How can space contribute to water resource management, hydrology, or any water related field?

Approximately two-thirds of the world’s population will experience water scarcity by the year 2025. This presents a risk for communities and business alike. The latter has responded in an extraordinary move in December 2020, when the world’s largest and most diverse derivatives market place and a technology company serving global capital markets and other industries, announced the establishment of a Water Index to trade futures contracts for water. In summary, a futures contract is a standard legal document to buy and sell a commodity at a specified price and date. Entities such as derivates market places are recognising that impending water shortages are sure to cause unwarranted risks to agricultural, commercial, and municipal users. Thus, introducing market-based solutions will assist with enhanced price discovery and risk management. It is important to note however, that no actual trading of water will occur, but rather contracts will be settled financially. These contracts are intended to be risk avoidance hedges for different users. At the heart of this intervention is the realisation that water, as a natural resource has and will continue to be susceptible to depletion. This occurs when resources are used up quicker than they can be replenished, and water is one of those resources susceptible to natural resource depletion, along with minerals, fossil fuels, farming, and fishing.

To better manage our natural water resources, the space industry can take to remote sensing satellite technology. Concerning hydrology and hydrogeology, parameters of water measurement are spatially distributed and vary temporally (which is to say water measurements may vary across space and time).

The use of Earth Observation (EO) data, as well as in-situ (on location) data can be used to create inventory maps of surface water, hydrogeological maps, and identification of underground reservoirs. This is particularly pertinent in Africa where a 90% decline of infrastructure was recorded at water stations. Water resources infrastructure ranges from educational and research infrastructure, storage works (surface and underground), hydrological and meteorological stations, irrigation systems, to water infrastructure for eco-tourism. EO satellites promote the repeatability and reliability of observations. From these observations, a time-series of parameters can be developed which will ultimately enhance the ability to analyse, monitor and compare different hydro-phenomena, thus assisting with water resources management.

Considering the above-mentioned benefits of space technologies for managing water resources, which role do they play in the realms of policy and legal affairs related to natural resource management today, and where do you see potential beyond the status quo?

Space technologies have a role to play in policy and legal affairs, because they are a sector of human activity, and as we know, all activity subscribes itself to norms and standards. Even as beings we live our lives according to our own precepts. Likewise technology laws and policies have emerged to better allow us to use technology and applications in a way that is safe, secure and sustainable, including through cybersecurity and data-sharing policies. I see potential especially in the use of emerging technologies such as block chain, artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum computing. Blockchain holds the potential for big data collection and storage, AI holds potential for lifelong learning of different data scenarios and the development of predictive algorithms, and quantum computing helps us expand our predictive forecasts by modelling even scenarios yet to occur. The possibilities are endless with technology and I believe technology law will be a big field for lawyers in the near future, (technology policy including also drone policy and space policy).

In the drafting of international law for water resource management, what do you think are key points to be considered

I believe all regulation should underpin the fundamental principle of international cooperation, especially towards balanced and sustainable use of water resources for socio-economic development and environmental protection. International collaboration is expressed through sharing of best practices, infrastructure, funding and critical skills towards effective natural resource management. It should also represent a comprehensive safeguard for all water sources (including but not limited to precipitation, ground water, spring water, streams/rivers, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands as well as the banks and beds of such water bodies and other sedimentary materials contained within them). Other provisions may include:

  • National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) for the collection and analysis of data pertaining to water resources, and the modelling of such data thereto, and this shall be underpinned by an Information and Communications system which will have as its priority, decentralisation, production and free access to data on water resources;
  • Implementation and enforcement of water permits for the use of water resources;
  • Education and capacity-building for local communities on sustainable practices and uses of water;
  • For regions such as Zimbabwe which are prone to drought, there should be provision for the creation of a drought management plan, which can be further supported by a climate change mitigation plan;
  • Provision should also be made for the financing of water resource management infrastructure, mechanisms and expertise;
  • Institutional mechanisms for the management of water resources, especially at a regional level where water bodies are trans boundary (such as the Zambezi river basin in Southern Africa), and the establishment of joint development commissions is recommended;
  • Such international law should create a framework for the adoption of national water resources strategy for uniformity and coordination amongst jurisdictions.

How does space technology contribute to water related aspects of the SDGs? Could you share examples from your community and experience, preferably related, but not limited to SDG 6?

