Kees Leendertse

In the water

Kees Leendertse

A message from Rio de Janeiro

UU Social Sciences alumnus Kees Leendertse is working on cleaning up the surface water before the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. But the clock is ticking. Together with his team at Cap-Net, a capacity development programme run by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), he’s doing all he can to improve the country’s water management. For the Games, but also for the future.

Kees: “When our office moved from South Africa to Brazil two years ago, it felt like coming home. I had worked there previously, managing a river system and lagoons along the coast of Rio from 1999, but in 2002 we started Cap-Net, which was initially based at UNESCO-IHE: the Institute for Water Education in Delft, the Netherlands.

Meanwhile the Cariocas strut their stuff, drink a caipirinha, have a chat, dance the samba and play some football on the beach.

Kees Leendertse

At the time, Cap-Net was a new programme aiming to cooperate with international partners and local networks on capacity development for integral water management. As part of the UNDP Water and Oceans Governance programme, Cap-Net initially focused on creating networks of water capacity development organisations, like universities, NGOs and government institutions. Currently around 23 networks with roughly one thousand member institutions and 40 partners are linked to Cap-Net. The educational programmes we’ve developed range from general concepts of IWRM to instruments for adjusting to climate change and flood and drought management.

After years of working in Delft and Pretoria, I’ve now returned to Rio with Cap-Net. And we came at just the right time. An unprecedented water shortage is looming in São Paolo, and in Rio people are concerned about the quality of the surface water. Despite various warnings about the impending water shortage in São Paolo, little has been done to prevent it. Although there was very little rainfall last summer, it is mainly a management problem, because they are among the areas with the highest available water supply per capita in the world.

Meanwhile in Rio, preparations for next year’s Olympic Games are in full swing. The Cariocas look set to complete everything in time. The work is steadily progressing and this brings many advantages to the average resident. Although there have been many complaints about the continuous building works – the whole city is a construction site – all sorts of infrastructure and amenities are materialising. There is just one serious obstacle that refuses to go away: it appears impossible to control the quality of the surface water, which will be host to a range of water sports during the Games. It remains uncertain whether this issue can be resolved. The desired eighty-percent reduction of the pollution level will not be realised. Still, organisers hold out hope that the water quality will have greatly improved by next year.

And me? I am thoroughly enjoying myself. I met my wife – a Carioca da gema – at summer school at the University of Rhode Island years ago, and now we live in Rio. I’ve seen the city go through substantial changes: less crime and more traffic; years of strong economic growth and the current economic contraction; from elderly drug lords from the favelas to recurring arrastões, a type of collective theft. Meanwhile the Cariocas strut their stuff, drink a caipirinha, have a chat, dance the samba and play some football on the beach. It sounds like a stereotype, but it’s true! Summer is coming, so soon we’ll all get into the – hopefully cleaner – water again.”