SERVIR-Himalaya project outcome promises impact in the field

14 Jul 2015

Under its SERVIR-Himalaya Initiative, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has supported 14 research grants and small scale application development projects from Bangladesh, Nepal, India, and Pakistan that address issues such as flood forecasting, forest fire management, landslide hazard, agricultural monitoring, and biomass estimation. Outcomes of the projects were presented during a two-day workshop held at ICIMOD on 1 and 2 July 2015.

During a one-year period, projects selected through a competitive bid engaged directly with members of communities in their study areas to incorporate local context and perspectives. Results are a collection of best practices demonstrating how Earth observation tools can help address environmental problems faced by communities in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. Most of these practices can be replicated across the countries.

Members of SERVIR-Himalaya small grant and small scale applications programme with Dr David Molden, Director General, ICIMOD and representatives from NASA, USAID and DAI

Projects undertaken in Bangladesh addressed environmental problems the country is facing and included improving the existing flood forecasting system and landslide early warning systems, as well as identifying potential sources for clean drinking water. Projects for select areas in India, Nepal, and Pakistan tackled similar issues and included developing an android application for disaster reporting (this was tested and proven useful in the field during the recent earthquake in Nepal); developing a model that engages community members in mapping resources via emerging digital media such as mobile phones and global positioning systems; using unmanned aerial vehicles to measure forest above-ground biomass; collecting data on grazing intensity and rangeland management to help decision makers in sustainable management; and using a community-based forest fire information system to encourage community members to send out forest fire alerts and mobilize resources for combating the fire.

The small grant and small scale application programmes were started in July 2014 with the aim to expand the network of organizations, universities, and institutions in the HKH region to improve capacity in evidence-based decision making. Another objective was to generate innovative ideas for applying Earth observation data and geospatial methods/tools for decision making in the region.

Participants check out poster prepared by the grantees about their study outcome presented during the final workshop

During the inaugural session of the workshop, ICIMOD’s Director General Dr David Molden described the project outcomes as having great potential in applications and impact. He also highlighted how skills acquired through SERVIR have been crucial in providing potential geo-hazard maps to the government of Nepal during the recent earthquake. Such maps supported the Government in carrying out timely relief interventions.

Project participants spoke about other benefits of the projects, which not only collected data from the field but also better familiarized people on the ground with climate change impacts.

“Coming from a mountain community where the impact of climate change is more than visible, the SERVIR-Himalaya small scale application programme helped us to understand our challenges and how we can adapt to these challenges through the use of geospatial tools and technologies,” said Syed Najam ul Hassan, from Karakoram International University in Pakistan.

Participants get a closer look at the unmanned aerial vehicles developed by Kathmandu University to measure forest above-ground biomass

Dr Waqas Ahmed Qazi of the Institute of Space Technology in Pakistan said his team worked on forest above-ground biomass estimation, correlating field measurements with unique remote sensing measurements.

Another workshop participant, Binod Prasad Heyojoo of Institute of Forestry, Tribhuvan University in Nepal, said the programme not only raised his research team’s understanding of Nepal’s critical forest fire issues but they were also able to produce powerful research-based teaching and learning materials for forest managers.

Muhammad Enamul Quadir from the Institute of Water Modelling in Bangladesh noted “The SERVIR-Himalaya programme provided us the opportunity to use satellite data in research. The skills we have acquired through this will improve the way we conduct research in the future.”

“Geospatial solutions have given a special eye to our natural resource management efforts – a new perspective to participatory action research,” said Dr Dipayan Dey of the South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE) in India. “Thanks to the small grant programme, which has enabled us to augment our reach to communities in the HKH.”

SERVIR is a joint development initiative of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), working in partnership with leading regional organizations around the globe. SERVIR helps those most in need of tools for managing climate risks and landuse. SERVIR’s activities in the HKH region are implemented by ICIMOD.

Workshop attendees included representatives from the various projects as well as from USAID, NASA, DAI, and RCMRD/SERVIR-Eastern & Southern Africa.