Open-source database launched to monitor region’s water use

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An open-access database that sifts through satellite data to help farmers in water-scarce countries achieve more reliable yields has gone live.

The WaPOR tool, which helps optimise irrigation systems in regional like the Middle East, allows for fine-grained analysis of water use to provide solutions on how irrigation can be used most productively.

It uses Google Earth imagery to produce maps that show how much biomass and yield is produced per cubic metre of water consumed at a time when water use rates continue to outpace population growth.

The maps can be rendered at resolutions of as close as 30-250 meters, and are updated every one to 10 days. The system was designed in particular to cover the Middle East and regions of Africa, with a focus on countries that are close to breaching the limits of viable water availability.

A regional database is now online, while country-level data for nations including Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories and Yemen will be available in June.

The WaPOR system measures evapotranspiration, which consists of water that directly evaporates into the atmosphere, as well as vapour that returns to the atmosphere after moving through a plant. 

The process provides a direct measure of the water consumed by a crop during a growing season and, when related to the biomass and harvestable crop yield, allows for calculating the crop water productivity.

The tool can produce detailed assessments to monitor the functioning of a selected set of irrigation schemes and support modernisation plans.

When coupled with real-time data, agricultural extension agents can help farmers obtain more reliable crop yields, both improving their livelihoods and making them more sustainable.

The IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and the International Water Management Institute will support use of the new technology, which was funded by the Dutch government. It was developed by a consortium of partners in the Netherlands for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

"Water use continues to surge at the same time that climate change—with increasing droughts and extreme weather—is altering and reducing water availability for agriculture," said Maria Helena Semedo, the FAO's deputy director-general for climate change and natural resources. 

"That puts a premium on making every drop count, underscoring the importance of meeting growing food production needs from efficiency gains."

The United Nations estimates that a one-degree rise in average temperatures from global warming will result in a 7% reduction in renewable water resources for at least a fifth of the world’s population.

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