Decision Support System for Drought Response in Angola


The Guardian

The Guardian

This project seeks to improve the use of satellite-based Earth Observation as an input to a Drought Decision Support System to inform the response to drought and floods in southern Angola. Specifically, the government of Angola needs to make decisions to evaluate the effectiveness of three categories of interventions to determine if these interventions are delivered to the regions in which residents face high vulnerability based on their sensitivity, exposure and adaptive capacity to drought hazards. The three interventions include: 1) Sending water trucks to deliver water to residents impacted by drought; 2) Providing funding, equipment and personnel to improve boreholes; and 3) Investing in long term infrastructure improvements in the Cunene River to allow catching and pumping of water during rainy periods. In addition, the Angola Drought Decision Support System contributes to a capability for the Government of Angola to organize information about the various entities that provide drought relief (included national government, regional government and non-profit entities such as UNICEF) and determine whether the combination of drought response efforts is delivered collectively to the regions with high vulnerability. To summarize, the government of Angola needs to use the Drought Decision Support System to make four high level decisions: 1) What routes & schedule should trucks use to deliver emergency water supplies to High Vulnerability regions? 2) What locations should be prioritized for borehole improvement projects to serve High Vulnerability regions? 3) What region of the Cunene River should be prioritized for long term infrastructure improvements to serve High Vulnerability regions? and 4) How should work on the three interventions be divided among government and nonprofit agencies to ensure that high vulnerability regions are served?

A Drought Decision Support System can assist leaders in the Government of Angola to answer the questions above by creating a tool that presents a geographic visualization showing where hazards occur due to drought and flood. The geographic visualization informs the development of a Vulnerability Index that spatially shows regions where people are likely to have high impact due to the environmental hazard based on their sensitivity, exposure and ability to adapt. Using a Drought Decision Support System, the government of Angola and their collaborators from nonprofit organizations can both assess the extent to which their drought response projects address the High Vulnerability areas. They can also coordinate to confirm whether the combination of public and private initiatives are serving the High Vulnerability areas to the best level possible given resource constraints. As noted later, the project includes a process to collaborate with the local collaborators in Angola to define how they determine which areas are High Vulnerability. We use a foundational framework guiding the project called “Environment-Vulnerability-Decision-Technology” (EVDT), which allows a structured process to created integrated, spatially presented views of complex scenarios in which environmental state, human experience, policy decisions and the use of technology as a source of information play a key role. For this project, the US team led by PI Danielle Wood will collaborate with the Unfunded Collaborator led by Dr. Zolana Joao, Director of the Angolan Management Office of the National Space Program (the acronym is GGPEN in Portuguese). At the request of Dr. Joao, the US-team proposes to collaborate with GGPEN to build an Angola Decision Support System offering an interactive website, based on the Environment-Vulnerability-Decision-Technology Integrated Modeling Framework. EVDT has a generic formulation that can be adapted to a specific focus area and geographic region.

All EVDT analyses ask four common questions: 1) What is happening in the Environment? 2) How are humans impacted by the Environment? 3) What decisions are humans making that relate to the Environment? and 4) What technology is providing Environmental information for humans and is the technology adequate to answer human questions? To apply EVDT to a specific topic and geographic region, analysts customize the four questions and the streams of data. The framework for the methods in this project highlights the Decision Component focusing on evaluating the deployment of water deliveries, borehole projects and water infrastructure improvements. To make this decision, the Decision Makers seek to implement drought interventions in geographic locations that serve High Vulnerability human communities. Thus, the Socioeconomic Vulnerability component of EVDT outputs a map of human vulnerability to drought that is informed by demographic maps. The Vulnerability component of EVDT produces this map by combining a satellite and in-situ data set showing the assessment of Meteorologic, Agricultural and Hydrologic Drought severity in a spatial view. The Technology Design Model is used in a minimal way in this proposal; it simply contains the list in Table 1 of data sources. The southern provinces of Angola, especially Cunene, Huila and Namibe, depend heavily for their economic well-being and culture on the raising of livestock (especially cattle) and crops (especially millet and sorghum). The region is also highly impacted by drought. According to a Post Disaster Needs Assessment preformed at the request of the Government of Angola after the droughts from 2012-2016, about 4 million people were living in Cunene, Huila and Namibe provinces at the time of publication of the report and almost 70% of the population depended on farming as their principal economic activity. Many families raised cattle as their main livestock, in addition to goats, sheep, pigs and poultry. The production and use of milk in the diet and commercial activities was key to the community culture. In order to raise cattle in the region with uncertain rainfall, family members, primarily male, participate in transhumance pastoralism, traveling to distant locations to find safe pasture. The rural populations in Cunene, Huila and Namibe provinces were reported to have high illiteracy rates (about between 25 and 35%) as well as limited access to consistent water sources and electricity. Electricity access ranged from 16% to 32%; those without electricity depend heavily on charcoal and firewood for energy (Rocha et al, 2017).

