Some dreams we have early in life and we follow them. Sometimes, life gives us a rude awakening and we are forced to change course. 22 April, 2012, will forever be imprinted in the mind of Joost Hoedjes, a young scientist whose focus changed as a result. On that day, he and a group of friends had taken a walk in the park – to Hells Gate National Park in Naivasha like happened on so many other weekends.
Today, however, turned out to be different. Today was not a-fun-as-usual event. Before long, a rushing sound was heard in the distance, followed by a warning from park rangers. They feared the worst and unfortunately that day, the worst happened- but not to them.
Hoedges and his friends quickly climbed up a narrow side road, but a church group wasn’t so lucky. Seven of them were swept away by the floods in what had been an otherwise perfect picnic day.
“I witnessed that event. Reading and listening to media accounts of the event in subsequent days, the agony expressed by those who lost their loved ones, I asked myself, how i can make use of my scientific knowledge to prevent such a catastrophe in the future?” . To answer those questions, he quit his horticulture job at a flower farm in Naivasha and his curiosity led him to Jan de Leeuw, former head of Drylands Research at the People, Livestock and the Environment research theme at ILRI. De Leeuw has moved on to our sister organisation, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) but Hoedjes is using the door that opened with ILRI to seek an answer, not knowing whether or when his curiosity will be satisfied.
Hoedjes, a Dutch national, studied for his PhD in meteorology, hydrology and remote sensing at the Centre d’Etudes Spatial de la BIOsphere (CESBIO) in Toulouse, France. As part of his PhD research work, he explored evapotranspiration over irrigated areas in semi-arid regions and worked at the Integrated modeling of the water cycle in semi-arid watersheds based on ground and satellite data (SUDMED) and the Improved management tools for water-limited irrigation (IRRIMED) in Morrocco. Both projects are linked to CESBIO. Prior to that, he studied for the MSc at Wageningen where he had started experimenting on the rate of evaporation on irrigated lands in Mexico.
In the past three years, he has worked extensively in East Africa- Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. He speaks perfect English, French and Dutch.
Inset: Joost Hoedjes: Researcher in the PLE Drylands Team (Photo credit:ILRI/Moiko Stephen)