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Improved data from satellite technology will enable users to solve a number of challenges facing Africa — including access to clean drinking water.

When you’re trying to solve a problem, it’s a good idea to look at it from every angle. Take a step back so you can see the entire picture and then zoom in on the real issues.

That’s why analysis of satellite imagery is so important when it comes to getting a new perspective on the many challenges facing Africa, including the population’s ready access — or lack of access — to quality water.

For instance, information from satellites can be used to show farmers how much irrigation they need to apply to their crops, or zero in on those areas in need of drinking water. That’s crucial in a continent where water is often a scarce resource, and where lack of clean drinking water can have such a devastating impact on public health.

As the World Health Organisation stresses, contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio.

Translating data into decision-ready information

Although Africa’s coastline and land surface has been imaged by satellites for decades, analysing the data that comes back isn’t always easy. Indeed, it’s often so large it’s difficult to compute.

But now, a new platform applicable to the entire African continent will change that. Geoscience Australia has partnered with the African and international community to develop the new platform, known as Digital Earth Africa, it will translate decades of satellite data into decision-ready open source information that can help African nations track changes across their continent in unprecedented detail.

Having this available for the entire continent will improve the lives of all Africans.

As a result, African farmers, managers, industry and governments will be able to use their land and water resources more sustainably and more productively.

The platform, which includes a tool called Water Observations from Space (WOfS), will also show how water resources have changed across the continent over the last three decades, and provide insight into how often water is expected to remain in any location.

This will give decision-makers a much better understanding of where water is permanent, intermittent or occurs rarely, boosting agricultural productivity and food security.

Quality water sources can be more easily identified, too, thus reducing cases of diarrhoea and improving health outcomes. And because everyone has access to the data, communities and individuals will be able to make more informed decisions and choices — not just governments.

Customised views and analysis for different users

“It’s a game-changer,” says Walter Panzirer, Trustee at The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, which has provided funding for the project. “This technology will provide us with actionable data on water and water resources, but it will also provide so much more: from conservation to human development, from urban planning to agriculture, from environmental concerns to environmental causes.”

“The potential gain from this tool is almost incomprehensible,” agrees Trista Kontz-Bartels, Program Director of The Helmsley Charitable Trust’s Vulnerable Children in Sub-Saharan Africa Program.

“Because we, and all users, will be able to customise the views and the analysis we want to look at, it has endless capability. Not just endless for us, but endless for governments, for NGOs, for philanthropy, for the private sector and even for the millions of smallholder farmers across Africa.”

Helping support sustainable development across Africa

What’s more, access to better, more easily understandable data should help the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals which were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015.

It will be directly relevant to Goals 2 (zero hunger), 6 (clean water and sanitation), 9 (industry, innovation and Infrastructure), 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land).

“This data will support the sustainable development of Africa, it will help every country in Africa move closer to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and it will better ensure water, food, environmental and disaster security for every citizen,” said Trista Kontz-Bartels. “Having this available for the entire continent will improve the lives of all Africans.”

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