You have a well selected potpourri of educations up your sleeve, ranging from geography and environmental studies to development studies and later into your academic career more focused on water, especially hydropower and WASH. What sparked your interest in Water, Egline? How do you personally and professionally relate to water?
Growing up in the rural areas waking up in the early hours of the day and walking long distances in the dark to fetch water not just once, but at least twice a day to ensure there is adequate water for the whole family has taught me to value water and all the other natural resources we often take for granted. I developed a passion to make significant difference and improve the lives of rural women who spent their entire lifetime doing the same chores and most often unrecognised. This chore was coupled with fetching firewood and collecting and distributing cow dung in the fields as organic fertilizer. All this taught me to love nature and inspired me to choose a career inclined to natural resource management. The closest to this during that time was Geography, and when Environmental Science was introduced at University level here in Zimbabwe, I made sure I was one of the first to study the course. Later on, during my career path I became more inclined to water resource management working with river basins. Water being the key natural resource and central to livelihoods, especially in the rural areas, was more prominent than the others. I have always had an interest in water issues from a young age.
As someone active in environmental studies and water resource management, how often have you used space technologies in your work, what was the value added, and what were the challenges?
I have used space technology in the development of Atlases of the changing environment, which included the Zambezi River Basin and the Limpopo River Basin Atlases. The aim of the atlases is to provide scientifically based and credible evidence of changes occurring in the basins mapping flood risks and vulnerable areas (hot spots) as well as hope spots (safe areas), communicating the urgency required in addressing them as well as providing policy and adaptation options. The evidence was shown through maps, satellite images, pictorial, and infographics, with short narratives. I have also contributed in the development of the Mountain Atlas coordinated by UNEP.
We are planning to make use of space-related technologies in mitigating water-related emergencies, storing and providing safe drinking water, identifying riverbank erosion and mapping river discharge data using geospatial technologies, as well as monitoring floods and droughts in the Buzi, Pungwe and Save Basin. With the increasing frequency of climate related extreme events there is need for continuous real time data and information to inform decision making and this can be obtained with the use of remote sensing.
Are there any user requirements you could point to that the space sector does not see?
There is need to strengthen capacity building especially in Southern Africa to be able to obtain real time downscaled climate data and information as there is heavy reliance on global models. There is also need for improvement in monitoring direction, and speed of cyclones to inform early warning. Devastative impacts of Cyclone Idai that hit Southern Africa in 2019 could have been minimized if there was adequate preparation.
You told me you see one of the biggest challenges to be solved in water resource management as the integration of indigenous knowledge. How can this be achieved in a sensitive, respectful way that allows for mutual learning? Do you have experience in reaching out to indigenous communities and would you share your experience?
For effective early warning and disaster preparedness in communities, an integration of remote sensed data with Indigenous knowledge is essential. Various studies indicate that the increased rate of land degradation in Southern Africa is to a greater extent attributed to the abandonment of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) in natural resource management. Indigenous people used to live in harmony with nature applying their local knowledge on weather forecasting, agriculture planning and disaster preparedness as well as natural resource management including water.
They could observe the changes in behaviour by animals, flowering patterns of fruit trees, interpretation of the movements of winds and general body response in relation to weather and climatic elements to forecast weather. Farmers could tell when floods were imminent for example. Many traditional beliefs and attitudes to environmental resources are oriented to conservation rather than exploitation. One way to revive IKS is to engage elders and provide them a platform to share their knowledge to the young generation. Schools could include a programme where selected elders in the community could provide lessons as part of the curriculum.
How can space technologies contribute to WASH?
In response to the deepening water crisis in Southern Africa, space technology can be used to monitor water use and water quality. Once the data is converted into practical information, this can be used to formulate policy and implement programmes at the national, basin, and regional level.
If we focus on water resource management and space technologies used to that end, what are the thematic areas in which you experience a lack of best practices? And what is their target audience?
There is still limited effective practices in the assessment of the state, trends, and outlook of wetlands to highlight the disappearance taking place and how the ecosystems have been changed. There is need to show the ecosystem before and after depletion. This is crucial especially for planners and communities to consider when making decisions on land use. There is also limited use of space technology to assess and analyse ground water reserves. Satellite-based Earth remote sensing techniques could be used to get a more consistent and higher resolution view of aquifer system. This is crucial in southern Africa where ground water is becoming a better reliable source of water due to recuring, and frequency of droughts. The need to monitor overexploitation of ground water on a regular basis becomes essential.
