising way when key individuals were introduced.

Seven members of the initiative team, representing every implementing partner, are IHE Delft alumni! Hilda Pius Luoga (MSc Environmental Science 2005) and Sadiki Laisser (MSc Environmental Science 2011) are coordinating the inputs of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and Nile Basin Initiative, respectively. Florence Mahay (MSc Water Science and Engineering 2008) is leading the Lake Victoria Basin Water Office of the Tanzanian Ministry of Water. Tom Ogol (MSc Water Science and Engineering 2014) is providing the modelling inputs of Stockholm Environment Institute. Anne Seima Lilande (MSc Water Science and Engineering 2014) is leading abstraction surveys and demand assessments as an independent consultant. Clare Haule (MSc Water Management 2013) and Novati Kessy (MSc Environmental Science 2012) are coordinating the local efforts of the USAID SWP Program and WWF, respectively.

These alumni come from six different IHE annual cohorts and three of the institute’s five MSc programmes. They all returned to their home country after graduation and entered professional positions in public and private institutions where they make an impact. By this measure alone I’m proud of the role IHE Delft played. By re-engaging with the Institute as skilled individuals in partner institutions, they magnify the impact of IHE Delft even further.

At IHE Delft we work every day toward a mission exemplified by the impacts made in the Mara. Normally the impact is not so visible, but we trust in our research approach, the strength of our partnerships, and above all the talents and potential of our alumni.

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