Climate change is expected to cause average temperatures in Zimbabwe to rise by about 3 degrees before the turn of the century. As a result, annual rainfall could decrease by 5-18%, and droughts, flooding and storms will increase. The urgency of this challenge requires ground-breaking innovation, and as a young space enthusiast, I believe the solution for creating climate-resilient African societies lies in embedding space laws in state policy, as a continental development tool, and leveraging remote-sensing satellites for earth observation. Zimbabwe is estimated to have a combined total of 20 million mega litres of water, which has fluctuated in recent years due to a persistent El Nino drought season.

The economy relies heavily on water availability, with GDP fluctuating in recent years in accordance with source-levels. Cities like Bulawayo have now had to adjust to weekly 120-hour water-outages, as the municipal council grapples with providing consistent and potable supply of water to its nearly 750,000 residents, while average dam capacities lie below 30%. Zimbabwe is not a unique case study. As of 2020, at least 17 countries in the world (approximately a quarter of the world’s population) are facing high water stress.

These water challenges relate to, inter alia, highly polluted water (which impacts SDG 3 on Good Health and Wellbeing as well as SDG 6 on Clean Water & Sanitation), erratic rainfall causing droughts and flooding (which pertains to disaster management and climate action according to SDG 13), and finally, access to safe and affordable drinking water (which has a systemic link to no poverty in terms of SDG 1).

Space technology has positive impacts for SDG 9 on Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, by bringing technological development to the fore of the water crisis. Access to water will stem rising inequalities amongst communities, in line with SDG 10. Again, space technology is considered responsible innovation, and will support SDG 12, that is, responsible consumption and production.  Even more important is the impact of space technology in quelling water-related conflicts mainly revolving around scarce water resources, for example over shared water-bodies or dam projects that impact several countries.

How could these examples be built upon and expanded in the future?

Through embedding Earth Observation Data to build resilient communities: Regional Data Cubes. The primary task in combatting climate change lies in policymakers’ ability to make data-driven decisions. Satellite EO data informs climate water resource management, but a vast majority of African states and developing countries have yet to implement national space laws which speak to a satellite data policy. Geospatial sciences play a vital role in the socioeconomic, political and security of states. Thus I propose that EO data policies are essential towards water management and conservation. Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty designates responsibility to states in creating national space laws that legitimate their activities in outer space (Outer Space Treaty, 1967). Despite this, Zimbabwe’s recently established space agency, and many other space-faring African nations, lack a coordinated Earth Observation legal framework. Such a policy would envision a common data and satellite sharing framework for Africa, investment in R&D in EO data capabilities and technologies, as well as capacity building through international collaborations. A shared data framework or data cube would help alleviate costs and share capabilities. Government could also look towards investing in private sector innovation in water mapping, precision agriculture, and disaster forecasting. Private sector involvement is a large aspect of today’s current space-faring endeavours, hence creating a business environment that is conducive to innovation is a must. Possible legislation would include a Remote-Sensing Act and Zimbabwe and other developing nations are also encouraged to ratify the main space treaties in order to meet international muster.

Describe your professional (and/or personal) experience relating to water and space technologies

My interest in understanding water resource management came about during my formative years growing up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Dry spells within the region were common, and this resulted in a seasonal shortage of water supply. In 2020 when I became a Ban Ki-moon Global Citizen Scholar, I was privileged to meet a fellow Zimbabwean (Tafadzwa Sachikonye) who was equally passionate about water resource management, and had founded a project known as Water Clix, which seeks to improve waste water systems and management in urban settlements in Zimbabwe. It was interesting to explore synergies between the project and my own (which incorporated space technologies for agriculture management) and I wondered whether we might find use for GIS and remote-sensing in water management too, which of course we did. I am most excited to merge sustainable development for water management with space technologies, because it is scalable, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective over the long run. It also ushers Zimbabwe into a 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) era and widens the scope for technological innovation in a previously technologically sheltered region. Working on the space laws and policies behind these interventions is empowering, because I am helping to lay the bedrock for these initiatives to find legitimacy and longevity as part of government’s strategy for socio-economic development.  I am more so fascinated by water and hydrology for its economic, social and environmental value. Water is a fundamental human resource necessary to our daily life. Accessing water is vital for nutrition, services, manufacturing, and all facets of all life will at some point necessitate access to water. Water should be preserved for human needs and protection of the environment.

Could you tell us about your current work, your latest project, or your proudest professional moment?

