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 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.
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.
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.