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DRIP is Helping to Prevent Worst Drought Impacts in Africa

The Drought Resilience Impact Platform (DRIP) helps prevent the worst drought impacts on Ethiopia and Kenya’s local communities. It monitors the water supplies of three million people via sensors installed on groundwater pumps across hundreds of sites in both countries. The sensors alert the DRIP network if a pump is failing or needs routine maintenance.

“By forecasting water demand, we can support water system operations to ensure that water access is secure during drought periods and costly emergencies are prevented”, Evan Thomas, DRIP Lead, said. He’s also director of the Mortenson Center in Global Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a former NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) engineer.

Thomas is part of the Applied Sciences team that supports SERVIR, a joint initiative of NASA, USAID, and leading technical organisations worldwide. SERVIR develops innovative solutions to improve livelihoods and foster self-reliance in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

“This work is highly innovative and a great example of how satellite data can have a real-world impact to help with people’s lives and livelihoods in places like East Africa” Dan Irwin, SERVIR’s global programme manager at NASA, said. “Our vision is to connect the vantage point of space to life at ground level, and DRIP is doing just that”.

Several USAID (United States Agency for International Development) programmes) funded DRIP. Its partners include the Millennium Water Alliance (MWA), an international water security nonprofit organisation. The MWA brings together governments, private sector companies and aid organisations to increase safe drinking water access and sanitation capacity in communities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Thomas and his team are incorporating NASA satellite data to identify potential drought conditions. DRIP partners then use that data to advise decision-makers on where to take action—such as fixing a groundwater pump—before the situation becomes dire.

The DRIP team has developed models for groundwater demand using NASA Earth observations like rainfall and surface water—including data from satellite missions that use gravity to measure changes in water amounts at Earth’s surface.

One planned user of the DRIP system is the USAID and NASA-supported Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET). FEWS NET works with scientists, government ministries and international agencies to track and identify potential food insecurity. The Network is hoping to use DRIP platform to inform public reports on conditions in the world most food-insecure countries.

In Ethiopia, for instance, FEWS NET may be able to incorporate DRIP’s real-time data on the functionality of water pumps vital to local communities’ ability to access groundwater. That means, in times of drought, FEWS NET could determine which areas able to compensate for that scarcity of rainfall by tapping into groundwater supplies.

In the coming years, FEWS NET, in collaboration with Thomas and the DRIP team, plans to integrate the data collected through this project into food security forecasts for East Africa.

One of the tasks of the RCMRD (Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development), which serves as the SERVIR hub for Eastern and Southern Africa, is to get DRIP’s analysis into the hands of local water resource managers and other in Africa and the MWA.

Thomas’ team collaborates with both MWA and RCMRD to use DRIP information to predict groundwater demand and work with national and local government agencies, such as Kenya National Drought Management Authority, to use the data to help prevent drought emergencies.

“DRIP is a very useful tool for us”, Denis Macharia, weather and climate lead for RCMRD, said. “As a regional service provider, RCMRD leverages partnerships that help us serve our communities with the best information for decisions that affect their daily activities”.

In 2021, the DRIP team hopes to further broaden this advanced water access monitoring across the regions of Ethiopia and Kenya, Thomas said, adding that they will be expanding even to sites that don’t have on-the-ground sensors. “As climate change increases water stress on people, agriculture and livestock, we hope to help end drought emergencies by ensuring that local, national and international stakeholders can help make sure that water is available year-round”.

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