At present I am involved in a regional study on the integration of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and statistical information in Zimbabwe, towards the promulgation of GIS standards and legislation to support a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI). The study will identify best practices, challenges, laws and stakeholders within the Southern Africa GIS industry, and determine appropriate legal interventions to support the sector. GIS & Remote-Sensing for water resource management is a fundamental application across Southern Africa, hence this research will have a bearing on this theme as well.

What inspired you to pursue a career in space law?

I have always loved outer space, there’s something about its grandeur and mystery that is so inspiring and humbling. But I would have never imagined having a career in the space industry, I just always knew, however, that whatever it was I wanted to dedicate my life to had to be creative, impactful and fun. Those three values are pretty much what I have always aspired to be and that is what lead me to take part in the Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court competition (an international mock trial for law students, based on emerging trends in international space law). I took part first as a speaker, advancing to the World Semi-Finals, and again as a coach the proceeding year, this time becoming the first African team in the 26-year history of the competition to win. Despite the long hours and hurdles in accessing information on space law and policy, I never quite grew weary immersing myself in the field, and I was motivated by the exposure and network that the competition had afforded me. I was even more encouraged at how unique and beneficial the work was. I saw space as the enabler to make Zimbabwe the breadbasket of the Southern African region again, and just the immense socio-economic potential it held for sustainable development. Ultimately I found all three of my sacred values in this field and I haven’t looked back since.

How do you keep abreast the fast-paced developments in the diverse fields you are professionally contributing to (space technologies, policy and legal affairs)? Would you share your secret with other young professionals?

I suppose my first secret is network, network NETWORK! There is so much to learn from our respective communities and I have found that knowledge-sharing is one of the most fundamental capacity-building mechanisms, not only for your profession but for the industry as well. Through networking I am able to discover the important forums where space law, policy and legal issues are discussed, and I make it a point to join these think tanks, organisations and institutions, even on a voluntary basis, to keep up with current developments as they emerge. Some notable ones of which I am a part include the Space Generation Advisory Council, the Open Lunar Foundation and the Space Court Foundation.

Ms Samanga sitting on a Panel

How much do you feel a need to inform yourself about natural resource management to inform your work in space policy and law? 

A great deal of my work is research, because you can only develop sound analyses and recommendations from a position of knowledge. To uncover best practices in any field, you need a sound awareness and understanding of the state of affairs of all practices. You can’t compare lessons, challenges and ideas without understanding the full spectrum of those which exist, thus I feel a great sense to inform myself, not only on the legal, but the technical as well. I feel we need more agile lawyers who are able to appreciate the fundamentally technical nature of outer space and space applications, and form meaningful cooperation with technicians such as engineers to bring about the most robust of industry and legal solutions. The best lawyer is the most informed, and who adopts a multidisplinary and interdisciplinary approach to their legal research.

What do you see as key areas for capacity building in Zimbabwe with regards to space technologies for water management and in which areas do you see the greatest potential of the generation of young professionals in your country?

I believe Zimbabwe has a competent number of skilled personnel, particularly in the GIS & Remote-Sensing field, however the skills base could use some broadening, especially in developing a critical mass of skilled professionals capable of advancing water resource management through GIS & Remote-Sensing. I also believe space education should be prioritised, to capacitate the youth as the future beneficiaries of these innovations. Zimbabwe also does not have water resource management protocols which would go a long way in entrenching sustainable public and private practices for water use. Lastly, Zimbabwe needs to upgrade its existing infrastructure which is struggling to meet a growing populations demands, and introduce new infrastructure such as earth observation satellites and aerial surveillance equipment for heightened resource management.

As a young professional, what do you feel is missing in the current scientific debate and management of water resources?

I believe countries are missing the essential foundation of water resource management policies. More specifically, nations lack the innovative and robust use of space technology for sustainable resource management. Few nations, especially developing countries, have dedicated Earth Observation satellites let alone the policy coordinating such an endeavour. I believe national administrations need to be sensitised to the import of pre-empting all space activities with a technical and policy roadmap. This assists with determining, measuring, and achieving deliverables. Policies also help to express political will and accountability to the beneficiaries, the citizens. I also feel in the developing country context that there is a clear lack of development finance to establish water management infrastructure. Finally, there needs to be regional collaboration and interoperability to share costs, resources, and skills. This requires strong bilateral and multilateral agreements between nations to facilitate development in regional blocks.

Last, but not least, what is your favourite aggregate state of water?

My favourite aggregate state of water is liquid like flowing rivers, always moving, can be forceful, can be calming, mesmerising but powerful force.