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UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education continues the work that was started in 1957 when a postgraduate diploma course in hydraulic engineering was first offered to practicing professionals from developing countries. Today, UNESCO-IHE has developed into one of the largest graduate water education facilities in the world.

Historical Time Line

The Netherlands became famous in the field of hydraulic engineering after the devastating North Sea flood of 1953. This flood broke dikes and seawalls in the Netherlands, killing almost 2000, destroying 4,500 buildings. To prevent such a tragedy from happening again, an ambitious flood defence system was conceived and deployed, called the Delta Works.

In 1955 this led to several developing countries inquiring about the possibility of having their engineers trained in the Netherlands in the field of hydraulic engineering. The request of the Ambassador of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) marks the start of training engineers from developing countries.

In 1957 the first 'International Course in Hydraulic Engineering' was set up and followed by forty-five participants from twenty-one different countries. This course had three branches: 'Tidal and coastal engineering', 'Reclamation' and 'Rivers and navigation works'.

In 1960, upon request of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in a mutual effort of Delft University of Technology and the Netherlands Universities Foundation for International Cooperation (Nuffic), IHE's curriculum was extended with the 'European Course in Sanitary Engineering'.

From 1966 onwards, due to increasing applications for the Sanitary Engineering Course, a parallel course has been organized, this parallel course is dealing with drinking water supply, sanitation and public health administration in agricultural and rural areas.

In 1976 the name International Institute for Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (IHE) was introduced. Several years later, after a steady growth of courses and research themes, the word Infrastructural was added to the full name, not changing the abbreviation IHE however.

In 1977 IHE celebrated its 20th anniversary; in these 20 years about 2,500 engineers from 97 countries have attended the courses. From 1985 to 1998, under the leadership of rector Wil Segeren, the IHE yearly student numbers grew from 200 to 450 and staff grew from 35 to 130. IHE became a major player in water sector capacity building, be it by educating and training individuals, research activities or strengthening institutions in developing countries.

From 1990 to 1992 the building at Westvest 7, now the heart of UNESCO-IHE, was built, extending the historical Oude Delft 95 complex and so physically representing IHE's growth. In 1995 IHE is recognised as an Institute for Technology by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Cultural Affairs and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. IHE became an independent institute after having been part of Nuffic for 39 years. As from January 1 1996, all staff is employed by the IHE foundation.

The process to establish the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education was concluded by a decision of the 31st General Conference of UNESCO in November 2001. In 2003, the newly-created UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (UNESCO-IHE) came officially into operation.

Today, UNESCO-IHE has trained more than 14,500 water professionals (diploma/degree education) and thousands of short-course participants from 160 countries, almost all from developing countries and countries in transition. It has also graduated more than 130 PhD candidates in collaboration with leading universities and executed numerous research and capacity building projects throughout the world. Since it became part of UNESCO, the Institute has become the only institution in the UN system authorised to confer accredited MSc degrees. More than 60 institutions around the world are to be counted among its partners; many more among its friends.