International engineering in the current reality

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Witteveen+Bos has a growing number of employees finding opportunities to extend themselves into international projects through the Young Expert Programme (YEP). This programme, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, allows (young) people to gain experience internationally by supporting employees of companies like Witteveen+Bos both financially and with training, but perhaps most importantly by giving them access to the continuously growing YEP network. This network was initially focused on the water sector (since 2013) and has recently extended into the agricultural and energy sector. Currently, from Witteveen+Bos we have Jasper Schakel in Ghana, myself in Ethiopia (both from the PMC DWP), and early next year Jan Dirk Smidt in Uganda (PMC WM).

Before going into the work and adventures, let me briefly explain a little bit about myself. I am 33 years old, just had my firstborn, and am still very actively pursuing an adventurous (international) career path. This was already clear as a bachelor student. I was following courses on international development still searching for what I really wanted and networked my way into a fascinating internship at a water project in the Middle East. Enthusiastic about the sector I later applied for an MSc in Water Engineering and Management. The combined passion for international development and water technique has been the driver behind most of my recent work.

My YEP started off in November 2019, with my deployment at one of our partners Vitens Evides International (VEI). I was added to the team in Bogotá, Colombia. As you may already understand, that did not last long because of COVID, and I had to return after 4 months. As the situation in Latin America stayed uncertain, we discussed options in Africa and not too long after, I moved to Ethiopia where I have arrived in the first half of October. Still working for VEI, but now on a different project: IWRM4WASH.

My current work in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, has given me a rather interesting and exciting time so far. With Ethiopia entering international news headlines in the past week the country is going through a challenging phase, where it can use all the help it can get.

In this project, we try to better link up water resource management with the water and sanitation sector. Although physically very much connected, organizationally that is not always the case. The Netherlands has a couple of interesting examples, like the dune area being maintained by drinking water companies, in order to best protect its sources. In Addis Ababa, we are not quite there yet. About 65% of the water supply of Addis comes from its reservoirs just outside the cities. These reservoirs are under increasing pressure due to siltation and contamination. The project aims to support the water supply of Addis and surrounding areas, by better protecting the upstream catchments of degradation and supporting the local towns with increased access to water supply.

Over the last couple of weeks during my last deployment, I was able to visit a number of our local beneficiary partners, to work on capacity assessments. What system do they have, what kind of organization, and how can be we best support them? The biggest challenge for most of the companies is the ramping population growth from the current whopping 110 million to the projected 205 million in 2050. This is especially pressing in the urban area around Addis where we work. One of our partner utilities claims to have a growth rate of 12.5%, which translates to a doubling every roughly 6 years. Add to that a structural shortage of all materials due to the fact that they simply do not have enough dollars available for import, and I'm sure you all can imagine the challenge that they are facing.

On the bright side, there is an increasing attention of international donors for Ethiopia, making it an interesting area for us to do some meaningful work.

There is a lot more to write, so if you want to know more, you can always contact me.

Best wishes!

Gertjan van der Ende

Witteveen+Bos en VEi