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SWALIM - WSIS Prizes 2016 Champion

Alice Van der Elstraeten's picture

WSIS Prizes 2016 will be awarded to the projects that collected the most votes. The awards will be given to the selected projets during the WSIS Forum 2016 that will be held from the 2nd till the 6th of May in Geneva.

This year, additional projects are selected as WSIS Champions, and SWALIM is one of them.

Somalia Water and Land Information Management project (SWALIM) is:

  • A web-enabled data platform to improve information management of water sources;
  • a set of land and water data collection tools for low-cost smartphones;
  • a remote monitoring system to observe large swathes of territory;
  • a mobile phone-based early warning flood system for vulnerable communities.

These are some key components of an innovative programme aimed at using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to manage land and water resources in Somalia.

The Somalia Water and Land Information Management project (SWALIM) is one of the few UN development programmes to have information management as its primary mission, using technologies such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing and data collection with mobile devices and modern web applications. Managed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), SWALIM has been able to successfully introduce various technological innovations to benefit communities dependent on fragile land and water resources, despite the extremely challenging environment of Somalia.

Since its launch in 2001, SWALIM has sought to use ICTs to achieve its objectives, introducing innovative approaches and methods adapted to the particular environment in which it operates. As the programme has developed, managers have taken special care to ensure that the initiative makes full use of cutting-edge technologies as they emerge. As a result, SWALIM has become the primary source of reliable information on land and water resources in Somalia, serving as a basis for increased food security through sustainable agriculture.

From the outset, SWALIM has empowered Somali institutions to achieve self-sufficiency in generating and managing natural resource information. The provision of training and capacity development are considered critical components, making the programme a participatory initiative that will one day be owned and managed by the people it serves.

  1. Goals and timeframes

SWALIM was conceived in 2001 in response to the disastrous floods in Somalia. The programme’s activities have been managed through project phases, each of which has built on the achievements of the previous one and addressed particular challenges.

In more recent project phases, SWALIM has done much to advance capacity development in the Somali line ministries, providing training in ICTs and information management, as well as in specialized land and water monitoring and survey equipment and techniques. Special attention has been paid to applied information management, developing finished information products and increasing dissemination and outreach.

  1. Project’s added value and importance

SWALIM is an information management programme designed to respond to an acute shortage of structured and accessible information on water and land resources in Somalia, urgently needed by various local and international actors. Using ICTs to accelerate, improve and multiply its effectiveness, SWALIM supports interventions by various international donors, implementing agencies and local actors involved in emergency, rehabilitation and development activities.

In summary, SWALIM:

  • is a demand-oriented water and land information management programme;
  • supports state building and private sector initiatives involving natural resource management using modern digital technology;
  • is laying the foundations for policies, strategies and legislation aimed at efficient water and land use driven by private sector development;
  • is developing the capacity of Somali institutions to carry out information gathering and management, through training, support and partnerships;
  • is engaging local authorities and communities in using sustainable ICT solutions for programme management, with a view to eventually handing over the system to Somali institutions.

ICT tools used by SWALIM

  • Water Sources Live Map

The Water Sources Live Map is a web-enabled data visualization platform that has features for both data management at server level and visualization at user level. The digital map was developed to improve how information on water sources in Somalia is used and managed, and to make this information more accessible to common users and policy-makers. Through the Live Map, current information on Somali water sources is made available via the Internet. The map allows users to query the data and view information in a variety of ways, including via pivot tables, charts, tables and maps. The data displayed can be sorted and filtered, to highlight information that is important to users, allowing them to run calculations and scenarios, ask queries and receive answers.

Agencies and partners managing water information use the Live Map to store, update and disseminate data on water sources, for example to report a broken borehole or a dry spring. They can also browse and visualize existing data sets and export data for uses outside the platform. Live Map can plot virtually any data set that includes geographical coordinates.

The map is already helping to improve decisions made in agricultural development and emergency preparedness and response.  For example, if a donor/government agency wants to provide support to local farmers, they consult Live Map to identify nearby sources and quality of groundwater. This enables them to make better decisions on increasing agricultural productivity. In a drought, Live Map can inform emergency responders about strategic water reserves in a given area.

  • Mobile Data Collection Tools

In order to extend surveys into areas of Somalia that are difficult to reach (due to security), and lower collection costs, SWALIM developed a set of land and water data collection tools based on open source software available for low-cost smartphones. These can be run with or without a network connection, and used to store the collected data for later transmission or uploading. When on-line, users can transfer data to a central computer, which converts it into standard formats for data compilation, aggregation and analysis. This technology allows data collected in the field to be made available to technical experts within minutes.

