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IWMI project enables fast access to petabytes of analysis-ready water data in Africa

  • IWMI project enables fast access to petabytes of analysis-ready water data in Africa
    Photo: Neil Palmer / IWMI

About the entity

International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is a non-profit, scientific research organization focusing on the sustainable use of water and land resources in developing countries. IWMI is the lead center for the CGIAR Research Program on Water


A new IWMI partnership with Digital Earth Africa (DEA) will leverage state of the art remote-sensing and data management technologies to enhance the ability of African Governments, communities and companies to better manage their water.

Water management is vital to Africa’s future, but limited water data makes it challenging. Earth observation satellites collect vast amounts of data over Africa every day, some of which can be used to measure and monitor water. The Digital Earth Africa partnership organizes decades of satellite data – updated daily – into an analysis-ready ‘Open Data Cube’, and IWMI will work with them to develop tools to translate this data into decision-ready information for water resource management.

This project, part of IWMI’s Water Secure Africa Initiative (WASA), is being generously funded by the The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

“Actionable information on water is essential for charting Africa’s pathway to a sustainable and prosperous future. But today, Africa is one of the most data-poor regions of the world. IWMI and our partners are working to change that. WASA has the potential to strengthen water security with both the data and the means to turn it into meaningful information for water managers, communities and farmers,” said Claudia Sadoff, Director General, IWMI.

“The Helmsley Charitable Trust is committed to increasing the resilience of rural African communities, and having the right information in the right hands at the right time is an essential part of achieving that goal,” said Walter Panzirer, a Trustee at the Helmsley Charitable Trust. “IWMI has an outstanding track-record of driving innovation in water solutions across the continent, and is well-positioned to create drought risk maps and forecasting tools, water quality assessments, and other specific user applications drawn from the Digital Earth Africa data cube. These will enhance planning and smart decisions at every level across the continent, and ultimately improve and even save lives.”

Through WASA, IWMI will work with the DEA Program to develop applications for the Open Data Cube (ODC) that can generate timely and quality information to better understand water use and availability, water risks, water quality, and water values and efficiency. These applications will be entirely open and free to use.

The ODC organizes data into an analysis ready format that significantly cuts processing time and therefore costs.

The first application that IWMI will develop is for water accounting, which is a means to take stock of available water resources in order to arrive at better informed water management decisions, for example balancing water allocations across different sectors, or understanding the downstream implications of new irrigation schemes. IWMI will also develop applications for flood and drought mapping and early warning systems.

Beyond developing its own applications and working with partners to develop others, IWMI will support an already growing data innovation community in Africa to develop water-related applications that would benefit their own countries, communities and businesses.

The project will leverage advanced data acquisition (earth and satellite observation) and processing technologies as well as emergent technologies such as Internet of things (IoT) and machine learning to create demand driven knowledge applications and tools that deliver readily usable information to a wide range of users including policy makers, communities and farmers.

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