Flood and Drought Management Tools
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New weapons for water management

By Gareth James Lloyd (UNEP-DHI) and Oluf Zejlund Jessen (DHI)

In many countries climatic variability and change is experienced in the form of more frequent, severe and less predictable flood and drought events. This situation complicates the lives of those who need to plan for and manage water as part of their job, such as agricultural and industrial producers, local authorities, water utilities, power companies, and river management organizations. Increasingly, people working in these areas are looking to adopt and apply tools and techniques that can better support their work. One such example is the use of something called decision support systems, or DSSs, which, as the name suggests, to help people make informed decisions about what to do, what not to do, and when.

These systems come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they are basically computer-based information systems that support business or organizational decision-making activities. DSSs serve the management, operations and planning levels of an organization and help people make choices about problems that may be rapidly changing and not easily specified in advance. In the world of water, DDSs have been evolving over the past 10 years and are typically used to better understand river regimes, allowing the analysis of various development and disaster scenarios. Stakeholder cooperation can often be improved by making the decision-making process more transparent and fact-based than might otherwise be the case.

This figure shows how a group of stakeholders can get together and agree on exactly what they want the DSS to be able to do. This typically involves agreeing on various data and other planning considerations, how information needs to be disseminated and to whom, as well as for what decision making purposes. There is an opportunity to play around with different scenarios that, for example, may include changes in population, land use, rainfall and infrastructure on water availability.

These kinds of systems are already being used in river basins as diverse as the Nile, Zambezi, Rio Grande and Lower Mekong, where it is possible to integrate various social, economic, physical and environmental planning parameters to simultaneously take into account the different users and uses of water, as well as accounting for variations in availability due to climate change.

A great example of an ongoing initiative that is very much at the cutting-edge of the DSS field is the project currently being undertaken by an alphabet soup consortium of partners including the United Nations Environment ProgramInternational Water AssociationDHI and Global Environment Facility. Despite its rather uninteresting name — the Flood and Drought Management Tools project — the activities being undertaken are extremely interesting. Building on the best of DSS thinking to date, the aim is to harness technological advances, such as those in climate and hydraulic modelling, real-time data, satellite technology and cloud computing, to take DSSs to the next level.

Recognizing the importance of developing something that is completely geared toward addressing user demands, the project’s partners include a diverse group of stakeholders linked to the River Volta in West Africa

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