Biodata of a World Traveler

Meet Member Caspar Lambrechtsen

In the first year of world war II, I saw the light of day in a village near the city of Nijmegen in The Netherlands.  This city, that received its city rights in the year 104, was the last one to be liberated in 1944 under operation market garden (A bridge too far) that spared my family the hardships of the hunger winter that plagued Holland north of the rivers.

After the end of WWII in April 1945, it became time to start schooling, culminating in a diploma in tropical and sub-tropical agriculture from the college in Deventer in 1961, and immigration with a six week boat travel to New Zealand followed in 1962 to work in the Department of Agriculture. (DoA)

New Zealand and Australia Experience  –  1962 – 1980

Many eventful things happened in New Zealand.  With a family history in civil engineering going back many generations, working in the DoA did not quite fit the bill and I took a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Canterbury, completing that in 1967 and started working with consulting engineers.  In the meantime, however fate intervened by bringing me together with my future Australian wife whom I have been married to these past 57 years and who accompanied me on many of the adventures.  Of course, it was not just a two-some but three sons were welcomed into the family over a span of four years.

First arriving in NZ meant actually stepping back in time some 15 years, and with the rather limited job opportunities we moved to Australia to work with consulting firms in Townsville and Melbourne from 1968 – 1980.  Many interesting projects were carried out, because in those days when there was a lot of infrastructure work to be carried out and few engineers available one had to find out how to do things very quickly, and this was the time before computers and the internet.  Calculations were carried out with slide rules and logarithmic tables!!

Having gained substantial experience in those days, working in Indonesia was being considered and a brief visit was made to home in Holland.  This ultimately led to the decision to return with the family to Holland in 1980.

Working in Developing countries  –  1985 – 2020 

Settling in Holland was a major challenge particularly for my wife and sons who had never spoken a word of Dutch and thus had to learn a new language as well as attending high school for the boys.  They met the challenges head on and passed with flying colors.

The first project overseas was started in Quetta, Pakistan with a 6 years assignment to improve the sanitary provisions in the town of 250,000 people, after a brief input in a tannery project in Bangladesh.  The climate in Quetta is desert like and the city and all agriculture activities relied on ground water for their water supply that was dropping at around 4 feet per year!!  The tanneries in Bangladesh are serious environmental polluters with conditions that would turn sensitive stomachs.

The project in Pakistan was completed on time and it provided ample experience to gain an insight into different cultures and their sets of values that have to be respected.  The thought should always be in the back of one’s mind: “How would I react if the situations were reversed”?

After Pakistan further infrastructure projects in Bangladesh followed initially for 6 years and then other projects on and off over a period of a total of 10 years.  Bangladesh is roughly the same size as Wyoming, but now it has 160 million people.  Being situated in the delta of the major Himalayan rivers of the Brahmaputra and the Ganges, large areas of the country see serious flooding in September / October when the snowmelt reaches its peak.  The whole coast has serious problems with rising sea levels that cause saltwater intrusion into the groundwater and permanent flooding of low-lying areas, land is literally disappearing before your eyes.  

Development projects are supported for 80% by international development banks as the country is too poor, with many workers earning $1.00 or less per day.  Many of the projects focused on improving the water supply and sanitation is district towns and the capital Dhaka city, with a population of 16 million and a falling groundwater table at a rate of 6 feet per year, making it harder to keep water supplied to the people.  

Infrastructure projects in Vietnam followed with the drainage and sanitation systems in Vinh City that is situated about 10 feet above sea level prosing a challenge for the design team.  Flooding during heavy rains was a normal occurrence and in fact the entire 1000 mile coastline that is home to many people will experience the impact of rising sea-levels.  One of the unique experiences was travelling by train to Hanoi city to watch the miles and miles of rice fields and to realize that all those single rice plants were planted by hand!

The last major project was in the Kyrgyz Republic to protect the environmental beauty of the high altitude (+ 5,000 feet) of Lake Issyk-Kul.  This lake stretches for 110 miles and has maximum width of 37 miles.  It is an endorheic lake, it has no outflow, so all pollutants flowing into it accumulate over time and it is therefore of utmost importance to ensure that all effluents are treated before discharging to the lake.  The final support services were provided in October 2020.  

Lessons learned

First and foremost, one needs the support of ones’ family and having my supportive wife with me on most of these endeavors has made it possible to be able to complete the assigned projects well.  The contacts with national and international staff on these projects has broadened one’s horizon and makes one realize how vulnerable this planet is.  

It was through the interaction with a US international specialist working on a project in Bangladesh that we finally landed in Central Point in 2004 and established our base here.

The publication of the “Inconvenient Truth” in 2006 put a lot of things into context and with the data now being available on the internet, it is possible to carry out detailed analysis, all of which point in one direction, too much talk and not enough action or plans that are being adhered to leaving a planet on fire for the next generations to deal with.  The problem is that when I grew up there were 2.5 billion people on this earth and by 2080 it is projected that 10.8 billion will share the same space. 

The generations now cannot imagine a world without the internet, it is the new “normal”, however the level of social awareness and consideration has not improved.

Let us hope that the Climate conference in Glasgow in November 2021 will create an understanding that we would only succeed in dealing with the problems through a vast international, cooperative effort.