Laying the Groundwork on Groundwater Behaviour for Agricultural Sustainability: Mahesh’s PhD Journey

  • 2019/09/04     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Solomon Gebrechorkos

    By Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy

    In developing countries, such as Mahesh Jampani’s homeland, India, most wastewater goes untreated and is dumped into aquatic environments. In water-scarce areas, according to him, farmers have no choice but to use untreated wastewater for irrigation.

    “When I was working with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Hyderabad, I looked specifically at urban water flows and the behaviour of wastewater irrigation systems in the developing world. That understanding had a great influence on my PhD research,” recalled Mahesh whose years of work experience, especially with international scientists, had motivated him to pursue a doctoral degree.

    Mahesh moved to Germany in 2015 to pursue the Joint PhD Programme in the Integrated Management of Water, Soil, and Waste offered by UNU-FLORES and the Technische Universität Dresden. Attracted to the innovative thinking of a Nexus Approach towards environmental resources management that the programme advocates, Mahesh saw it as the perfect opportunity to increase the understanding of groundwater flow and provide scenarios to help farmers mitigate groundwater pollution, altogether striving for agricultural sustainability.

    “When I started my research, it was particularly unclear how local aquifers are influenced by wastewater irrigation. For a healthy urban and peri-urban environment, it is very important to understand groundwater behaviour in wastewater irrigation systems under different cropping patterns.”

    Wastewater irrigation systems clearly exemplify the integrated management of environmental resources – water, soil, and waste. The use of wastewater – while having its own benefits – can also pose risks on the environment and society. The behaviour of contaminants in wastewater irrigation systems, however, remains unclear. This is especially alarming where farmers use untreated wastewaters released from nearby cities to produce the food we eat.

    Image: National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad

    Mahesh’s doctoral research addressed this very gap and, thus, has direct applicability in solving real-world problems. Given people’s dependence on wastewater irrigation systems, the successful management of environmental resources in an integrated manner through them will propel efforts towards achieving water and food security and healthy livelihoods.

    “When it comes to wastewater irrigation, connecting science to policy is a big – but much needed – task as there are generally no effective policies in the developing world to improve local livelihoods and also to mitigate environmental pollution.”

    A hydrologist by training, Mahesh ventured beyond the biophysical to explore the socio-political aspects of the topic through the PhD programme. In fact, to destress and relax, when not watching movies and documentaries from all over the world, Mahesh is reading articles from various scientific disciplines – from astrophysics to human behaviour – in his free time. He is certain that these activities help improve one’s social and cultural understanding of the world.

    At present, environmental conditions are not in good shape, especially in the developing world. In agriculture, a major challenge is to feed the ever-growing population, where water for agricultural production is becoming increasingly scarce. Going forward, Mahesh would like to continue working on wastewater flows into the natural environment.

    “My PhD has shaped my present and will continue to influence my future thinking – whether scientifically or socially – as I seek to understand this complex world a little better.”

    Mahesh’s proven passion for his topic goes beyond the four years of his postgraduate journey. He recalls, when he was searching for a potential research topic, his supervisor at TU Dresden quipped, “Consider your PhD as a girlfriend, with whom you have to spend three to four years. To spend three to four years of your life on it, you must love the topic!”

    Mahesh Jampani graduated from the Joint PhD Programme in the Integrated Management of Water, Soil, and Waste offered by UNU-FLORES and the Technische Universität Dresden with magna cum laude in 2019.