Prof. dr. ir. Pieter van der Zaag

Professor of Integrated Water Resources Management
Head of the IWSG Department (currently on sabbatical leave)


Pieter van der Zaag is professor of integrated water resources management at the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft, The Netherlands, and also holds a professorship at Delft University of Technology. He chairs the Water Management Group, and is also Head of the Department of Integrated Water Systems and Governance.

Pieter has worked long-term in developing countries from 1982 to 2003. He has conducted research in the field of water resources, focusing on the dynamic relationship between biophysical and social processes. He has special interests in agricultural water management, water allocation issues in catchment areas and in the management of transboundary river basins, topics on which he has published widely. 

He is also an expert in curriculum development for water resources management. Pieter has been actively involved in several interdisciplinary research and capacity building projects in Brazil, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mexico, India, Mozambique, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

He is member of the governing board of WaterNet in Southern Africa, associate editor of the Water Policy journal, and member of the editorial board of the journal Hydrology and Earth System Sciences.

Pieter van der Zaag studied irrigation at Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands. From 1987 to 1989 he was based in Mexico. He received his PhD degree in 1992. From 1993 he coordinated a joint research programme between the University of Zimbabwe and Wageningen Agricultural University.

In 1997 he joined IHE Delft and was seconded to the Department of Civil Engineering, again at the University of Zimbabwe. The major activity involved the setting up of a new MSc programme in ‘Water Resources Engineering and Management’.

From 1999 to 2002, Pieter was the interim manager of WaterNet, a regional network aiming to build and strengthen regional capacity for the integrated management of water resources in the Southern African region through education, training and research.

In 2002 Pieter van der Zaag was appointed Professor of Water Resources Engineering and Management at the University of Zimbabwe. In 2004 he has became Professor of Integrated Water Resources Management at UNESCO-IHE. In 2012 he was appointed head of the newly formed Department of Integrated Water Systems and Governance.

Visit my private website.

Recent and on-going research projects

Blue Nile
Accounting for Nile Waters: connecting investments in large scale irrigation to gendered reallocations of water and labor in the Eastern Nile basin; with IWMI, Hydraulics Research Centre Sudan, University of Khartoum, Forum for Social Studies Ethiopia, Research Institute for Sustainable Environment - American University in Cairo, National Water Resources Centre Egypt, Eastern Nile Technical Regional Office ENTRO (CGIAR funded – WLE Nile Basin and East Africa Focal Region)

In Search of Sustainable Catchments and Basin-wide Solidarities; Transboundary Water Management of the Blue Nile River Basin; with IWMI, Addis Ababa and Khartoum Universities and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (NWO/WOTRO funded; 2008-2013).

Mau Mara Serengeti (MaMaSe) Sustainable Water Initiative; with  WWF Kenya, Kenya Water Resource Management Authority, Egerton University, Masai Mara University, Alterra, ITC, SNV, GIZ, Deltares

Upscaling small-scale land and water system innovations in dryland agro-ecosystems for sustainability and livelihood improvements; with University of Dar Es Salaam, Sokoine University of Agriculture, University of KwaZulu Natal, International Water Management Institute IWMI, Stockholm Resilience Centre and Delft University of Technology (UPaRF funded; 2009-2013); this is a sequel to the Smallholder System Innovations in Integrated Watershed Management project (SSI) (WOTRO, Sida and DGIS funded).

Mobile Water Monitoring in Mozambique - a cooperation project of ARA-Sul and Dutch partners; implemented with MobileCanalControl (lead) (Partners voor Water funded)

Power2Flow: Hydropower-to-environment water transfers in the Zambezi basin; in collaboration with Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique, WaterNet in Southern Africa and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (UPaRF funded; 2009-2013)

Water Planning tools to support Water Governance in Mozambique (WATPLAG) - a cooperation project of ARA-Centro and Dutch partners; implemented with FutureWater (lead) and Water Board Hunze and Aa’s (Partners voor Water funded) 

Water rights in informal rural economies in the Limpopo and Volta basins; led by IWMI; we are coordinating the Mozambique study (CP66; CGIAR Challenge Programme for Water and Food funded; 2008-2009). See

Managing risk, mitigating drought and improving water productivity in the water scarce Limpopo Basin; implemented by WaterNet (CP17; CGIAR Challenge Programme for Water and Food; 2004-2009); see the research page of

Risk-based operational water management for the Incomati River Basin (RISKOMAN); with Eduardo Mondlane University, Komati basin Water Authority KOBWA, University of Kwazulu-Natal (UPaRF funded; 2009-2014).

