The border region of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda: ESA Envisat MERIS image/2012

The border region of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda: ESA Envisat MERIS image/2012

Africa, the world’s second largest and driest continent, has launched a new space technology infrastructure plan for monitoring and solving its environmental challenges.

Backed by 22 African nations and five African science organisations, the AfriGEOSS initiative will support the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS)) project, which was founded by the G8 nations in 2005 and is co-ordinated in Geneva by the Group on Earth Observations (GEO).

AfriGEOSS goals are to provide an open democratic data management platform that can help African nations and organisations contribute to GEOSS, promote knowledge sharing on challenges and solutions, and leverage current capacities and opportunities for collaborations with major international GEOSS stakeholders.

The first major goal is to co-ordinate the network of ground stations to directly download satellite data to help African agencies respond to disasters (fires and flooding), disease outbreaks and natural resources management.

Other pilot projects include developing a Bio-Energy Atlas for Africa, African contributions to the GEO Forest Carbon Tracking (FCT) project and Global Forest Observation Initiative (GFOI) – with Cameroon, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo already running demonstration projects – and African advances in the World Health Organization’s Meningitis Risk and Information Technology (MERIT) project.

AfriGEOSS was launched in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 5 November 2013. The startup phase was led by a working group of African states and the GEO secretariat.

At the launch, the Director of Human Resources and Science and Technology with the African Union Commission, Dr Abdul Hakim Tajeb Alwae, welcomed the AfriGEOSS initiative and its objectives. ‘Lack of co-ordination is a key contributor to under-utilisation of Africa’s resources,’ he said.

In a keynote address, the Director General of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology, Dr Phil Mjwara, said: ‘Being an emerging space player, Africa must contribute to activities such as GEOSS and must take charge of its Earth observation activities – through AfriGEOSS – to improve the livelihoods of our people.’

AfriGEOSS’ participating groups are the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Association of Remote Sensing for the Environment (AARSE), the Kenya-based Regional Centre for Monitoring of Resources for Development (RCMRD), the Niger-based African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD) and Africa’s Environmental Information System (EIS-Africa).

AfriGEOSS participating nations are Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Democratic Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea Republic, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tunisia and Uganda.

—A preliminary presentation explaining AfriGEOSS opens here.

—The European Space Agency’s TIGER initiative, to help Arican nations co-ordinate reliable water supplies, is explained here.