Water on the Road

5 research teams, 8 days, 30+ stakeholders, and countless kilometers covered under the Spanish sun. As part of the Water Management & Governance MSc Programme’s Fieldtrip module, students embarked to discover and research the water challenges faced by one of the EU’s largest exporters of agricultural goods, the Andarax River Basin in Spain. Paradoxically, this area also carries the title of the driest region in continental Europe. To this backdrop, students were assigned different research themes – ranging from water quality impacts due to over-extraction of groundwater to evaluating urban water supply sustainability challenges – and were set out to intensive days of interviewing and data collection.

The massive area covered by the plastic greenhouses can be seen from space.

The first days provided the groups with an overview of the physical, institutional, and historical context established in the Andarax, particularly in its two main population centers, the regional capital of Almería, and the go to western-movie-set town of Tabernas. A mix of lectures from local experts paired with a day-long journey across the basin, portrayed a contradictory and compelling story of how the most arid part of Europe had also become its agricultural core. Through their testimonies and the questions proposed by our students, the inevitable social and environmental costs of such (ambitious?) human whims were laid bare.

Students learn about the water and environmental changes over the centuries during a day-long tour of the basin.

In the following days, through a set of hand-picked interviews, each research team of students would delve deeper into the basin attempting to understand and state what the ‘actual’ social, economic, and environmental problems were now, and for the future. Throughout this process, intense debates in the groups bubbled, some jumping to find solutions from the beginning while others struggled with the broadness of the problems. At the end, the students presented their initial findings and distillation of the research problems, with view to continue tackling them in August during their Groupwork module. At the heart of the presentations, there were glimpses that the students were beginning to grasp a core lesson: in order to tackle the complex issues surrounding water, we first need to be asking better questions.

Hike around the Rio Molinos where an ecological group lectures students on the impacts of intensive agriculture on water resources.

Apart from the academic lessons learned, aimed at supporting our students during their MSc. thesis phase, a few life lessons also awaited our students. For some, it was the first time taking in the vastness of the sea. For others, it was a glimpse at how similar two places (and their people) can be, even if they are continents away. And (hopefully) for all, a reaffirmation of the importance and relevance of working together to tackle the wicked problems of water management.

A research team exploring the potential of ecological olive plantations.


Andres Cabrera Flamini

I am a Lecturer and Researcher at IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft, Netherlands, originally from Colombia. A mechanical engineer by training, a WASH humanitarian by trade, and a life-long learner by nature, I'm passionate about exploring the intersections and tensions of water, foreign aid, knowledge exchange, and perceptions.

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5 Responses

  1. Cristo Fdo P says:

    Thank you, Andres. I enjoy this reading a lot. It sent me back to those mid-night debates. What struck me the most of this experience is the way how human contradictions were depicted in the man-water management relationship: One of the driest river basins produces in intensely—few months—food for Europe. And apart from that, the kind of question I have to ask myself —regarding water/food/equity—when doing groceries here in the Netherlands.

    • Andres Cabrera Flamini says:

      Thanks for reading Cristo! I agree with you, the situation in Almería definitely brings to surface many of the contradictions that exist in the human-water arena, and that should make us reflect, even if for just a small moment, on the choice we make day by day.

  2. Momodou Lamin .G. Sankareh says:

    The fieldtrip was well organized and lot of experience was tapped from it. Like issues on water scarcity, how to go about them and come up with sound solutions. Fieldtrip of such natures could be continuous, as it is educative. I am thanking everybody who one way or the other contributed to its realization.

  3. Ilyas Masih says:

    Thanks Andres for sharing this inspiring piece. Indeed, a great example of field learning! I like few points you highlighted: issues around developing agriculture in a water scarce environment; asking better questions; struggles with problem identification, ambitions to find solutions, exploring land and sea in Spain, working together as a team to understand and address complex water issues.

    You did not mention lot of hard work behind the scene? I think you and other colleagues from IHE and also our partners deserve lot of appreciation for conducting yet another successful and inspiring field trip!

    Cheers!!
    Ilyas Masih

    • Andres Cabrera Flamini says:

      Very true! A good amount of effort was put in by the IHE staff, and the success of the Fieldtrip depended largely on the active and continuous support from our local partners, particularly Javi Martinez. Thanks for the kind words!

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