UNICEF reports that a third of children in the Pacific do not have access to good sanitation, and one in ten do not have access to safe drinking water. The Pacific Island’s small size, natural vulnerability and limited resources all contribute to the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) problems throughout the countries. 

Pacific Small Island Developing States (Pacific SIDS) Kiribati, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands host 81% of the Pacific population that don’t have access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation. The Pacific Community’s (SPC), Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division (GEM) is working on a multitude of projects and initiatives to improve these communities’ access to sanitary water.

This project is one of the 32 selected as part of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) - Google Earth Engine (GEE) Program that provides funding to tackle environmental and social challenges using open Earth observation data.

We spoke with Nicholas Metherall, GIS and RS Data Specialist, and Monitor Advisor from the Global EverGreening Alliance, to learn more about the project and how the team will be using GEE to improve Pacific Island Communities access to safe and reliable drinking water supplies. 

Nicholas, can you please provide us with an overview of your project

Our project seeks to utilise GEE along with other available datasets and resources to develop accessible data products that address water security and WASH in the Pacific SIDS. This work will aim to support capacity building in SPC’s Water Resources Section’s groundwater assessments, SPC’s Ridge to Reef Programmes’ environmental surface-water monitoring, and enhancing expertise within SPC’s Geoinformatics Section to fully utilise Earth Observation capabilities enabled by GEE and open data. 

(Our water resources team working tirelessly on the ground with local partner organisations for water security and WASH outcomes)

How will your project address community needs?

A major challenge in the Pacific is having access to quality datasets with the required spatial and temporal coverage to support decision-making. The lack of readily-available datasets significantly impacts rural and remote communities in the Pacific region, especially those who are exposed to climate variability and prolonged periods of drought. 

By having access to analysis ready datasets, communities can make informed decisions backed by sound and validated geospatial data available within EO platforms such as GEE.

How does Google Earth Engine help you achieve your project-related goals?

GEE provides the opportunity for us to harness its datasets catalogue and imagery from Landsat, Sentinel, Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. We can also leverage GEE’s cloud services for better detection of surface water, groundwater and other climate datasets. Further, GEE will help us do this in a manner that is scalable at both a region and national level.

How will funding from the GEO-GEE program help your project? 

Funding from the GEO-GEE program will directly support our access to training through capacity building with EO Data Science. This will improve our utilisation of geospatial data and tools, including GEE. This will compliment the work we do on the ground and contribute to the upskilling of our regional partner organisations and Pacific Governments.

What does success look like to you?

Success will be measured through a range of indicators that support our goal to improve and make a positive difference in the Pacific Region. These include: 

  1. The augmentation of regional water security and WASH database with global models and open data sources through the development of an application programming interface (API) to enable analysis within the GEE platform. 
  2. The addition of a remotely sensed indicator of surface-water (Landsat, Sentinel), groundwater (GRACE) and rainfall from synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data into our geodatabase.
  3. Support and inform our Ridge to Reef environmental and surface-water monitoring. 
  4. Capacity building workshops within Pacific Island Countries and with our partner organisations. 

EO Data Science’s role in the GEO-GEE Program

EO Data Science partnered with Google Earth Engine and the Group on Earth Observations to launch the GEO-GEE Program, which supports GEO member countries to operationalise their science as they strive to tackle the world’s biggest sustainable development challenges. 

In July 2020, 32 projects across 22 countries were selected into the program which offers $3 million USD towards product licenses and $1 million USD in technical support from EO Data Science. This funding and support will help these projects tackle global challenges using open Earth data. Read the announcement and list of winners here

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About the author: Amy Boyes

Amy is the Marketing Assistant at the NGIS Group.

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