  • Remote sensing and monitoring unit

In order to enhance its capacity to observe large swathes of territory on a regular basis, as well as viewing otherwise inaccessible areas, SWALIM developed a remote monitoring system using remotely sensed data. Remote Sensing (RS) is the ability to capture and analyse information from the earth’s surface from a distance. The system was developed in large part to address the issue of lack of access due to insecurity.

The initial objective was to ensure accountability for FAO’s programme beneficiaries after the 2011 famine, following which FAO provided cash to communities in return for rehabilitation of productive infrastructure. SWALIM uses multi-temporal VHR images to capture the “before and after” status of infrastructure sites for verification purposes. This enables payments to be made for work done by communities, without expensive (and often dangerous) on-site assessments. The high accuracy images used allow for up to 50 cm spatial resolution, so any change in surroundings or infrastructure can be easily detected. Because of this innovation, SWALIM was able to facilitate cash payments of some 50 million dollars to vulnerable  communities throughout Somalia.

The increasing availability of commercial high resolution satellite images, coupled with new devices and software tools, enables the simple capture of up-to-date geo-tagged information (GPS, GPS-enabled cameras and mobile phones), making RS a powerful and economical methodology, compared with complex and expensive field surveys. SWALIM is constantly expanding the spectrum of activities to which RS is applied. Among the latest areas of application, RS is being used to identify and monitor land degradation hotspots in Puntland and conduct a census of fishing boats in Somalia’s coastal waters. The work of the SWALIM RS unit to identify and quantify the illicit production of charcoal in Somalia, leading to serious land degradation, formed the basis of the UN Security Council Resolution banning the trade of this product. Many of these activities would not have been possible without the use of RS; none would have been possible at an acceptable price.

  • SMS-based flood early warning system DIGNIIN

In anticipation of higher flood risks due to the El Niño phenomena in 2015 and 2016, SWALIM has developed a unique mobile phone-based alert and early warning system. Called DIGNIIN, it facilitates early detection of flood situations in the Juba and Shabelle rivers and enables timely warnings to be communicated to vulnerable communities, allowing evacuation and response.

Designed to work with the simplest mobile phones, the early warning system supports two-way traffic of information flow through simple text messaging (SMS). SWALIM weather stations in the Juba and Shabelle river areas provide regular reports on river levels and rainfall. These are analysed and verified by SWALIM’s hydro-meteorological team and act as triggers for broadcasting alerts to high-risk communities. The system has already been used to send out thousands of messages to communities at risk, saving lives and allowing farmers to protect their crops. The system was also adapted to contact fishermen in danger during a recent cyclone off Puntland.

  1. Challenges

The political and social milieu of Somalia has created unprecedented challenges. The country had no functioning government for more than 25 years, and lost much of its human, institutional, infrastructural and governance capacity. Absence of rule of law and security in many parts makes emergency and development efforts precarious. Many of the technological options developed by SWALIM have been specifically aimed at overcoming these obstacles.

Meanwhile, use of ICTs can present challenges, since local militias are often ideologically opposed to the use of modern technologies and fearful of foreign influence and monitoring. Project staff and partners have been detained or otherwise prevented from using electronic and digital devices in the field.

The availability of ICT goods and services has been irregular, as markets are opened (or closed) and new enterprises emerge to serve increasing demand for such services. SWALIM has been in the forefront of applying new technologies, and introducing these to local partners and counterparts with appropriate training and guidance.

Finally, there is the substantial challenge of fitting the technology to the capacities of partners and counterparts – and vice versa. The project has invested substantial efforts in making the data and systems easily accessible and comprehensible, while consistently working to provide training and knowledge transfer. Some of the information and products had to be translated into Somali.

  1. Relevance of project to the respective Action Line:  ICT Applications: e-agriculture

The work of SWALIM is closely aligned with the WSIS Action Line ICT Applications: e-agriculture. The fundamental mission of SWALIM is to collect, process and share information and knowledge about the state of natural resources in Somali territories and to transfer this knowledge and know-how to national counterparts, who will eventually become the custodians of this storehouse of valuable information. The most urgent need for such information and management is the efficient and effective use of land and water, so as to address the food security needs of the Somali population through appropriate and sustainable agriculture.

For more information on SWALIM click here

For more information on the WSIS Prizes and WSIS Forum 2016 click here