The geographic location of these provinces exposes them to cyclic natural disasters, including droughts and floods (Gjerstad 2014). Major challenges due to drought have been documented in recent decades from 1995 through the present, noting a pattern of low rainfall every five years and alternative times of flooding. In 2018 and 2019, a year-long period of drought is estimated to have “severely affected 880,172 people and over one million heads of cattle and goats, killing 30,000 heads of cattle” (Agencia Angola Press November 2019). Cunene province experienced heavy rainfall in October and December 2019, and it causes flooding in areas that have land degradation due to drought (Agencia Angola Press 4 December 2019). In November 2019, the Ministry of Energy and Waters initiated the construction of a new systems for catching, pumping and managing water from the Cunene River as one of several measures to respond to the drought and flood cycle. The government also responds by providing emergency water deliveries via trucks and develops projects to improve boreholes (Agencia Angola Press October 2019; Agencia Angola Press 31 December 2019). The Angolan Management Office for the National Space Program (GGPEN) has invited a team led by Professor Danielle Wood and Professor Dara Entekhabi to collaborate on the development of an information system to help the government of Angola respond to the ongoing challenges of drought in the Cunene, Huila and Namibe Provinces of southern Angola. The GGPEN team made a field visit to the Cunene province to learn what impacts are happening for local communities and to understand what methods are being used to provide relief from the drought.

In November 2019, Professor Danielle Wood and MIT Research Scientist Dr. Katlyn Turner joined an international delegation to visit Cunene to present to local government representatives the opportunities to use satellite earth observation to support the efforts to mitigate the harmful impacts of the drought/flood cycle. Professor Wood worked with Eric Ashcroft of the Blue Raster data analytics firm to develop a prototype of an Angola Drought Decision Support System that presents satellite-based analysis of rainfall, soil moisture, vegetation health and surface water area in a graphic map available on the internet. Professor Wood presented the initial version of this Angola Drought Decision Support System. For the scope of the proposed project, the Management Office of the National Space Program (GGPEN) of Angola serves as the primary point of contact between the Government of Angola and the US-based project team (with collaborators from MIT, Blue Raster and Resources for the Future). One mandate of GGPEN is to increase the use of satellite-based Earth Observation data among government agencies in Angola. GGPEN will coordinate within the government of Angola on behalf of the project to identify the multiple agencies that play a role to shape the drought response at the national and local level. GGPEN is not the decision maker who specifically implements the interventions to respond to the drought (such as water truck deliveries or borehole projects). However, GGPEN will represent the perspective of the decision maker for the US-based team from MIT, Blue Raster and Resources for the Future. The Decision Maker will be conceived as the “Government of Angola,” while GGPEN will communicate with the US-based project team to ensure the work by the US team responds to Decision Maker needs. For the Transition Plan, GGPEN ensures long term application of the Angola Drought Decision Support System providing qualified personnel to operate the software of the Decision Support System and making the tool available for use by agencies responding to drought.

The process for GGPEN to serve as a coordinator for linking the work by the US to relevant organizations in Angola started during a pilot study on this project during 2019. Drought response organizations include World Vision and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); from Angola this includes Gabinete Provincial de Infra-Estrutura e S. Técnicos (Provincial Infrastructure Cabinet); GAPP - Gabinete de Agricultura, Pecuária e Pesca (Cabinet for Agriculture, Livestock and Fishing). The baseline status of the decision-making activity was reviewed by GGPEN in a field visit to the Cunene Province. The field visit revealed that there is limited use of satellite-based earth observation data to inform drought response in Cunene by government and private non-profits but there is not a centralized integrated view that mixes scientific environmental observation with social science methods to estimate human vulnerability. Also, the field visit showed that the drought response is not currently being evaluated based on the metric of delivering services to High Vulnerability communities. This project fills the gap.