Cycling Dutchmen Mark World Water Day in Nicaragua

March 22, 2011


Dutch cyclists Michiel Roodenburg and Joost Notenboom.

  • Two Dutch cyclists’ set out on a marathon journey to raise awareness about water challenges.
  • Cycling through Nicaragua, they visited two World Bank-funded project and saw communities take ownership of the projects.
  • Their ride is symbolized by the bottle of water they drew from the Beaufort Sea in Alaska and which they plan to empty at the other end of the road in Argentina.

They are causing a stir in Latin America, attracting curious onlookers and media. Joost Notenboom and Michiel Roodenburg, two Dutch cyclists, are embarked on an adventure with a purpose. They are riding their bikes from Alaska to Argentina to raise awareness of the need for action on the global water crisis.

They stopped cycling this month to visit two water projects financed by the World Bank in Nicaragua. One was in the country’s capital, Managua, and the other in the rural community of Tecuaname, near León.

In Managua, a crowd turned out to greet them, as Nelson Medina, Coordinator of the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) in Nicaragua, explained to them that the project, financed with a $40-million grant from the International Development Association (IDA), will bring clean water and sanitation services to the city’s low-income barrios.

In Tecuaname, a village on the Central American country’s hot Pacific coastal plain, another $20-million Bank-financed (IDA) rural water supply and sanitation project will bring clean drinking water and sanitation to more than 45,000 people. Upon visiting it, Michiel sensed “excitement” in the community.

“People there have organized themselves into committees to facilitate the upcoming project, and the engineers brief them on progress,” Michiel said. “It's really great to see an example where multi-level governance of natural resources works, where a big institution like the World Bank can work together with local communities and allow them to take ownership of their own success.”

" You can really see that water is a basic, deeply human issue that touches the lives of people directly. "

Joost Notenboom

Cyclist, activist

Community water committee member Luís Reyes Hernández told the cyclists that, “the people here are very motivated to help create a better future for ourselves.”

“It is very important for all of us to seize this opportunity,” added William Ordoñez Chévez, another Tecuaname resident. “Our children won’t have to drink contaminated water anymore, it will be drinkable water, safe water, healthy water.”

The two cyclists are halfway through their 18-month journey, and their goal of raising awareness of the water and sanitation crises is bearing fruit. They’ll be interviewed by CNN for the third time on World Water Day, March 22, and they post stories, photos and videos of their journey on their website.

The cycling Dutchmen are becoming a phenomenon, as they ride the Pan-American highway on their custom-made bicycles made of bamboo. Their journey is symbolized by the bottle of water they drew from the Beaufort Sea in Alaska, from which they set off last July, and which they plan to empty at the other end of the road in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Lack of access to water and sanitation is a silent killer in Nicaragua, and in many countries,” said the World Bank’s Nelson Medina. “These two young men are doing an important job by raising its profile, because solutions come from action, and action starts with awareness."

Joost, 28, and Michiel, 26, graduates from Holland’s Erasmus University, were inspired by witnessing the impact of water scarcity while travelling in the Middle East, where they met.

Joost, a cycling enthusiast since he was a boy, did his thesis on trans-boundary water conflict, while Michiel wanted an adventure with a goal, inspired by Goethe’s appeal: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it—for boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

What has he learned from the arduous trip so far? “We have visited several water projects throughout Latin America now,” Joost said. “You can really see that water is a basic, deeply human issue that touches the lives of people directly.”

A teenage girl in the community of Padre Fabretto in the San Isidro de Bolas barrio in Managua told them that before the project’s implementation, “the latrines were dirty, there was no way to wash your hands, no water to cook or clean the kitchen, and the water tank was only filled twice a week forcing kids to bring drinking water from home. Now everything is kept spotless and there is even a new vegetable garden, which will soon be watered by water re-used from the kitchen. We learn in school that water is a precious resource and should not be wasted, and we share this message with our neighbors and families.”

The World Bank Group approved a total of $5.7 billion in financing for water projects last year, making it the largest external source of financing for water management in developing countries. This support, over two-thirds of which is for water supply and sanitation, reaches more than 60 million people a year.