Stu Hamilton (Author, Hydrology Corner Blog) posing with Agasha, a silverback mountain gorilla, in Rwanda.
The African continent is characterized by diverse geographic features, climates, and cultures but a common denominator is that African nations are working hard to improve social stability, economic security, public health, and environmental sustainability. Solutions emerging from various political adventures seem to be evolving toward a mix of governance approaches sourced from the west (based on an ideal of democratic capitalism) and those sourced from the east (based on an ideal of progressive socialism). A culturally appropriate public service can now be seen to be emerging after decades of colonial rule, post-colonial turmoil and austerity imposed by structural adjustment programs.
The legacy of problems that these public servants have inherited are daunting.
Without concerted efforts by national governments and development partners, some of these problems will persist for decades. Water is an essential element linking social stability, economic security, public health, and environmental sustainability, hence water management isn’t a problem that can be deferred.
Effective water policies are needed to guide water supply and water use decisions that will create a better future for Africans. Africa is a continent with 52 countries sharing water sourced primarily from 4 major river basins. As a shared resource, water management in any one jurisdiction is subject to negotiated agreements with other stakeholders in the basin.
The lack of trusted, reliable, and accessible water quantity and quality data is a barrier to progress for any of the many choices that African nations need to make about their shared water resources.
Water monitoring in Africa is a challenging and under-resourced undertaking. In light of the of competition for funding with respect to urgent needs for basic infrastructure, education, and public health, the meagre budgets for water monitoring are understandable. Available water monitoring resources are directed to basic field work, leaving little for water data management.
In the absence of knowledge of the actual quantity and quality of water, decisions about water are inevitably deferred for lack of confidence that desired effects are achievable. Decisions delayed are opportunities denied. Modern water data management solutions can reveal existing water data assets while ensuring reliable and timely access to new data as it is generated. Water data that is made ready for consumption will feed the latent appetite that exists in each major African river basin and enable many opportunities for improving the allocation, regulation, and strategic development of water to finally be realized.
However, for water data management to be valuable it must also be sustainable. Stakeholders need confidence not only in the data but in the system that provides the data. They need confidence that past, present, and future data will be continuously available in perpetuity. This security must be provided in the context of challenging operational conditions (e.g., where field offices may lack 24/7 IT support, reliable power, high bandwidth internet, climate controlled server rooms, or sustainable budgets for systems operation and maintenance).
A sophisticated water data management system is needed to get the most value out of the data investment.
The path that will lead from improved water data management to improved social, public health, environmental, and economic success is far more direct than in almost any other region of the world. Aquatic Informatics is inspired by the opportunities being created by hydrologists and hydrographers in Africa and is actively learning from their experiences to better deliver sustainable water data management in Africa.
You understand the value of water monitoring but need additional, sustainable funding. Know that you are not alone. The gap between water monitoring capability and the rapidly evolving need for evidence-based policies, planning, and engineering design is growing. Learn how to form persuasive arguments that are sensitive to local politics and priorities to address this global deficit in funding. The benefits of hydrological information DO vastly outweigh investments in water monitoring.