Interview withVishal Balaji
Nature-based Solutions and the new generation of engineers
Vishal Balaji Devanand, a student who recently graduated from IHE Delft, joins us to discuss his experience of working with the RECONECT project, his keen interest in Nature-based Solutions (NbS) and how he believes we can take NbS to scale, contributing to building resilience to climate change.
Vishal Balaji Devanand proudly describes himself as a curious person always full of questions. During his childhood he was fascinated in particular by engineers, as people who “create things and make our lives easier”. And it’s this curiosity and fascination that led him to become a Senior Engineer undertaking an M.Sc. Program at IHE Delft Institute for Water Education in the Netherlands in October 2019.
How do Nature-based Solutions feature in the life of a young professional engineer?
“I got introduced to the concept of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) very recently through one of the webinars of the International Water Association (IWA) where they talked about the riparian buffer zones and other “Nature-Based Solutions implemented in Ghana” Vishal explains. “Fascinated with the ideology of using blue-green infrastructure as an alternative to the traditional grey infrastructure for disaster risk reduction, I came across the RECONECT project, after researching a little into the topic. I approached the project coordinator Dr. Zoran Vojinovic who is also an associate professor at IHE, and after a few meetings we decided to develop my M.Sc. research topic along with RECONECT”.
In his thesis, Vishal addresses specific knowledge gaps in spatial analysis for NbS implementation by improving an existing GIS-based methodology already developed at IHE Delft. Vishal was captivated by the idea of developing easy-to-operate geo-spatial toolboxes to support the assessment of NbS replication potential, that can be applied in any catchment around the globe. These toolboxes are map-based models built for basin scale modelling and planning.
Vishal’s work developed geo-spatial toolboxes for NbS measures of riparian forest buffer and afforestation that are proven to decelerate the run-off and alleviate flood peaks. Additionally, he also developed a new methodology for allocation of NbS for shallow landslides risk reduction such as vegetative measures, soil bio-engineering techniques and restoration of terraces. These measures have been proven to improve the slope stability thereby increasing resilence against the geo-hydrological risks such as shallow landslides, debris flow, rock fall etc.
The toolboxes have been tested on different RECONECT demonstration sites within Europe including the iconic landscapes of Portofino Promontory in Italy. The results were qualitatively analyzed to identify the most sensitive parameters such as the size of the catchment, terrain slope, dominant landuse type and the quality of input datasets governing the suitability of the analysed sites for NbS implementation.
So how does this fit into the broader objectives of RECONECT — upscaling NbS for flood risk reduction?
“The geo-spatial toolboxes serve as a key instrument to deliver RECONECT’s approach to replication and upscaling of NbS” Vishal highlights. “This approach explores the feasibility and barriers to uptake in different flood-prone catchments for maximum replication of NbS implemented , drawing on key examples such as the “Room for River” large scale NbS project that I mentioned earlier”
These toolboxes have been really instrumental in the implementation for RECONECT’s dlivery of the strategy on “Replication and Upscaling of NbS“. A special workshop with EU collaborators were conducted where, the suitability maps obtained from geo-spatial toolboxes were validated by the respective demonstrator partners from Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, and Serbia for their reflections and were also used to map different barriers and enablers that they experience in replication and up-scaling of the large-scale NBS measures. It is expected that RECONECT validates and in turn uses these tools and methods to see NbS being applied at scale as part of broader river basin and landscape planning for hydro-meteological risk reduction.
So what’s next — looking beyond RECONECT ?
Speaking about his vision of NbS, Vishal strongly believes that, as an engineer, he must be ready and equipped with the right tools to take into account the environment when looking at future development in river basins.
“Developments should be aimed at working with nature — applying NbS in tandem with grey infrastructure for optimal system performance and sustainability. One such productive change that has started in disaster risk reduction strategies is the involvement of Nature-Based Solutions. NbS has been proven to be more sustainable, cost-friendly and also helps in restoring bio-diversity with numerous co-benefits which contribute to human well-being.”
One long-term goal of Vishal’s is to gain further expertise in NBS and other climate change adaptation strategies by gathering the available knowledge from the global leaders like the EU and with the acquired knowledge, contribute to building resilience in the developing and under-developed countries of Asia and Africa against the fore-coming catastrophes due to climate change.
Availability of a skilled workforce in NbS will be a key driver to bring a cultural change in land planning and to the implementation of sustainble measures for risk flood risk reduction and mitigation.