Strengthening the data-policy link to address climate change

Climate change impacts are increasingly severe, more frequent and less predictable, impacting the wellbeing of societies, the economy and the sustainable management of water resources. The collection of, and most importantly, access to data and information, such as rainfall, temperature and potential evapotranspiration, water flow, and water levels, and having the right methodologies in place to analyse the information, is critically important if we are to address climate change and mitigate its impacts.

With the increase in computational power and the vast progress in ICT, we are seeing a rapidly growing capacity for data collation. We find ourselves in the information era where, on a day-to-day basis, the efficiency and practicality of decision-making processes and planning are being heavily influenced by knowledge based on the power of big data analysis.

Data and information are the basis for any planning activity. Yet, despite significant progress the information era has brought around the world, for many countries data availability and access is often one of the key constraints for planning. Addressing issues around water resources management cannot be adequately tackled if there is no reliable information to facilitate decision-making processes and inform planning practices.

Planning for floods and droughts, particularly in transboundary basins involving several countries, requires us to adopt an approach that facilitates the collection and sharing of the information necessary for land, water and urban area managers to make informed decisions. Yet a meeting of international water regulatory authorities held recently in London, highlighted the use of data and information as one of the major challenges they faced[i].

The Flood and Drought Management Tools (FDMT) project is developing and testing a methodology for basin organisations and local users, such as water utilities, to integrate information on floods and droughts into planning across the Volta, Lake Victoria and Chao Phraya basins. Early in the project, it became clear that limited data availability was a key constraint. The amount of available data, the quality of the data, the number and density of the monitoring stations, and the willingness to share information within the basins were all factors in undermining both national and transboundary planning to address floods and droughts.


Data portal showing spatial data at a specified time for the Volta Basin

Data portal showing spatial data at a specified time for the Volta Basin


The project’s success depends upon having access to basic sets of data (historic and forecasted climate, drought and flood related indices), yet some basins lack this information. To overcome this issue a basic data set has been made available through a web-based data portal, providing stakeholders with access to near real-time satellite based data.

The data portal is an online platform enabling users to view and download remote sensing data. The intention is to ensure the availability and accessibility of different data types required for planning and decision-making around flood and drought events, for example climate data, vegetation data in the form of land use or Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or flood related data including flood risk maps.

When land, water and urban area managers are able to access and make sense of the information, their capacity to address and respond to the right issues is enhanced. The availability of this information also helps establish benchmarks needed to monitor and evaluate the progress of response plans, ensuring that decisions meet the intended outcomes, or prompting a need to improve or change plans. Without data, the decision making process to improve outcomes would be ineffective.

Access to information is a necessary precursor for decision making processes and planning. Just as important is understanding the information, and how this contributes to informed decision-making and planning. To address this, awareness workshops are held in the 3 basins. The workshops facilitate discussion of the role data plays in planning and decision-making processes, and how to interpret and understand the information. The process has helped to endorse ICT as a valuable approach to integrate information about floods, droughts and future scenarios into planning.

The next decades will see a dramatic rise in the use of data and information. This will feed into decision-making processes and influence policy. It is important that these methodologies are not developed for the sake of it, but are established to have a productive impact that offers benefits to those who need it. Only by doing so will we progress towards sustainable water resources.

[i] The 2nd International Water Regulators Forum was held In London in 2015. For more information read one of the outcome reports from the meeting: Beyond Compliance Monitoring and Reporting.


Join us at our workshop during the World Water Congress and Exhibition in Brisbane:

Drought Resilient Water Management

Date: 10 October 2016, 15.30 – 17.00
Venue: Room M3, Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre

How are current planning practices and tools used to ensure drought resilient solutions and how can they be improved?

Drought is an important issue for integrated water resources management and planning. Decision Support Systems for drought planning and management should provide decision makers with an effective and systematic means of assessing current and future drought conditions, developing mitigation and developing response options to minimize economic stress, environmental losses, and social hardship.