The workshop presentations and panel discussions identified a number of key scientific, technological, institutional, and policy issues regarding data for decision making toward sustainable development of the SRB. These are summarized below. While they are representative of the views expressed by many of the participants, they do not constitute formal consensus conclusions or recommendations.
Because the livelihoods of so many people depend on water from the SRB or access to the water, and because the quality, movement, and temporal extent of the water all determine aspects of human and livestock health, the broader basin needs to be studied in its totality. One could argue that because of socioeconomic connections outside the basin, and the fact that policy is determined in each country outside the basin and even at some distance, an even broader spatial view should be considered.
The issues and problems confronting the management of the SRB are multisectoral and multidisciplinary, and their resolution will require data and information from many areas and sources. A shared knowledge base founded on factual, objective, and reliable data is essential to addressing these problems. As has already been amply demonstrated throughout the history of the dams in the SRB, any significant management decision will have diverse and complex results because of the ecological interactions
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4 Summary of Issues Raised by the Participants at the Workshop The workshop presentations and panel discussions identified a number of key scientific, technological, institutional, and policy issues regarding data for decision making toward sustainable development of the SRB. These are summarized below. While they are representative of the views expressed by many of the participants, they do not constitute formal consensus conclusions or recommendations. SCIENTIFIC DATA ISSUES Because the livelihoods of so many people depend on water from the SRB or access to the water, and because the quality, movement, and temporal extent of the water all determine aspects of human and livestock health, the broader basin needs to be studied in its totality. One could argue that because of socioeconomic connections outside the basin, and the fact that policy is determined in each country outside the basin and even at some distance, an even broader spatial view should be considered. The issues and problems confronting the management of the SRB are multisectoral and multidisciplinary, and their resolution will require data and information from many areas and sources. A shared knowledge base founded on factual, objective, and reliable data is essential to addressing these problems. As has already been amply demonstrated throughout the history of the dams in the SRB, any significant management decision will have diverse and complex results because of the ecological interactions
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involving multiple causal relationships and feedbacks. It is nonetheless largely a constrained and scientifically manageable system because its immediate area of geographic importance is largely watershed based and many of the problems, such as endemic malaria and schistosomiasis, are well understood from other aquatic systems. The data that are needed include static data (e.g., soils, topography) and dynamic data (e.g., rainfall estimate, NDVI, infectivity rates, crop yields, and water flow). These dynamic data will vary by time scales, ranging from 15 minutes to weekly to annual. There is a lack of baseline data, an inability to compare data, an inability to even find documents, and a serious time lag between data acquisition (e.g., stream flow) and availability. In a system where timing of artificial floods, saltwater intrusion, and other variables are critical for agricultural and health management, these problems portend serious management issues with major consequences for human health and livelihoods, issues that have earlier resulted in significant conflict. There is a need to identify and assess the status of all data resources concerning the SRB (not only the ones identified through this workshop) to establish a baseline and comprehensive directory that is online. What data are available, what is their quality, what is their relevance, and what are the critical gaps? The OMVS has a lot of information, but it is unclear how much and it is not yet digitally accessible. There also are many foreign data sources (e.g., U.S. and French government satellite data) that are relevant, as well as a wealth of information based on experience in managing other river systems. All of these external information resources should be considered in addressing SRB problems. A predictive scenario-modeling approach would be useful for addressing some SRB issues. The relationship of health and environmental factors is hard to determine and the integration of data from these (and other) diverse discipline areas is therefore difficult. The role and value of traditional or indigenous knowledge is underappreciated in many studies dealing with the SRB. There appears to be a growing realization by the scientific community that individual researcher data should be made available. This is much more prevalent in the environmental area than in biomedicine. Barriers to data sharing in biomedical research include intellectual property concerns, privacy, longitudinal studies, individual research as opposed to large observational team projects, and the heterogeneity of such data. Scientists who are involved in research and data activities related to the SRB ought to assume more responsibility to work on solutions for the most pressing problems and to communicate their findings to decision makers and the public more effectively.
