We can take better care of water resources using data - expert

There is poor awareness and use of available and evolving geospatial data in Africa which could actually help to create the modernised management of water resources, according to Rose Alabaster, co-chair of the Group on Earth Observation Global Water Sustainability Initiative in Switzerland.

Alabaster, who was speaking at African Utility Week in Cape Town on Tuesday, said some of this useful data can be supplied to water policy makers and managers, by earth observation and analytical services.

"There has been immense pressure on fresh water resources and this has increased over the past 25 years," she said. "This demands better cooperation across the water sector."

More than 80% of water resources are used by agriculture and industries with household use coming in third place, Alabaster explained.

"The historical data available from the SA National Space Agency and even NASA can be used to model how much water is available in a region and can enable one to make predictions," she said.

"Decision making in water resources planning and management needs support and this can come from the improved use of earth observation data and associated analytical tools and services."

Alabaster would like to see more open data policies in Africa to assist in this process.

"The role of the private sector is to enhance the capacities within the African region - for instance, by investing in trans-boundary infrastructure," she suggested.

"The questions we need to ask is whether we are investing enough in water knowledge and accessing data about it and how we can link scientists and policy makers. We need to see how to harness information – for instance from satellite surveillance - and how to use it."

She said it is important to establish user needs and then to see what kinds of data would be needed in relation to it.

"The essential water cycle variables are currently being defined to base them on user needs and to be able to respond effectively. The private sector can play an enhancement role in this regard," Alabaster said.

"Areas to look at using data more effectively include accurate water quality data collection and analysis, the building of databases on water quality at local level, providing appropriate technology for water remediation - especially for small scale water systems, and capacity building for water quality treatment and monitoring."

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