Beata Sochacka (Poland)
Master of Integrated Water Management
(with IWC Scholarship)
I studied philosophy and sociology (both undergraduate and postgraduate) at the University of Gdansk, Poland – a choice based on my interest in social inequalities and theories of social change. During the last year of my studies I went on a year-long exchange program in Germany to study International Relations and Development Policy. This is why after my studies, in 2010 I decided to go volunteering to South America to see how all that I had learnt looked in practice.
There I learnt two things that determined the course of my professional life: one, local community empowerment leads to change and two, water is an indicative resource – it points to the most vulnerable. I then headed back to Poland where working as a project specialist for a foundation I gained hands on experience in stakeholder analysis, participatory decision-making, environmental conflict resolution and sustainable water management. In 2015 I accepted an opportunity to go back to South America, this time Chile, and form part of Fundación Patagonia Sur while also helping to form a new NGO with members of a local grass-root environmental initiative – La Mesa Verde in Chaitén, Chile. For almost a year I facilitated the meetings of La Mesa Verde, helped with its communication and educational efforts and secured funds for its activities by preparing proposals to national funding bodies (e.g. Ministry of the Environment) for a project focusing on integrated coastal management.
Learning the importance of water as a strategic resource for human development
The importance of water as a strategic resource for human development and well-being is something I have not only learnt about through my previous studies but also my own experience. When I lived in South America I saw how water access shaped the lives of communities – I was in Venezuela in 2010 when the el Niño phenomena caused a drought that led to an energy shortage and blackouts (Venezuela’s major hydroelectric dam did not have enough water), and the following year I witnessed la Niña, with its intensive rainfall, cause landslides in Colombia where I moved to.
I also saw how water is gaining more and more importance in my own country – only last year poor rainfall in the summer and a heat wave left Poland’s Vistula (our largest river) with the lowest water level ever recorded and threatened Polish energy supply. Having a background in sociology my particular interest while working for organisations that focused on sustainable development was to see how the approach to natural resources and ecosystems management corresponds with the social marginalisation of certain groups. I believe that this is an especially important area to investigate with regards to water resources.
At the moment I am helping with the implementation of the project “Cuentos del Mar. Manejo integrado de zona costera de Chaiten.” I am responsible for the research design and analysis as well as content preparation for the educational components that will be emitted on the local radio. The project focuses on participatory coastal and marine ecosystem services mapping and the outcomes of the research will hopefully inform local governments’ decisions concerning coastal zone rehabilitation. Apart from that I am cooperating with two organisations in Poland to write educational materials (Bookmark Editing House) on sustainable development and have a project proposal on education for sustainable development that includes a component focused on water security in Europe.
Specialising in water to address future challenges
I have chosen the MIWM for a range of reasons. Firstly, it offers a systemic, holistic approach. In Poland water management can only be studied as part of a technical degree, a graduate of sociology is not considered a relevant field specialist and community participation is only slowly being recognised. The MIWM supplements my academic background with an overview of water science and governance fundamentals. Secondly, I have chosen the MIWM because of its practical approach – I hope that I will be able to conduct last semester’s project on ground in Chile (as a follow-up of my earlier project).
The MIWM also has a unique profile of its students – it accepts professionals who have already done something in the field (great for networking!) and many of the cohort have vast experience working in community projects in different regions of the world. It is also no coincidence that I decided to study integrated water management specifically, rather than a more general environmental program. I strongly believe we need more water specialist to address the major problems we are facing worldwide. Water will be one of the main concerns determining quality of life around the world.
Applying water management in Chile, Poland and beyond
I plan to use the knowledge obtained from the course in the integrated coastal management project I have designed for Chaitén, Chile in cooperation with a local community-based organisation. I intend to apply for funding for the follow-up of this project and incorporate it in the final project of my coursework. I hope to gain valuable hands-on experience in several South American countries before applying for a think-tank or governmental job in Poland (or elsewhere), possibly focusing on assessing and mitigating social impacts of water policies.
Water is likely to become more of a political priority in Poland as seasonal water stress (a result of climate change and population density), together with commitments to the European Union (e.g. adjusting Polish environmental law to Water Framework Directive), drive the need for the introduction of smart water solutions in cities and more integrated water management of surface and groundwater supply. This will create a climate for reforms that will include not only supply but also demand management and thus, policies that favor participation and specialists who bridge water science and social science will be sought for. I hope I will be able to contribute to change that leads to more sustainable management of our natural resources.