Recent and on-going capacity building projects

Developing Basin Plans for the Chambal and Sindh river basins - a Taylor-Made Training programme for the Water Resources Department of Madhya Pradesh, India (World Bank funded)

South Africa
Capacity Building for Integrated Water Resources Management in South Africa; with Cape Peninsula University of Technology and University of the Western Cape; implemented with Wageningen University (lead), ITC, IRC and Pegasys (Nuffic funded)

Capacity building in Integrated River Basin Management for Higher Education Institutions to support emerging River Basin Organisations; with Addis Ababa University, Wageningen University, MetaMeta and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Nuffic funded; 2009-2012). See

Anticipating and resolving flood issues, differences and disputes in the Lower Mekong Basin – a capacity building programme for the Mekong River Commission (MRC funded; 2008-2009)

Capacity Building for Sustainable Development of Water Resources and Environmental Sanitation in Ghana and the Sub-Region; with KNUST (Nuffic funded; 2005-2009)

Southern Africa
WaterNet - Human Capacity Building in IWRM (phases I, II and III; 1999-2016); see


Selected Journal Papers

  • Boakye-Ansah, A.S., G. Ferrero, M. Rusca and P. van der Zaag, 2016. Inequalities in microbial contamination of drinking water supplies in urban areas. The case of Lilongwe, Malawi. Journal of Water and Health [doi:10.2166/wh.2016.258]
  • Yalew, S.G., A. van Griensven and P. van der Zaag, 2016. AgriSuit: a web-based GIS-MCDA framework for agricultural land suitability assessment. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 128: 1-8 [doi:10.1016/j.compag.2016.08.008]
  • Yalew, S.G., M.L. Mul, A. van Griensven, E. Teferi, J. Priess, C. Schweitzer and P. van der Zaag, 2016. Land-use change modelling in the Upper Blue Nile Basin. Environments 3(3), 21 [doi:10.3390/environments3030021]
  • Abdullah, A.D., U.F.A. Karim, I. Masih, I. Popescu, P. van der Zaag, 2016. Anthropogenic and tidal influences on salinity levels and variability of the Shatt al-Arab River. International Journal of River Basin Management 14(3), 357-366 [doi:10.1080/15715124.2016.1193509]
  • Yalew, S.G., A van Griensven, M.L. Mul, P. van der Zaag, 2016. Land suitability analysis for agriculture in the Abbay basin using remote sensing, GIS and AHP techniques. Modeling Earth Systems and Environment 2(2), 1-4 [doi:10.1007/s40808-016-0167-x]
  • Tesfaye, A., R. Brouwer, P. van der Zaag and W. Negatu, 2016. Assessing the costs and benefits of improved land management practices in three watershed areas in Ethiopia. International Soil and Water Conservation Research 4, 20–29 [doi:10.1016/j.iswcr.2016.01.003]
  • Nyatsanza, F., S. Graas and P. van der Zaag, 2015. The impact of dynamic environmental flow releases on hydropower production in the Zambezi river basin. JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association 51(4), 1029-1042 [doi:10.1111/jawr.12280]
  • Kahsay, T.N., O. Kuik, R. Brouwer and P. van der Zaag, 2015. Estimation of the transboundary economic impacts of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam: a computable general equilibrium analysis. Water Resources and Economics 10, 14-30 [doi:10.1016/j.wre.2015.02.003]
  • Abdullah, A.D., I. Masih, P. van der Zaag, U.F.A. Karim, I. Popescu and Q. Al-Suhail, 2015. Shatt al Arab River system under escalating pressure: a preliminary exploration of the issues and options for mitigation. International Journal for River Basin Management 13(2), 215-227 [doi:10.1080/15715124.2015.1007870]
  • Saraiva Okello, A.M.L., I. Masih, S. Uhlenbrook, G. Jewitt, P. van der Zaag and E. Riddell, 2015. Drivers of spatial and temporal variability of streamflow in the Incomati River basin. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 19, 657–673 [doi:10.5194/hess-19-657-2015] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Van Eekelen M.W., W.G.M. Bastiaanssen, C. Jarmain, B. Jackson, F. Fereira, P. van der Zaag, A. Saraiva Okello, J. Bosch, P. Dyeh, E. Bastidas-Obando, R.J.J. Dost and W.M.J. Luxemburg, 2015. A novel approach to estimate direct and indirect water withdrawals from satellite measurements: A case study from the Incomati basin. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 200: 126–142 [doi:10.1016/j.agee.2014.10.023] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Fanaian, S., S. Graas, Y. Jiang and P. van der Zaag, 2015. An ecological economic assessment of flow regimes in a hydropower dominated river basin: The case of the lower Zambezi River, Mozambique. Science of the Total Environment 505: 464–473 [doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.10.033]
  • Plengsaeng, B., U. Wehn and P. van der Zaag, 2014. Data-sharing bottlenecks in transboundary integrated water resources management: a case study of the Mekong River Commission’s procedures for data sharing in the Thai context. Water International 39(7): 933-951 [doi:10.1080/02508060.2015.981783]
  • Sunday, R.K.M., I.Masih, M.Werner and P. van der Zaag, 2014. Streamflow forecasting for operational water management in the Incomati River Basin, Southern Africa. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 72–75: 1–12 [doi:10.1016/j.pce.2014.09.002]
