International UNESCO Training Course Examines Satellite Remote Sensing for Water Resources Management

An eight-day international training course on the application of satellite remote sensing and earth observation to support water resources management was hosted in Pietermaritzburg by UKZN’s Centre for Water Resources Research (CWRR), the Institute of Natural Resources (INR) and the University of West England (UWE).

The course was developed by UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IHP) through its Enhancing Climate Services for Improved Water Management (CliMWaR) programme for Africa and Latin America launched in 2018.

Around 35 participants from a variety of institutions and African countries attended, with 20 participants receiving sponsorship to be at the gathering. Delegates included professionals, water resource managers and staff from government agencies and other organisation.

Programme topics included an introduction to remote sensing, instruction on Digital Elevation Models (DEM) and hydrological analysis, land cover change analysis, multispectral indices, satellite precipitation estimation and introduction to networks and systems for integrated system for global real-time satellite precipitation observation.

Representatives from the Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO) introduced an Agriculture Stress Index System while the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) floated the Water Productivity Open-access portal (WaPOR).

Other topics covered included soil moisture remote sensing, the African Flood and Drought Monitor, water balance applications and drought and flood analyses. Participants had the opportunity to work together on presentations based on the material taught, with a day in the programme involving a field trip around a site of hydrological importance in KwaZulu-Natal.

Training was delivered by Dr Koen Verbist of UNESCO-IHP; Dr Nevil Quinn, Mr Harry West and Mr Michael Horswell of UWE; Dr Phu Nguyen of the University of California Irvine, Professor Justin Sheffield of the University of Southampton and Mr Vojislav Mitrovic of Princeton Climate Analytics.

Mr Roel van Hoolst and Dr Laurent Tits of VITO conducted training on WaPOR. Tits explained that the recently launched portal measuring water productivity over Africa would assist in the monitoring of water resources to meet development goals, and said it would make water accounting and reporting simpler for those using it.

Verbist said the course aligned with the UNESCO-IHP mandate to support its members in increasing capacity in water resources management; particularly in addressing flood and drought management proactively through strengthening monitoring systems and implementing early warning systems in Africa.

The need for this kind of training in the African region was evident by the demand for the course, with 600 applications received for the limited space available. The practical content, which is designed for application, was recorded and disseminated online, with organisers exploring new ways to deliver the training.

Verbist added that the enhanced climate services were based on information from and interaction with stakeholders to ensure relevance, with the hope that trainees would connect beyond the course and build on case studies to deliver on impacts.

Other collaborators on the course included the FAO, WaterNet, the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) and the state of Flanders in Belgium.

UNESCO-IHP has maintained a long-standing relationship with UKZN where the establishment of a Category 2 water-related centre is in progress.

Ms Tinisha Chetty, the academic co-ordinator of the Hydrology Programme at UKZN, who is pursuing her PhD studies in the use of satellite remote sensing for water resources management with a specific focus on rainfall, ET and soil moisture, was the UKZN-CWRR organiser of the course.

Chetty explained the importance of this type of research and its impacts on the future of water resources management in South Africa, where water resources researchers and practitioners were still lagging behind in embracing the potential of satellite derived datasets for forcing variables of the water cycle.

CWRR post-doctoral student Dr Shaeden Gokool, and PhD candidate Ms Maqsooda Mahomed rounded off the course with presentations of local case studies.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod  (UKZN NdabaOnline)