FAO-EU partnership

Monitoring water holes from above

EU-funded project to help warn pastoralists before drought hits

15 December  2011, Nairobi – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is working with the University of Nairobi and the Texas A&M University to expand a monitoring program of water-levels in boreholes and water pans in order to help pastoralists protect themselves when drought hits.

The monitoring system, now in its fourth year, uses satellite images and remote sensing to show the trends in water levels,  the health and availability of pasture, how much rain has fallen and how much water has evaporated into the atmosphere.  

The EU/ECHO funded project, which also builds on research from the International Livestock Research Institute,  will be rolled out in Turkana County in north-west Kenya, one of the areas worse hit by the recent drought.

Cut price meteorology

 “The problem is, there are no meteorological stations in that area to gauge rainfall, so this will fill the gap in a highly cost-effective way,” said Joseph Matere, FAO Kenya’s Geographic Information Officer.

 “It will allow us to do projections of both forage and water situation at waterholes two, three months into the future, which will enable us to respond in a timely and appropriate way to avert losses of livestock.”

If the pastoralists know that water levels in one area are low, they can move their animals to areas that still have sufficient water and pastures. In cases of extreme drought, humanitarian actors will be alerted to intervene to offset a major crisis.

The information provided is in real time, using smart phones, which means once monitors report water levels from a particular site the information arrives immediately at the database monitoring centre. This means a response can be very fast.

Forewarned is forearmed

“The great thing about this monitoring system is that it allows us to link early warning and response – which as the recent drought showed – is a vital element that has been missing,” said Matere.

Forewarned is forearmed, and this early warning system will allow for pasture production, establishment of new water sources and other risk-reduction measures. The database also allows for the studying of drought trends and history which is useful in the fight against climate change.

“For a very long time we just relied on emergency food aid distributions once drought had hit because we don’t plan ahead for the availability of water and other resources of the pastoral communities in these areas,” said Laban Macopiyo, a range management expert at Nairobi University.

Plans to expand range

The project has been well received by the Government and local actors.

It builds on a project started four years ago by the University of Texas and the United States Geology Service in north-east Kenya and southern Ethiopia.

FAO plans to roll out satellite waterhole monitoring to other arid parts of Kenya as part of a four-year, five million Euro project financed by the European Union to increase drought resilience and preparedness in Kenya.

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