From 6th to 10th September 2021, the International Centre for Water Resources and Global Change (ICWRGC), the International Research and Training Center on Erosion and Sedimentation (IRTCES, Peking) and the German Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) hosted the five-day training workshop “River Basin Sediment Monitoring and Management”. Held as a virtual event, many sediment experts from 25 countries attended the workshop under the umbrella of the UNESCO’s International Sediment Initiative (ISI). The focus was on empowering developing countries to help themselves.
Participants of the UNESCO training workshop
Channelizing rivers, deepening fairways and constructing dams – human activities in and along rivers have brought about fundamental changes in water discharge and sediment balances. Sustainable sediment management helps to adjust sediment surpluses or deficits of a disturbed sediment balance, thus reducing negative impacts on the ecosystem, water management, flood protection and navigation. The BfG can draw on its long-standing experience in national sediment and erosion research and advice, gained in collaboration with other agencies and organizations, in particular in the fields of sediment management and river bed development. On the international level, this issue is addressed by the UNESCO’s International Sediment Initiative whose secretariat is hosted by the International Research and Training Center on Erosion and Sedimentation (IRTCES, Peking). The ICWRGC is committed to global exchange of water data, including data on sediments.
The five-day workshop was aimed at sharing this expertise to support developing countries, in particular, in building up their own abilities in these areas, an approach called “capacity building” in technical language, commonly known as the idea of “helping people to help themselves”. BfG and ICWRGC staff also seized the opportunity to enter into direct dialogue with other researchers, taking advantage of their experiences and skills. Co-initiator Renee van Dongen says: “We are delighted at the positive response within the expert community. In total, 36 participants from academic, governmental and non-governmental organizations and businesses, mainly from Africa and Asia, followed our invitation.”
Participants by country
Challenges for international sediment management
Three interactive keynote speeches provided insights into the challenges of sediment monitoring and sediment management in large river basins. Representing the IRTCES in Peking, Professor Liu Cheng spotlighted the challenging conditions along China’s major river courses. Professor Helmut Habersack of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, reported on sediment strategies on the European Rhine and Danube rivers. The third keynote presentation, delivered by Professor Juan Restrapo of the Colombian School of Administration, Finance and Technological Institute, pointed out human pressures on sediment loads in Latin America with a focus on the Magdalena river in Colombia.
Following the keynote input, the event offered opportunities for the participants to deepen their knowledge on suspended sediments and bedload monitoring, sediment balancing as well as working with global sediment data, guided by internationally renowned specialists, including BfG and ICWRGC experts. “We have many years of experience in sediment monitoring and management, and this workshop provides an opportunity to share this expertise with our international partners”, says Thomas Hoffmann, one of the co-initiators at the BfG. The participants also discussed the results of the ongoing joint BfG/ICWRGC research project URSACHEN.
Initially planned as a face to face event in Koblenz in 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic prompted the organizers to switch to a blended-learning workshop held in collaboration with Professor Heribert Nacken’s UNESCO Chair at RWTH Aachen University and with the UNESCO International Sediment Initiative (ISI). The presentations and topical sessions had been recorded as interactive videos, followed by “personal” conference calls offering a platform for discussion and exchange on the learning contents.
At a later stage, the lectures and tutorials recorded, including the three keynote presentations, are due to be made freely available as Open Educational Resource (OER) material in the form of an online webinar. “The training workshop thus constitutes a contribution to the UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Hydrological Programme and an early example of the use of OER approaches that are set to become increasingly relevant in the IHP’s ninth phase adopted last July,” underlines Stephan Dietrich of the ICWRGC.
The workshop revealed that the BfG’s and ICWRGC’s expertise in the fields of sediment monitoring and sediment management is in demand. In this context, digital learning offerings, such as OER, are a strategic option to enhance the quality of learning and knowledge sharing as well as political dialogue and capacity building – i.e. helping others to help themselves – in the field of research on a global scale.