News / 30 September 2014

‘Shifting Grounds’, a one-of-a-kind project

There are several reasons why Remi Kempers sees Bangladesh as his second home. There, he has been working on water projects and is a fervent advocate of our ‘Negotiated Approach’. On numerous occasions, he has appeared on Bangladeshi national television in programs about water governance. Remi will soon be collaborating with the Dutch Technical University Delft, the Technical University of Dhaka (BUET), SaciWATERS and local CSOs to start a new, one-of-a-kind project. This project will be financed by the Dutch NWO, a research council that funds scientific research, in light of their program ‘Urbanizing Deltas of the World’. It focuses on the delta of the bold Ganges river in Bangladesh and India.

BE: What exactly will you be doing?

“Local water supply and distribution are under increasing pressure, especially on the dividing lines between urban and rural areas. In part due to quickly expanding cities, different groups like inhabitants, the industry, water companies and farmers have clashed, arguing about the usage of water. And what’s more, though you wouldn’t expect this to happen to a river such as the Ganges,  the quality of river- and groundwater has diminished because of salinisation and contamination. There is even presence of arsenic in groundwater!.

We will start in two places: around Khulna, in Bangladesh, and Kolkata (Calcutta), in India. We have opted for these locations so that we can compare water supplies in practice from different national institutions, but which at the same time are located in the same delta. First we will study the water usage, during which we will also extensively investigate (for the first time) the groundwater – which is rather unusual in this type of research. We are planning to focus on change: what is the influx of inhabitants like, which effect does climate change have on the water, and in what ways is the water being used by different groups? Afterwards, we will take a look at the water companies and government agencies that determine the decision-making process, and see how they cooperate – or compete.”


BE: What is the Negotiated Approach’s place in all this?

“Currently, the changes in usage, the way in which the water is being confiscated, and not to mention the scarcity and pollution, are all taking place – just like that. Not only is this detrimental to the distribution of water and to the environment, but it also has a discriminatory effect. Rich farmers, for example, can afford to drill a pipe to get access to groundwater, but their poor colleagues can forget about this. Water companies are in the position to extract drinking water without first discussing this with the local inhabitants, resulting in far-reaching consequences for water availability for farmers and households. That is why, in particular, the ‘Negotiated Approach’ is the appropriate method in such situations. By means of negotiation, all parties involved are given a voice on water usage, while the importance of sustainable water governance is also being stressed. Whether much or little water is involved, be it surface water or groundwater, the Negotiated Approach is always suitable.”


BE: And there is also a rather modern aspect to this project…

“For the first time ever, we will be using something that is called ‘Serious Gaming’. I am very proud of this. By using a computer game, we will simulate what effects there are on water usage, thereby showing all parties involved what happens as a result of a certain solution to the distribution of water. Several choices are possible, which we can then interactively work with at meetings. It will be an eye-opener to everyone who participates in workshops and meetings, at which the fate of the water in Kolkata and Khulna is determined.”

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