As droughts continue to plague most Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries, researchers at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) have been working to develop a regional system to monitor droughts and help to manage their impact.
ICBA launched the new system at an event on November 23, 2015, as part of the UAE Innovation Week. The system is a result of long-running collaboration between ICBA, NASA, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, FAO and other partners. It aims to provide data on climate, water resources, and crops and help to devise policy options for managing drought impact.
Speaking at the event, Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General of ICBA, said: “We are excited to launch today one of our latest innovation-based initiatives, which is the Regional Drought Management System, within the UAE Innovation Week. We have been tackling issues related to the food-water-energy nexus through developing and testing innovations such as integrated aqua-agriculture systems (Aquaponics). To this end, we look forward to enhancing our collaboration with the government to develop innovative policy and technological options for improved management of water resources.”
The past decades have seen a worrying increase in the frequency, intensity, and duration of droughts in the MENA region. As the region already suffers from recurring water shortages, and population growth is putting an additional strain on scarce water resources, droughts can seriously undermine efforts to ensure food and water security, and agricultural sustainability.
Dr. Rachael McDonnell, head of water governance and policy section at ICBA, said: “The outcome of this regional initiative will be a unique capability for national and regional partners for the effective management of drought through science- and society-based programs leading to a unified platform. It will serve as a model for other regions in preparing for drought and managing its impacts.”
During the event attended by a high-level delegation from the Ministry of Energy led by H.E. Eng. Fatima Al Foora Al Shamsi, Assistant Undersecretary for Electricity Affairs, and representatives from international organizations, Dr. McDonnell also explained how this new initiative could support policy-making and thus help to guide farmers through critical periods of drought. The collaboration with NASA, the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and FAO adds to ICBA’s regional expertise to monitor water resources and produce relevant maps.
Dr. Mohammad Al-Mulla, Chief Expert at the Ministry of Energy, said: “We see a big opportunity for the Ministry of Energy and ICBA to develop a collaborative program within the water-energy nexus. Water scarcity is a natural phenomenon in this part of the world. Therefore, we have to look for innovative ways to manage our scarce water resources and here science, research and management meet. And this corresponds to ICBA’s mandate.”
ICBA is already generating data for several countries of the region. This data will help policymakers to develop more efficient strategies on water and food security.