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[LUSAKA] Zambian water authorities are using information from satellite images to improve management of water resources in the country.

The project, Integrated Water Resource Management for Zambia (IWAREMA), is part of the European Space Agency's (ESA) TIGER initiative (see African mapping highlights risk of drought and flood) which aims to help Africa overcome water-related problems and use satellite data to close the information gap on water availability.

Carried out by Geographic Information Management, a Belgian company, in partnership with the University of Zambia and the Zambian water authorities, the project generates a variety of environmental maps that provide local policy-makers with information to make effective decisions on water-resource management.

The maps show where urban areas are expanding and where forest and agricultural areas are being lost. They enable the risk of erosion to be calculated, as well as changes in water supplies and the percentage of surface water — an indictor for potential floods.

Zambia is one of sub-Saharan Africa's most urbanised nations, with 34 per cent of the population living in urban areas. Urbanisation has been rapid, however, and infrastructure such as adequate water resources and sanitation has not yet caught up.

The project concentrates on the densely populated Kafue River basin, a sub-basin of the Zambezi River. Half of the country's 11 million people live in the basin and it is vital to the country's economy.

Competition for water resources on the Kafue flats from agriculture, fisheries, tourism and wildlife is high, and managing water resources better there would also protect the ecosystem.

"Science plays an important role in water development and management and, as such, the Zambian government is happy with the project as it will help the government to protect the country's natural resources," Peter Daka, Zambia's minister of science and technology told SciDev.Net.

Banda Kawawa, from the University of Zambia, who is involved in the project, said in a press release that the project is useful for policy-makers making decisions about the Kafue river basin, and it should be extended to other basins of the Zambezi to improve their information availability.