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TECHNOLOGICAL DATA ISSUES There is a wide disparity in technological capabilities for SRB data and information management and use. This became clear to workshop participants during two site visits. Although the personnel in the OMVS Documentation Center had the expertise to meet substantially higher technology standards, they lacked most basic information technology capabilities, including Internet connectivity. Effective Internet links will be essential for deriving maximum benefits from distributed digital data holdings throughout the region, and beyond. There is a need to have a standardized, modern cartographic GIS as a tool to integrate the diverse data resources in support of various decision-making and policy-formation activities, both for the SRB and for many other applications and geographic areas. Other computational tools are needed to model and assess agricultural, environmental, and hydrological processes. Many of the key data sets are available and so are the techniques for modeling and simulation. The main hurdle, as with many other needed improvements, is a lack of money, rather than the requisite technology or expertise. Radios are the most widespread means of information dissemination and this could be better exploited. For example, the Republic of Guinea used remotely sensed data in rural radio programs to disseminate information regarding bush fires. This showed that information could be used to limit fires by providing warning of fires when they occur to help limit their spread and loss of life. INSTITUTIONAL DATA ISSUES Improving the coordination of existing institutions and projects is a key concern. For example, the OMVS and CSE activities are not adequately linked. A network of all other relevant data-holding institutions in the SRB region as well as internationally could be formed to share data and information in an integrated manner. The CSE might consider viewing its role as a clearinghouse for a national and regional spatial data infrastructure. A clearinghouse is not centralized but designed as a distributed data center connected through the Internet. There is no physical transfer of actual data holdings; the distributed data are made available through separate servers containing structured data and metadata. A comprehensive strategy for a GIS-based geospatial data clearinghouse is important to address these needs successfully. This would go a long way toward linking and integrating the data holdings of all the separate institutions and individual researchers.
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POLICY ISSUES REGARDING DATA FOR DECISION MAKING There is a need to take better advantage of the SRB data that are collected and to establish early warning and vulnerability links. Scientific data in particular need to be used and integrated from research into policy and decision making whenever appropriate. The process for this may be simply described as follows: data → information → knowledge → understanding → decision making at different levels. Education of the policy makers and the population is very important to this process, but the data need to be relevant to policy formation first. It is essential to learn from and avoid the mistakes made in the past that were raised in some of the presentations. There is a role for the scientific community in the policy process. Scientists can act as “policy entrepreneurs” to help bring issues to the attention of decision makers and the public, and particularly by cooperating with OMVS and its senior management and technical staff. For data collection and analysis, as well as for the use of the data in decision making, there are political and ideological biases and barriers. An important issue is the requirement for clear credibility on the part of the data holders and decision makers in the SRB. This requires or would be aided by a high level of transparency in the data holdings as well as in the decision-making process. An up-to-date and complete Web-based system with a geospatial clearinghouse for both spatial data and relevant documents would go a long way toward achieving such transparency. Related to the immediately preceding issue is the need to involve all stakeholders, including the people from the communities directly affected, in the problem management and policy formation. Potential participants in decision making include government agencies, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and the public, which would include representatives of local inhabitants and fishermen, herders, and farmers (both flood-recession and irrigation). Who the messenger is can be as important as what the message is. There is a need to use trusted people who speak the local language in converting and diffusing the knowledge derived from the original data into relevant public action. For example, an HIV awareness initiative used a national and regional network of journalists who were given advance training with a grants program. A network of religious leaders was also used. Another example from beyond the region was educating the public about how to avoid conditions that might lead to infection by Hanta virus in Arizona. The approach was to get warnings out through the television weather reporters, who were found to be the public figures to whom most people listened most often. There needs to be public acceptance, not just top-down decisions, even if they are based on accurate data.
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For poor countries the requirements for collection of comprehensive and reliable data are nonetheless seen by many as a luxury that benefits an army of consultants but not the poor people. It is therefore important to prioritize and adequately justify the data collection activities and especially to make them subsequently available as widely as possible in order to derive maximum value from their use. The data collection activities should be linked to an analysis of comprehensive baseline data, to an assessment of information needs, and to an analysis of regional and national development policy and options. An approach found successful elsewhere to make the data available is to use these data in university teaching of scientific method and environmental assessment, and other educational exercises. Not only are results contributing to current knowledge but they also multiply potential users many fold through the graduating students who move on to responsible careers in government, academe, and industry. The capital cities of Mauritania, Senegal, and Mali (Nouakchott, Dakar, and Bamako, respectively) are located outside of the SRB, and there appears to be a disconnect between the decision making in these cities and local needs. A disconnect also exists between Saint-Louis, where the Diama Dam is located, and Dakar, where the OMVS is headquartered. The broad availability of relevant data and information online would help mitigate those asymmetries by linking regional executives and administrative entities (“communes rurales” and “urbaines”) in the SRB. The absence of Guinea in the OMVS has weakened the success of the water management and infrastructure development, operation, and maintenance because of the lack of upper basin data for planning and management purposes. River basins have historically been a meeting place for people of different cultures and ideologies. This attribute, along with a focus on science, is being used today in the formation of an International Watershed Research Network. Tapping an international cadre of scientists and engineers, the network is a means to standardize measurement techniques, analyses, and data management for the benefit of those within the basin and those extant who would apply the knowledge gained from one watershed to another. Joining this network would address many of the issues raised herein: data sharing, intercomparability of measurements and analyses, access to standardized technology, international shared expertise, effective applications, and institutional coordination.