To solve this measurement problem, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office funded the HR Wallingford led consortium to develop a new system using space technology to monitor groundwater in a test area. Having proved successful on a small scale, the team is now planning to roll it out nationally, focussing on areas where populations and croplands are at risk from groundwater depletion. The plan is for the system to be available through an open access website, providing impartial information on groundwater resources.
The system uses satellite based data on rainfall, cropland, evapotranspiration and other variables to estimate groundwater recharge and abstraction rates, which are used as inputs to groundwater models to predict how water levels in aquifers are changing over time. The satellite data is available in near real time, allowing the system to track groundwater trends before and through the conflict. It will also use climate change projections to look forward and estimate how groundwater levels may change into the future under different climate change and water use scenarios. This will allow an estimate of sustainable levels of abstraction.
This kind of satellite technology can be developed without on-the-ground measurement, so the system will provide NGOs, development agencies and Yemen’s water resources authorities with an independent source of information to work out where water depletion may affect food security and livelihoods, and potentially to identify areas where water may be a driver of conflict. It can also allow them to plan interventions, such as how to promote growing crops that give higher yield while requiring less irrigation.
The new system has already been shown to work in principle in Yemen, and the current phase of work is developing a website to display groundwater levels on a map of the country. The website will be used by those who need to know how much water is available, and where, and how that is changing because of climate and other factors. The aim is to help as many people as possible on the ground with their planning, which ultimately should lead to more reliable food security and water supplies for the Yemeni people. A number of stakeholders have already shown a real interest in the system and are providing advice on its development.
When the conflict ends, the system offers a framework to blend satellite and ground based observations in a single platform, helping manage Yemen’s water crisis into the future. The technology will also help predict the impacts of climate change, allowing the country to be ready for uncertain times ahead. Embracing innovative water management techniques now offers hope to the Yemenis of more sustainable supplies in the future.