17 March, 2020

Bridging the gap between technology and policy to tackle water scarcity

The human population has more than doubled in the last 50 years, causing the demand for water to mount and the pressure on finite water resources to intensify. This was at the forefront of Iman Tantawy’s research, a former intern at the Water division of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

We recently sat down with Iman to find out more about her #GEEImpact story and how she is tackling one of the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges, water scarcity, using Google Earth Engine.

Iman, can you tell us about your project and the challenge you were trying to overcome?

The focus of my internship was to research and quantify how Earth Observation (EO) data can be used to improve policymaking in the water and agricultural sector. In joint collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the Dutch Government funded the open-access data portal, WaPOR, that enables real-time monitoring of efficient water use in agriculture. 

I was responsible for the integration of the portal that assists and provides policymakers with information to improve their current water management practices. By using Google Earth Engine, I was able to develop a case study where I quantified water usage for irrigation purposes, as well as water use efficiency in agriculture. Both are linked to indicators used to track progress on Sustainable Development Goal 6.4, which addresses water scarcity.

How is your project addressing this challenge?

Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) 2 and 6 show that water and food security has been set to a high priority on the global agenda. However, achieving these goals cannot be done without understanding the interlinkages between the sectors. 

As water resources become more stretched, the food sector's dependence on water will require improved and efficient water resource management as part of their policy and practice. With EO data, better insights can be acquired.

How has the challenge impacted you or your organisation?

To a certain extent, I was able to bridge a gap between the policy world and the technology world by showing the possibilities of informed policymaking using data science.

How did Google Earth Engine help you achieve your project-related goals?

Due to the large spatial scope of the case study combined with the high data resolution required, computation on a laptop proved to be insufficient.

Furthermore, the variations in characteristics of the data with regards to data type, resolution and region of interest was hard to work with; datasets had to be preprocessed extensively before being able to use the data for actual analysis.

Google Earth Engine provided a solution to these challenges. It is a platform made specifically for scientific analysis and visualisation of geospatial datasets at petabyte scales, and preprocessing was not necessary anymore.



EO Data Science has partnered with Google Earth and the Group on Earth Observations to launch the GEO-Google Earth Engine Program which supports GEO member countries by helping to operationalise their science as they strive to tackle the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges. 

The program provides dedicated Google Earth Engine licensing for two years for up to 25 projects worth USD $3 million, along with dedicated support and outreach services to help implement earth observations. Read more here about this fantastic initiative and how to apply before the March 31st, 2020 deadline. 

Do you have a #GEEImpact story you’d like to share with our team? Get in touch! 

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