Intern profile: Elaine Donderer

Elaine Donderer is currently an intern at the Arava Institute’s Center for Transboundary Water Management, where she works with the Center’s Director Dr. Clive Lipchin on creating a metadatabase of environmental and social factors within Palestine that have an impact on current and future projects focused on the nexus of food, energy and water. She is doing this in conjunction with a Master’s thesis on harvesting stormwater she is currently completing through Tel Aviv University.

Originally from Germany, Elaine studied at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, graduating with a degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences. Her degree is unique in its holisticness, allowing Elaine to take a variety of classes: everything from political philosophy to environmental science. “I loved the self-taught, problem based learning style of the degree: when you began studying, you worked with an advisor to design your three years of classes to achieve an end goal.” 

During her undergrad program, Elaine had the chance to study abroad at the Earth Institute at Columbia University, which she credits with helping set her down her current path of environmental science. It was after this experience that she decided to pursue a Master’s in Disaster Management at Tel Aviv University. 

“For me, it was a case of ‘everything fits – so let’s just do it.’ There is no better place to understand the actual functioning of things, this degree is giving me the chance to build practical skills – through it I took search and rescue classes – while also being focused on pressing environmental issues.” 

At Tel Aviv University, Elaine met Dr. Clive Lipchin, and was drawn to the constructive, project-based focus of the Arava Institute. “I’m focused on projects that don’t just care about things in isolation. Bringing water to off-grid communities isn’t just a case of water management, it’s understanding how water access affects all areas of life, and how life has an effect on water. Water forces you to think in dynamic terms. Where does water go? Who is collecting it? How are they using it?”

This dynamism is something Elaine is keeping central in her mind while researching for her thesis, which is on the collection of stormwater. Stormwater is rainfall that has become accumulated runoff: when it has rained enough for the water not to be directly absorbed or evaporated back into the earth. Right now, Elaine is looking at ways to collect and distribute it more efficiently, and how doing so can make an impact for communities facing water scarcity. 

In addition to working on her thesis, Elaine is also helping Dr. Lipchin create a metadatabase using geospatial data on any and all information about Palestine that will assist with future off-grid technology projects. Understanding the interconnectedness of environmental problems – especially water – this data-hub is comprised of many factors: population, energy usage, water usage, agriculture, infrastructure, food and more social variables like school, housing and employment. 

Elaine is also working with another intern this semester, Mariam Abd El Hay, on her research on the environmental impacts of the current war in Gaza: In collaboration, they are writing and developing a joint article and online mapping product to support future efforts of rebuilding and interim humanitarian solutions. Elaine’s knowledge of water management and systems is proving to be invaluable in understanding this topic.  

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