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Improving Earth observations for African river basins

The transboundary Niger river basinA GEO-UNESCO Joint Workshop on Earth Observations and Capacity Development for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) for River Basins in Africa was held at the Nairobi offices of the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization from 12-14 January. It served as a follow-up to the 2nd Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) African Water Cycle Symposium (Addis Ababa, 2011), which recognized the commonality and regionality of water-related issues and socio-economic impacts caused by water-related disasters in Africa.

Workshop participants concluded that the African Water Cycle Coordination Initiative (AfWCCI) should focus its initial efforts on working with river basin organizations, with the specific aim of enhancing current capacity through improved data collection, analysis, integration, and sharing among the nations comprising the river basins. They agreed to rely on the GEO framework for developing the political consensus needed to effectively coordinate the transboundary aspects of the chosen river basins.

A series of keynote presentations as well as reports from river basin authorities illustrated the water-related needs and challenges facing Africa, and how GEOSS can serve as a framework for delivering observations, services, data integration and capacity building in support of informed decision-making to respond to these challenges. Key issues related to the needs and challenges facing Africa with respect to river basin management may be summarized as follows:

  • lack of access to data and data sharing;
  • lack of infrastructure for collecting and analyzing data;
  • lack of funding for maintenance and upgrade of infrastructure;
  • need for capacity building, enhancement of capabilities, and retention of expertise;
  • political buy-in and role of national government (critical for success of any initiative);
  • trust building and increased visibility (promotion of awareness of shared responsibility);
  • water use and conservation:
    • changes and variability of hydrological regimes and fresh water availability
    • water pollution (particularly point-source)
    • increasing evapotranspiration
    • excessive siltation
    • groundwater depletion and salinization
    • invasive species (aquatic weeds)
  • formalizing the generation and exchange of information between member states using the GEO Data Sharing Principles;
  • data and models to enforce charters and agreements;
  • socio-economic changes (pressures from population displacement from famine, war);
  • response to poverty: how to share benefits and coordinate approaches to infrastructure development (as opposed to individualistic/nationalistic objectives);
  • inadequate sanitation and waste-water infrastructure;
  • weak capacity of national water management institutions;
  • need to synchronize basin-level agreements with national objectives;
  • food security;
  • promote broad-based stakeholder participation;
  • aquifer depletion and artificial recharge; and
  • management for hydro-electric power production.

The workshop discussions produced the following recommendations:

  1. Observation capacity: Data products should be derived from in-situ, satellite, and data assimilation systems and the integrative functions that bring these datasets together. Tools and contributing systems include data requirement spread sheets and distributed (CEOS Water Portal, GEOWOW) and centralized (DIAS) data archiving.
  2. Data archiving and dissemination capacities: The functions of quality control, meta-data registration and common formatting are necessary to realize the benefits from observation. The experiences of the University of Tokyo’s DIAS will serve as a basis for these archival approaches. Other systems are available, such as SERVIR, and will also contribute to these goals.
  3. Modeling capacity: A range of modeling capabilities are needed for determining land-atmosphere interaction, water flow, water quality, vegetation, and data assimilation. These models will be developed in conjunction with the GEWEX community and with academia more generally.
  4. Prediction capacity: Prediction models and enhanced observational networks are needed to enhanced flood and drought prediction and warning systems.
  5. Assessment capabilities for climate change and land use impacts In order to implement a climate change and land use impacts assessment function, it will be necessary to provide ways of selecting the appropriate choice of climate model, applying bias correction and downscaling techniques, and interpreting the results in terms of water security and water-energy-food nexus interactions.
  6. Management capacity: Methodologies will be developed to interpret the results of the assessments and predictions in terms of recommended management options through a range of management tools, including optimization schemes, reservoir operation decision support models, and evacuation recommendations and instructions.
  7. Capacity Building Coordination: Capacity Building is a major activity throughout the world. Africa would benefit greatly from capacity building developed along the lines of either special centers to support capacity building or university consortia.
  8. Data Policy: The planning for these activities would be done in a way that would adhere to GEO principles, including the GEOSS Data Sharing Principles.