International Hydrologic Initiative Supports Water Monitoring and Forecasting in Africa

Return to AWR Fall 2014

by Mary Ann Capehart, WRRC Graduate Outreach Assistant

Through an initiative founded by UNESCO’s International Center for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWaRM) and in collaboration with three African institutional partners, researchers at the University of Arizona (UA) are creating monitoring tools and forecasting applications using satellite precipitation measurements and numerical weather model results for three regions on the continent.

The collaboration began in West Africa with a partnership with the International Senegal Basin Authority (OMVS) located in Dakar, Senegal. With funding from the U.S. Geological Survey, the UA team engaged in a project that aimed at integrating existing water resources monitoring and forecasting efforts in West Africa in a meaningful and holistic manner. The project combined consolidating and validating recently developed multi-model remote sensing applications to provide 7-to-12-day streamflow forecasts in key pilot watersheds in the international Senegal basin with a number of efforts focusing on water resources monitoring.

The Senegal River basin is shared by Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Guinea and is the second-largest perennial water course in the Sahel and in West Africa. A detailed applied research agenda was developed to help improve management tools to cope with a basin characterized by highly variable flows primarily occurring during a four-month rainy season. As in other large African basins, water management must balance competing demands between irrigated agriculture, which is facilitated by the dams on the river, and a thousand-year-old traditional flood recession agriculture, which is disrupted by the dams, as well as the demand for hydropower, urban supplies and navigation.

A low density of rain gauges in the region, one rain gauge for roughly every 6,000 square kilometers, makes the use of satellite precipitation measurements and numerical weather models critical for this and other African monsoon-dominated basins. Responding to specific needs reported from the field, such as the lack of quantitative tools to estimate water availability at resolutions useful to decision-making, the UA-facilitated team is developing tailored applications to fill that gap. Using rainfall estimates from satellite observations and near-term weather forecasts as inputs to hydrologic rainfall-runoff models, streamflow forecasts will be made available for the management of the basin and reservoirs. This creates a valuable application that can be easily exported to other poorly gauged basins in Africa and around the world.

Cooperation has been initiated with a second ICIWaRM partner, the AGRHYMET Regional Center, a specialized institute of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), located in Niamey, Niger. This collaboration is under the direction of Juan B. Valdes and Aleix Serrat-Capdevila of the UA Department of Hydrology and Water Resources and has been funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The AGRHYMET represents nine member countries in the Sahel—a semi-arid region that extends from the Sahara desert on the north to the wetter regions of equatorial Africa on the south, and from the Atlantic on the west to the Indian Ocean on the east. AGRHYMET’s primary goals are achieving food security and increased agricultural production in the member states, and the improvement of natural resources management in the Sahelian region. The collaborators are committed to creating a network that pools each area’s knowledge and expertise in order to quickly share and disseminate workable solutions.

In a very similar collaboration, a third partner, the Climate Services Centre of the Southern African Development Community (SADC-CSC), located in Gaborone, Botswana, provides services and outreach products in weather/climate monitoring and prediction. Fifteen member states spanning the continent, south from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the nation of South Africa, are represented by the SADC-CSC. These states, as well as other regional and international institutions, will benefit from services and products designed to monitor and predict the extremes in climate events. Weather-and-climate-induced calamities constitute more than 80 percent of all natural disasters worldwide. SADC-CSC member states experience recurrent extreme climatic events such as floods, droughts and tropical cyclones, often resulting in negative impacts on their socio-economic development. Their populations are also susceptible to diseases such as cholera and malaria, which are influenced by climate factors. With input from academic partners like the UA, SADC-CSC’s commitment to disaster preparedness and health and water management programs should help mitigate the negative impacts of weather and climate on food security and sustainable socio-economic development in southern Africa.