Minister Harbers visits UT

(Translated from original article in Dutch by J.C. Vreeman, UT Nieuws, 13 oct. 2022)

At the invitation of the University of Twente (UT), Minister Mark Harbers of Infrastructure & Water Management visited the UT campus on Wednesday 12 October. Harbers met with researchers from the faculties of Engineering Technology (ET) and Geo-information Science and Earth Observations (ITC). The discussions focused on two important topics: the latest developments in the field of climate adaptation and optimizing the maintenance of the Dutch road infrastructure. The UT specializes in both disciplines.

Prof. Dr. Maarten van Aalst led the section on climate adaptation. Van Aalst is an expert on the topic of increasing resilience to natural disasters and climate change. Van Aalst: "I want to apply scientific knowledge to reduce human suffering and economic damage caused by disasters. It is a huge challenge to prevent the growing risks, especially now that climate change is causing more unstable weather. More emergency aid is not the solution, we must reduce the risk of disasters and do much more to prevent them.”

Van Aalst combines his professorship with his position as director of the Red Cross Climate Centre. He is also a Coordinating Lead Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Reduced risk of natural disaster

Van Aalst and his colleagues discussed with Minister Harbers how to reduce and control the noticeable effects of climate change. This may include reducing the risk and impact of natural disasters, developing measures that make agriculture more robust in drought conditions, using natural vegetation as part of coastal defense, and integrating and implementing these and other solutions in practice.

Future-proof roads

Prof. Dr. ir. Leentje Volker specializes in public-private cooperation and leads the programme on the role of digitization and innovation in the maintenance of road infrastructure. Volker and her colleagues gave the minister an insight into relevant technological advancements. Examples include the use of drone imagery for surface infrastructure, or advanced digital technologies for safer and more efficient maintenance of underground cables and pipes. To implement these innovations public-private cooperation and agreement are required. The experiences of implementing such technologies were shared with the minister.

According to Volker, a change of thinking and real-life application is necessary to make Dutch construction and road infrastructure future-proof. Since 2019 Volker holds the chair of Integrated Project Delivery at UT.

Life-long development

Prof. Dr. Geert Dewulf, Chief Development Officer of the UT, the minister, Professor Vinod Subramaniam and the deans of both faculties, concluded the conference with a discussion about concrete contributions the UT can make to policy development. One of the options UT wants to explore is to develop a lifelong learning programme. The UT is increasingly committed to academic education for professionals and such a project would fit in well with that ambition.

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