Does it take a perfect storm to enable research uptake?

15 februari 2017 door Secretariaat Sanitary Engineering

Some of you might have missed it - sorry for that - but I have recently moved to Mozambique from the Netherlands. I’m still working for TU Delft, on my water reclamation project, but I moved here to be closer to our PhD candidates and to our project partners.

I could have not picked a better time: the South of Mozambique is facing a very serious drought (while it is supposed to be the rainy season), maybe as bad as the one of the early 1980s, and I only receive water at home on alternate days, meaning that on one day I have water from around 4am until 4pm and that on the day after there will be no water. Some people are in a better situation – households being supplied with groundwater receive water 24/7; but some people are in a much worst situation – some areas of the city do not receive water for up to a week. Needless to say, this leads to very unhygienic practices, and some people have started collecting water from open drains in the city. You can read about here (http://opais.sapo.mz/index.php/sociedade/45-sociedade/43478-residentes-de-maputo-recorrem-a-agua-da-vala-de-drenagem-para-consumo-domestico-.html) and here (http://opais.sapo.mz/index.php/sociedade/45-sociedade/43447-consumidores-queixam-se-da-falta-de-agua-na-cidade-de-maputo.html), both in Portuguese.

When I said that the time could have not been better I was not being ironic – I am surprised with how fast I adapted to showering on alternate days, during the Mozambican summer, with temperatures often reaching 35 oC during the day. I was not being ironic because this is the perfect window of opportunity for our water reclamation project: Mozambican institutions recognize that the drought is a serious problem that might last several months (maybe years) and that urgent and effective measures are necessary. That’s something that I am working on now, together with Manuel Alvarinho and his colleagues at CRA (water and sanitation regulatory body): we are developing a roadmap that will lead, at the end of 2019, to national legislation regulating future water reclamation projects in the country. This legislation will be based on both the results of the pilot studies that we are planning for this year, with construction companies and with farmers; and on meetings with local organizations that will define short- and medium-term decisions on how to cope with the drought. This process is sometimes described as “research uptake” and we can thank the drought for enabling it in the way envisioned by NWO.

At the beginning of my PhD thesis I quoted Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo (1963) – “something has to change so that everything stays the same”; and yet again this thought makes sense: the status quo alone (dam building, pumping water from far, etc) is not working and the Mozambican sector has to start implementing innovative solutions so that the water keeps flowing in the future. Being here at this moment is a great opportunity and we are fully engaged in supporting the Mozambican water sector to achieve just that.  

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