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NASA Water Information System Platform (WISP) for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region


The proposed program development objective is to improve water resources and agricultural management and planning within and across beneficiary countries based on quantitative and spatial-based decision making tools.


The scarcity of freshwater in most countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is an increasingly acute problem, particularly as populations grow, rapid urbanization continues and the pressure to shift water from agriculture (which consumes over 84% of the region’s water resources on average) to domestic and industrial uses increases. Fourteen of twenty MENA nations are classified as being in water deficit, defined as less than 500 m3 of renewable water supply per capita per year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change further reports an expected precipitation decrease over the next century by over 20% for large parts of the MENA region, a likely increase in the frequency and severity of droughts and a reduction in groundwater recharge rates.

Furthermore, over 60% of the MENA region’s water supply flows across international borders which further engenders political tensions between communities, stakeholders and countries and therefore necessitates equitable appropriation of available water among riparians. This underlines the need for regional cooperation in the Arab world’s water resource management.

Quantitative measurements of the location, availability, quality and current/future uses of local and regional water resources are critical for sound decision making and management. To date however, the high cost of in-situ data collection and analysis, the lack of data management systems and the non-standardized methods and protocols for data collection, management and validation across MENA have obstructed the development and effective use of reliable local and regional water information systems.

Modern advances in technology (including geographic information systems, data assimilation, and modeling techniques among others) and space based remote sensing techniques now enable the routine collection of accurate water data. Data collected in this manner can provide measurements over areas where no data have otherwise been available and at greatly reduced costs as compared to traditional methods. Such data can also easily be turned into valuable information through maps and graphs that allow stakeholders and water managers to make better, more informed decisions for water management and planning.

Water data collection has traditionally been made through in situ (i.e. in place) measurements of the major fluxes and storages (rain, stream flow, groundwater, snow, reservoir capacity etc). In many MENA countries however, in-situ datasets tend to be unreliable or incomplete due to the cost of collection, temporal and spatial variability. Stakeholders in the water, agriculture, planning and other sectors thus have limited access to reliable real-time information on important issues including water availability, evapotranspiration, agricultural water consumption and the impact of climate change on water resources.

A number of Water Information System Platform (WISP) tools have been developed by commercial entities, academic centers and institutions1 and are able to significantly enhance the frequency, relevance, consistency and application of water data collection. WISP tools, which include remote sensing equipment (such as satellite receiving stations, digital map analysis software and others), land surface models and land data assimilation systems, can operate without relying on ground based data and thus are not limited by human and technical resources, geographic constraints and political boundaries. Ground based data that does exist should be used to validate the remotely-sensed data and will improve the results. The validation step is critical to convince users that the data produced by the tools can be used with a high degree of confidence.

These tools have been successfully used across the United States, parts of Africa and South America in drought and flood management, groundwater flux and evapotranspiration mapping, and in monitoring the impacts of climate change on hydrological environments. Specifically, WISP tools enable: (i) significant improvements in water managers’ ability to monitor changes in water availability, including surface and groundwater storage, river runoff, and related land use changes retrospectively and in near real-time; (ii) improved prediction of regional hydrological impacts of climate change scenarios; and (iii) the creation of a forum for cooperation and data sharing among nations including coordinated management of transboundary water resources, estimation of recharge rates of oversubscribed shared aquifers, and optimization of the response to droughts and floods among other advantages.

Under this project, various WISP tools will be transferred to and implemented in each of the remote sensing agencies and/or water ministries of Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco. The CRTEAN, an international organization headquartered in Tunisia2 with the mandate to further the use of remote sensing across North African States, has furthermore partnered with the Tunisian Ministry of Agriculture and Hydraulic Resources, the Algerian National Agency for Hydraulic Resources and Tunisian National Center for Remote Sensing, and will apply regional WISP tools (such as NASA’s GRACE Satellite outputs) to assess regional water resources management issues on shared regional aquifers.

The WISP toolbox and associated technical assistance to each implementing agency will be custom configured to optimize local capacity in addressing high priority water resource needs. WISP tools will also be tailored to adapt to existing remote sensing infrastructure and staff capacities within each implementing agency to ensure complementarity to existing systems and sustainability in the long term.

To catalyze the regional dissemination of water data and enhance international communication and cooperation among implementing agencies and stakeholder ministries, the Arab Water Council, through its project grant, will: (i) finance regional dissemination workshops among implementing agencies; (ii) publish yearly summary reports on the impact of climate change on regional water resources; and (iii) liaise between the implementing agencies and international and regional experts in remote sensing and associated fields. The Arab Water Council, an established partner of the Arab League’s Ministerial Council for Water and other regional institutions across MENA and a regional non-profit organization operating under its constitution effective December 17, 2009 and its by-laws and presidential decision number 157 dated 2009 of the Arab Republic of Egypt, will play an important role in enabling effective cooperation among regional partners and in ensuring that regional opportunities for improved water resources management are effectively captured, documented and communicated to regional stakeholders.

Project Components

Component 1: Improved Local Water Resources and Agricultural Management

1. Component 1 will comprise: (a) the purchase, installation and validation of various WISP tools and other ancillary equipment to remote sensing centers and stakeholder agencies and institutions in each of Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco and the CRTEAN and its partners; and (b) application of WISP tools to pertinent research issues in local and regional water resources, agricultural, and environmental management. Ancillary equipment includes computers, printers, scanners, applicable software, weather stations, other pertinent in situ measurements of the water balance and short time intensive field data collection programs and equipment required for the full functioning of the WISP tools. Local applications priorities, described in detail in Annex II, include identification of drought and flood prone areas, estimation of groundwater fluxes, estimation of evapotranspiration, monitoring climate change impacts, and crop yield estimates to inform agriculture and irrigation management decisions.

Component 2: Capacity Building and Project Management

2. Component 2 will comprise: (a) capacity building (workshops and consultants) to implement WISP tools; (b) local workshops to share results with local stakeholders; (c) participation in international conferences and study tours on environmental remote sensing; (d) funding graduate fellowships; (e) development of an online national portal to share data across stakeholder institutions; and (f) project management of the Grant.

APL1 covers activities under Components 1 and 2 for each of Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco and CRTEAN. APL2 will cover the same activities under Components 1 and 2 for Egypt.

Component 3: Regional Integration and Cooperation

3. Component 3 will comprise: (a) organization of quarterly workshops to share results with regional stakeholders; (b) development of an online regional portal to share regional results; (c) generation of once-yearly regional report on applications of regional significance. These applications are expected to include estimating the recharge rates of regional oversubscribed shared aquifers, optimizing the response to droughts and floods on a regional scale, and encouraging a more coordinated approach to management of transboundary water resources among others.

1 Examples include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), US Department of Agriculture, University of Wisconsin-Madison and others.

2 The CRTEAN was established as an international organization pursuant to the October 6, 1990 constitutive act by five North African states of People's Democratic Republic of Algeria, Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Kingdom of Morocco, Islamic Republic of Mauritania and Republic of Tunisia.