Thursday, July 18, 2024

Collaboration between the embassy of Panama and Saxion UAS: a path to sustainable solutions for climate problems

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Climate problems in Panama: a complex challenge

By Kristoff Derveaux MSc.

Panama, a country known for its tropical forests,  the iconic Panama Canal, and more, is facing serious climate problems. These problems range from prolonged droughts to extreme rainfall leading to floods. In addition, the rising sea level poses a threat to the country. The Panama Canal, which is of great importance for global shipping, also suffers from this drought, significantly reducing transit capacity. (Dahl, 2024) The country is also struggling with ecological changes, such as the transformation of jungle areas into arid landscapes where agriculture is becoming increasingly difficult.

The beginning of the collaboration

With the help of the ‘Stichting Anpak’n’ and covitaal (https://covitaal.com) (education, aqua forestry and energy transition), the Civil Engineering program at Saxion UAS first made contact with the Embassy of Panama in the Netherlands in October 2023. During this initial visit, an introductory meeting took place with the ambassador, H.E. Ms. Elizabeth Ward Neiman. The goal was to map out Panama’s climate problems and explore how the Civil Engineering program could contribute to the solutions. A key focus was the situation in the province of Veraguas, where the La Villa river shows fluctuations in water levels, causing both droughts and floods. These problems not only threaten the local population but also agricultural production, leading to uncertainty about the food supply.

The collaboration between the Embassy of Panama and Saxion University of Applied Sciences (UAS) has been of crucial importance in addressing Panama’s pressing climate challenges. From the project’s inception to its culmination, the unwavering support and guidance of the Ambassador of Panama, H.E. Elizabeth Ward Neiman, have been indispensable. Her leadership and deep understanding of Panama’s environmental issues have ensured that the partnership not only identified critical areas of concern but also effectively worked towards sustainable solutions.

The Ambassador’s active involvement has created a strong collaborative environment, allowing the Civil Engineering program at Saxion UAS to leverage its expertise in developing innovative strategies to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change on Panama.

This partnership exemplifies the significant progress that can be achieved through international cooperation and dedicated leadership.

A first project: inventory of Dutch Water Management Solutions

To start the collaboration modestly, a student project was set up. Second-year Civil Engineering students from Saxion UAS started to inventory existing Dutch water management solutions that could be applicable to the La Villa river in Panama. This project is question- and client-driven, meaning that the students received direct input and guidance from a local client IDIAP (http://www.idiap.gob.pa) in Panama.

The Panamanian embassy played a crucial role by establishing a connection with IDIAP, the institute in Panama that acted as the client. IDIAP formulated the problem and provided the students with the necessary information and guidance to come to a feasible solution. The result of the project was evaluated by IDIAP and was well received.

Presentation research results at the Embassy of Panama.
Dutch Water management categories.

Internship in Panama

Parallel to the student project, preparations were made for a civil engineering student to do an internship in Panama, from September 2024 to February 2025, at EISA (https://www.eisa.com.pa/eisa-empresa.html). Here again, the Panamanian embassy played an important role.

They ensured the connection between the student and a local company and offered extensive support in preparing for the stay. This included help in finding accommodation and creating a brochure with information about cultural differences, customs, and highlights of Panama. The feedback from the student after the completion of the internship will be used to better prepare future students.

Panama Guide for Dutch Students.

Future plans: expansion and strengthening of the collaboration

Both parties, Saxion UAS and the Embassy of Panama, are very enthusiastic about the collaboration and want to strengthen it further. The project with IDIAP will continue, with students further developing and implementing the chosen water management measures. This not only offers students the opportunity to gain practical experience, but also for Panama to get effective and sustainable solutions for their water management challenges.

In addition, there is a desire to conduct research on climate adaptation together with the Technical University of Panama (https://utp.ac.pa). The goal is to develop innovative methods that can help both parties better adapt to the effects of climate change. Through this collaboration, we hope to give more students the opportunity to gain valuable international experience while simultaneously contributing to addressing urgent climate problems.

Expansion to Peru: a new horizon

The collaboration with the Embassy of Panama has already led to a spin-off with the Embassy of Peru. In a similar way, an initial introductory meeting is planned at the Peruvian embassy soon, where opportunities for collaboration and projects will be explored. This expansion offers Saxion UAS the opportunity to further spread and strengthen its expertise and experience in addressing climate-related problems.

Conclusion

The collaboration between Saxion and the Embassy of Panama is a promising initiative that can make a valuable contribution to solving complex climate problems. Through the commitment of students and the application of Dutch water management techniques, Panama can better protect itself against the effects of climate change. At the same time, it offers Saxion students a unique opportunity to gain international experience and contribute to sustainable solutions on a global scale. This collaboration is a step in the right direction and serves as a model for future international collaboration projects.

For more information please contact the author of this article Kristoff Derveaux (K.Derveaux@Saxion.nl)

Saxion Civil Engineering (https://www.saxion.nl/opleidingen/voltijd/bachelor/civiele-techniek)

Embassy of Panama (www.panamaembassy.nl)

About the author:

Kristoff Derveaux MSc. is a Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering and a Researcher in Sustainable Areas & Soil Transitions
At Saxion | University of Applied Sciences | Academy of Business, Building & Technology

M.H.Tromplaan 28 | P.O. Box 70.000, 7500 KB Enschede | Room E1.65
T: 06-3080 9976 | K.Derveaux@Saxion.nl | www.saxion.nl

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