You develop Environment Outlooks. Can you explain to our audience what that is and elaborate a bit on that work?
Environmental outlooks provide an integrated assessment of the state and trends of key environmental resources, including land, freshwater, marine and coastal resources, forest and woodlands, and wildlife. The reports often take a 10-year retrospective and forward-looking analysis of issues and covers cross cutting elements relating to human settlements, energy, and atmospheric dynamics including climate change. The Outlooks explain the driving forces behind environmental change and consequences on the socio-economic activities. Government’s responses to the changes which are in the form of polices, programmes and projects are discussed.
The Outlooks also project what is likely to happen, giving scenarios of the worst and best cases and provide policy options. They make environmental information more accessible and provide an effective tool for monitoring regional and continental targets under the sustainable development goals. Furthermore, they show evidence of careful planning, and synthesis of knowledge, presenting issues in a way that challenges decision makers to act.
Through a partnership involving the Southern African development Community (SADC), IUCN- World Conservation Union, and Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), through its environment and water Institute, I Musokotwane Environment Resource Centre for Southern Africa (IMERCSA), the first Environment Outlook for Southern Africa, (then called State of the Environment) was produced in 1994. Several thematic updates at 2-year intervals were produced over the past decades. The second was produced in 2008 with technical support from UNEP. We are in the process of raising resources for the third Outlook with a running theme of building resilience. The Outlooks feed into the Africa and the Global Outlooks coordinated by UNEP since SARDC is one of the collaborating centre of UNEP.
What are the effects of climate change you observe in Southern Africa?
Southern Africa is hard hit by the negative impacts of climate change. Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and cyclones have increased in frequency and severity over the past two decades. These extremes reduce and threaten agricultural productivity and, according to climate scenarios, the frequency and intensity will continue to increase. This presents a serious threat to water security, food security and livelihoods, particularly among vulnerable communities mostly in rural areas. This therefore calls for capacity building of communities in climate resilience in all sectors including capacity for climate smart agriculture, climate proof infrastructure, as well as adopting nature-based solutions.
Which regions and people are affected the most? Do you see immediate action that needs to be taken?
There is need to promote the building of capacity to mainstream climate change adaptation into national and subnational development plans. Community-based management integrated with nature-based solutions is crucial to reduce the impact of climate change. The process should take into consideration the local knowledge of adapting to harsh conditions brought by climate change.
Which role does gender play in Southern Africa when it comes to water security? Which role do women play in water resource management in the region? What are the gaps to be addressed?
Women and men play different roles in the use and management of water in Southern Africa and are affected differently by water issues such as drought, floods, and pollution. Beyond providing water for drinking, cooking, and washing, women play a crucial but often unrecognised role in managing water for livelihoods and food security. The daily work of women involves close contact with water and related resources, and thus women are able to quickly notice changes in the quality or quantity, as well as impact on the environment. Despite the close contact interaction with water, women in most cases are not involved in decision making processes that involve the resource.
However, in cases where both men and women are involved in decision-making in water management, positive results have been achieved. In Malawi for example, the active participation of both men and women in the management of the Kaziputa Irrigation Scheme in Ncheu District in Malawi provides insights into the benefits of gender mainstreaming. The women in the scheme ensure that there is balance between the amount of water for irrigation and for the sustenance of ecosystem health downstream.
In the Chipendeke Mini hydro and irrigation scheme in Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe, women are actively involved in the maintenance of the hydro scheme and irrigation infrastructure. They ensure water is available for the three main uses, i.e., power generation, crops, and domestic use. The scheme is one of the most successful examples of a Water-Energy and Food Nexus Approach being managed at community level by both men and women. Such case studies should be upscaled and replicated.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our community, or with young professionals who are just starting a career in water resource management or space technologies for natural resource management?
The support for research in subject areas such as human-induced water hazards, and monitoring and exploration techniques for underground water at the regional level, should be increased. There is need to improve data sharing, with special attention given to the needs of developing e-learning courses and distance learning programmes free of charge or at low cost, for multi-hazard risk and vulnerability assessment using space technology. There is also need for a reduction in the cost of specialized geospatial and remote sensing software.