Bamboo Water Tanks Don’t Leak

One of the interesting pilot projects INBAR embarked upon in 2012 was to test if bamboo and rattan could be used to construct rainwater catchment tanks for local communities in Ethiopia and Nepal.  The hypothesis was that bamboo is readily available and it is relatively cheap.  Moreover, skills could be transferred to local entrepreneurs so that the tanks could be constructed without the need for external help, thus keeping the cost down.


When I lived and worked in Botswana in the seventies, we looked at rainwater catchment as the solution for providing cheap a supply of fresh water for domestic use in a country with very low rainfall and a dwindling underground water reservoir.  I was working with an advisor to the International Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (IRCSA) which is promoting and advancing rainwater catchment systems technology.  (  We facilitated the construction of a set of rainwater tanks at a medical facility in the village of Nata, and found that the few rainstorms that occur were sufficient to fill the tank and provide an additional source of water for washing, watering a vegetable garden and other uses.  It even functioned as an emergency back-up to the council water supply.

I therefore liked the concept of the Ethiopia/Nepal project, and was very interested to hear the outcome.   I had the opportunity to learn more, when I talked last week with one of the INBAR staff who was actively involved in the activity.  The project constructed a 5,000 litre tank from flattened, treated bamboo strips, which were then plastered with concrete.  A base was constructed to prevent leakage, and a domed roof was installed to keep the supply safe from pollution.  The result was a cheap reservoir with a cost of USD 4-8 per litre.  This compares very favourable with a plastic water tank which costs roughly USD 12 per litre while a concrete tank costs about USD20 per litre.  The main concerns that were expressed by the local community was the fear that bamboo would rot, and the tank would disintegrate.  However, INBAR was able to prove that treated bamboo can last 25 years or more, and the bamboo used for this water tank was therefore treated with a simple method using appropriate technology.

tank elevation shot with girl_3

INBAR has published a manual to help other communities build similar structures, which is available on line:

The pilot project could not have been possible without the support from the Canadian Government.  The results are very encouraging, and we hope to embark upon a second phase of testing and promotion in the coming year.


Melting World Heritage

One of the Swiss World Heritage sites is melting!

Switzerland has 11 properties inscribed under the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, three of which are natural sites. One of these is the complex of Jungfrau – Aletsch in central Switzerland.  The description of the site states that it provides an outstanding example of the formation of the High Alps. The site includes the famous Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains and the largest glacier in Eurasia, the Great Aletsch Glacier.

Great Aletsch Glacier © Pro Natura Center Aletsch

Great Aletsch Glacier © Pro Natura Center Aletsch

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is currently discussing its latest report, and we expect them to state that most of the warming of the Earth’s surface since the 1950s is “extremely likely” — at least 95% probable — to be man-made.  One of the results of global warming is the melting of ice caps.

The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment measures a number of environmental indicators, and glacial retreat is one of them. The following graph shows how the Aletsch Glacier is reducing in size, and it also shows that the rate of retreat is accelerating.

Cumulative length change of Aletsch Glacier in metres.  Source: Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network

Cumulative length change of Aletsch Glacier in metres. Source: Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network

According to Pro Natura Switzerland, the glacier is currently retreating at a rate of a good 50 meters (164 feet) per year.

I recently went to have a look myself.   The sight of the glacier is truly a jaw-dropping experience. Photos cannot really do justice to the magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier, but here goes anyway.


You can see on the photo that the ice flow was higher in the past, so let us hope that the IPCC is also right in its assessment that there is a slowdown in the pace of warming. However, a report by Lord Stern a few days ago warns about the risk of under-estimating the effects of global warming, and he reckons that the IPCC is playing down the problem.

Global warming and glacial melt will be with us for many more years to come.

Healthy wetlands – healthy people

For the last weeks, I have been busy checking fact and figures about wetlands. I learned a lot! Did you know that an oasis is a wetland? And did you know that the average economic value of wetlands is much higher than that of tropical rainforests? That is the finding of the recent “TEEB for Water and Wetlands” report . In case you are wondering: TEEB stands for the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity. Check out the website

At a global scale, we have unfortunately lost nearly 50% of our wetlands according to estimates by UNEP.  As I am Dutch, I can admit that the Netherlands has helped to reach this figure. Most of the Dutch wetlands have been drained or are reclaimed for agriculture and urban development. This photo by Rotterdam City Council in the Netherlands of the most recent addition to the port of Rotterdam illustrates that the work is still going on!

But there are still some particularly amazing wetlands on earth: the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Pantanal in South America and the Sundarbans mangrove forests of India and Bangladesh to name a few. Rich in biodiversity, stunning scenery, but also the source of lots of other goods and ecosystem services. When my wife and I lived in Botswana in the Eighties, we had the fortune to visit the Okavango a number of times, but the following picture of punters in local canoes waiting for the hippos to appear is not from me, but from Wikipedia!

I have always felt very at ease near a swamp or at a lakeshore or a riverbank, and a recent BBC report suggest that I am not the only one. Studies by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Plymouth found that people are more relaxed when they are near a water body, and people living near the coast are statistically healthier than those living inland. This also was manifest in cities, where fountains and ponds appeared to have a positive effect on wellbeing. It reminds me of our house in Bangkok, which was actually built over a pond, in the centre of town. We felt very relaxed in the garden, despite the hustle-bustle of the city around us.

Turtle House - pond with sala 1

Do academics live in ivory towers?

During the discussions yesterday at the workshop in Paris organised by the Biodiversity Knowledge initiative (see my Blog on 17 January), an interesting question was raised. How do scientists and academics relate to local natural resource users, and how do the researchers know which biodiversity-related issues local people are concerned about? The point was made that small scale landowners and resource users are not particularly interested in biodiversity research findings and presumable do not care a lot about the definition of ecosystem services. Yet, these are the very people that manage the natural resources we all talk about in our workshops and seminars, and they therefore constitute a principal stakeholder group for a biodiversity knowledge initiative.

Dutch wetland from

Dutch wetland with willow trees; photo from

Case studies were provided from woodworkers in the UK and coastal residents in Western Australia. In both cases, the local knowledge and understanding of natural resources and ecological processes is vast, but this is not recorded in a scientific manner, and the knowledge is generally not readily shared with outsiders. One observation was made that people who live on the land and who depend on local resources often do not want to participate in facilitated workshops or discussion groups organised by outsiders. The challenge for scientists and academic researchers is to find a way to “connect” with them.

The perspective of local concerns was quite refreshing after all the academic presentations earlier in the morning and the previous day. The fact that literature research often does not deal with reports that are not peer-reviewed, and that are not published in recognised scientific journals had caused some debate earlier. The presentation of the local issues illustrated the point that many academic researchers are working in a bubble, and living in ivory towers.



I wrote about the beaver in a previous story, as an example of conservation success in the Netherlands. I have read stories that they are also coming back to the rivers in Western Switzerland, but I have never seen proof. Until today!


This picture was taken this morning, along the Aubonne River, near Lake Geneva. There were a few other trees damaged nearby.

A nice way to start the Blog in the New Year
Best wishes