  • Worku, F.F., M. Werner, N. Wright, P. van der Zaag and S. Demissie, 2014. Flow regime change in an endorheic basin in Southern Ethiopia. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 18, 3837-3853 [doi:10.5194/hess-18-3837-2014] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Muala, E., Y.A. Mohamed, Z. Duan and P. van der Zaag, 2014. Estimation of reservoir discharges from Lake Nasser and Roseires Reservoir in the Nile Basin using satellite altimetry and imagery data. Remote Sensing 6(8), 7522-7545 [doi:10.3390/rs6087522] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Kiptala, J.K., M.L. Mul, Y. Mohamed and P. van der Zaag, 2014. Modelling stream flow and quantifying blue water using modified STREAM model for a heterogeneous, highly utilized and data-scarce river basin in Africa. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 18, 2287–2303 [doi:10.5194/hess-10-18-2287-2014] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Tesfaye, A., W. Negatu, R. Brouwer and P. van der Zaag, 2014. Understanding soil conservation decision of farmers in the Gedeb watershed, Ethiopia. Land Degradation and Development 25(1), 71-79 [doi:10.1002/ldr.2187]
  • Savenije, H.H.G., A.Y. Hoekstra and P. van der Zaag, 2014. Evolving water science in the Anthropocene. In: M. Sivapalan, T.J. Troy, V. Srinivasan, A. Kleidon, D. Gerten, and A. Montanari (eds.), “Predictions under change: water, earth, and biota in the anthropocene.” Special issue. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 18, 319–332 [doi:10.5194/hess-18-319-2014] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Van Koppen, B., P. van der Zaag, E. Manzungu and B. Tapela, 2014. Roman water law in rural Africa: the unfinished business of colonial dispossession. Water International 39(1), 49-62 [doi:10.1080/02508060.2013.863636] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Gebremicael, T.G., Y.A. Mohamed, G.D. Betrie, P. van der Zaag, E. Teferi, 2013. Trend analysis of runoff and sediment fluxes of in the Upper Blue Nile Basin: a combined analysis of statistical tests, physically-based models, and landuse maps. Journal of Hydrology 482: 57-68 [doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2012.12.023]
  • Jonker, L., P. van der Zaag, B. Gumbo, J. Rockstrom, D. Love, H.H.G. Savenije, 2012. A regional and multi-faceted approach to postgraduate water education – the WaterNet experience in Southern Africa. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 16, 4225–4232 [doi:10.5194/hess-16-4225-2012] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Komakech, H.C., P. van der Zaag and B. van Koppen, 2012. The dynamics between water asymmetry, inequality and heterogeneity sustaining canal institutions in Makanya catchment, Tanzania. Water Policy 14(5): 800–820 [doi:10.2166/wp.2012.196].
  • Van der Zaag, P. and E. Rap, 2012. The pivotal role of canal operators in irrigation schemes: The case of the canalero. Irrigation and Drainage 61: 436–448 [doi:10.1002/ird.693].
  • Kemerink, J.S., R. Ahlers and P. van der Zaag, 2011. Contested water rights in post-apartheid South Africa: the struggle for water at catchment level. Water SA 37(4): 585-594 [doi:10.4314/wsa.v37i4.16] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Bossio, D., G. Jewitt and P. van der Zaag, 2011. Editorial - Smallholder system innovation for integrated watershed management in Sub-Saharan Africa. Agricultural Water Management 98 (11): 1683-1686 [doi:10.1016/j.agwat.2011.07.006]
  • Van der Zaag, P., 2010. Viewpoint – Water variability, soil nutrient heterogeneity and market volatility – Why sub-Saharan Africa’s Green Revolution will be location-specific and knowledge-intensive. Water Alternatives 3(1): 154-160. [Available online] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Gupta, J., and P. van der Zaag, 2009. The politics of water science: On unresolved water problems and biased research agendas. Global Environmental Politics 9(2): 14-24. [doi:10.1162/glep.2009.9.2.14]
  • Van der Zaag, P., 2009. Sharing knowledge for water sharing. Irrigation and Drainage 58: 177-187 [doi:10.1002/ird.494]
  • Verma, S., D.A. Kampman, P. van der Zaag and A.Y. Hoekstra, 2009. Going against the flow: A critical analysis of virtual water trade in the context of India’s National River Linking Program. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 34: 261-269 [doi:10.1016/j.pce.2008.05.002]
  • Van der Zaag, P., and J. Gupta, 2008. Scale issues in the governance of water storage projects. Water Resour. Res. 44, W10417 [doi:10.1029/2007WR006364]
  • Gupta, J., and P. van der Zaag, 2008. Interbasin water transfers and integrated water resources management: Where engineering, science and politics interlock. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth 33: 28-40 [doi:10.1016/j.pce.2007.04.003]
  • Van der Zaag, P., 2007. Asymmetry and equity in water resources management; critical governance issues for Southern Africa. Water Resources Management 21(12): 1993-2004. [doi:10.1007/s11269-006-9124-1]
  • Van der Zaag, P., I.M. Seyam and H.H.G. Savenije, 2002. Towards measurable criteria for the equitable sharing of international water resources. Water Policy 4(1): 19-32. [doi:10.1016/S1366-7017(02)00003-X]
  • Savenije, H.H.G., and P. van der Zaag, 2002. Water as an economic good and demand management; paradigms with pitfalls. Water International 27(1): 98-104.
  • Savenije, H.H.G., and P. van der Zaag, 2000. Conceptual framework for the management of shared river basins with special reference to the SADC and EU. Water Policy 2 (1-2): 9-45. [doi:10.1016/S1366-7017(99)00021-5]

Selected Book Chapters

  • Frerks, G., T. Dietz and P. van der Zaag, 2014. Conflict and cooperation on natural resources: justifying the CoCooN programme. In: M. Bavinck, L. Pellegrini and E. Mostert (eds.), Conflicts over Natural Resources in the Global South: Conceptual Approaches. CRC Press, New York; p.13-34 [available online] [OPEN ACCESS]
  • Khan, S. and P. van der Zaag, 2012. Allocating Water. Chapter 22 in the United Nations World Water Development Report 4: Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk. Paris, UNESCO; pp. 517-532. 
  • Salame, L., and P. van der Zaag, 2010. Enhanced knowledge and education systems for strengthening the capacity of transboundary water management. Chapter 12 in A. Earle, A. Jagerskog and J. Ojendal (eds.), Transboundary Water Management - Principles and Practice. Earthscan, London; pp. 171-186.
  • Van der Zaag, P., 2009. Southern Africa: Evolving regional water law and politics. Chapter 15 in: J.W. Dellapenna and J. Gupta (eds.), The Evolution of the Law and Politics of Water. Springer, Berlin; pp.245-261.
  • Merrey, D.J., R. Meinzen-Dick, P.P. Mollinga, E. Karar, W. Huppert, J. Rees, J. Vera, K. Vegerich and P. van der Zaag, 2007. Policy and institutional reform: the art of the possible. Chapter 5 in D. Molden (ed.), Water for Food, Water for Life: A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. London: Earthscan and Colombo: International Water Management Institute; pp. 193-231 []
  • Molle, F., P. Wester, P. Hirsch, J.R. Jensen, H. Murray-Rust, V. Paranjpye, S. Pollard and P. van der Zaag, 2007. River basin development and management. Chapter 16 in D. Molden (ed.), Water for Food, Water for Life: A Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture. London: Earthscan and Colombo: International Water Management Institute; pp. 585-624 []

PhD fellows

Recent PhD graduates

Current PhD fellows

  • Hermen Smit: Institutional analysis of water resources management in the Blue Nile river basin, Ethiopia and Sudan.
  • Jeremiah Kiptala: Managing interdependencies: understanding tradeoffs and synergies in the Pangani river basin.
  • Aline Saraiva: Risk-based operational water management for the Incomati River Basin (with Stefan Uhlenbrook).
  • Fikadu Fetene Worku: Integrated management of water resources and optimal reservoir release for energy, irrigation and ecosystem services - a case study of the Omo-Ghibe basin (with Nigel Wright, University of Leeds).
  • Tewodros Negash Kahsay: Sustainable development and management of the Nile River Basin; a general equilibrium modeling approach (with Roy Brouwer, IVM, VU Amsterdam).
  • Seleshi Getahun Yalew: Integrated Assessment of Land Use and Water Resources Management in the Upper Blue Nile River Basin.
  • Reem Fikri M.O. Digna: Optimal operation of the multi-reservoir system in the Eastern Nile basin considering water and sediment fluxes (with Stefan Uhlenbrook).
  • Ali Dinar Abdullah: Salinity changes in a tidal river for water management improvement in the Shatt al-Arab River, Iraq.
  • Tobias Renner: Transboundary river basin management (with Toine Smits, Radboud University).
  • Christiana Metzker Netto: Water knowledge creation in networks.
  • Max Linsen: Governance of large water infrastructure.
  • Christophe Muanda: Understanding the organisation of sanitation services in informal settlements of South Africa.
  • Fernanda de Souza Braga: The impact of the dictatorship period in managing conflicts over water use in Brazil and Chile
  • Tesfay Gebremicael: Modelling the impact of land use change and terracing on the hydrology of the Tekeze-Atbara  river, Nile river basin


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