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WCNR-Ethiopia Strategic Partnership News

Building Local Capacity in Geospatial Technologies and Applications through Training, Education and Stakeholder Participation; Announcing a New Partnership with Mekelle University and Mekelle City Water Administration

September 7, 2016

By Amanda West, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow

We are excited to announce a new grant has been awarded to cultivate partnerships between the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) at CSU, the Institute of Geo-Informatics and Earth Observation Sciences (I-GEOS) at Mekelle University (MU), the Mekelle City Water Administration, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The project, entitled Building Geospatial Networks for Mapping Infrastructure, Land-use and Water Resources in Mekelle, Ethiopia will be led by the CSU team, which includes Paul Evangelista (PI), Amanda West, Nicholas Young, Gabriel Senay, Ryan Anderson, and Cara Steger. The project is supported by the US Department of State’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology (OES/SAT) and Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU), Secondary Cities Project. The goal of the proposed project is to build local capacity in geospatial technologies and applications through training, education and stakeholder participation. Partnerships between MU, Mekelle City Water Administration and CSU will foster learning through open source geospatial sciences, develop high-priority local and regional geospatial datasets, and greatly improve data accessibility by a wide variety of end-users.

Tesfu Lemma, a GIS technician, demonstrates the TNT Mips GIS software that is used for GIS tasks within Relief Society of Tigray (REST; Photo by N. Young).

Mekelle (also known as Mek’Ele) is the capital of the Tigray Regional State located in the stunning semi-arid landscape of the northern Ethiopian highlands. The city was the capital of the entire Ethiopian state during the latter part of the 19th century, during the reign of Emperor Yohannis IV. Believed to have been founded by salt traders in the 13th century, Mekelle became a center of Ethiopian politics and commerce by the 1870s. After the death of Emporor Yohannis IV, the capital of the Ethiopian state was moved to the present location in Addis Ababa, approximately 780 km south. Since that time, Mekelle has remained a hub of Ethiopian politics, economics, education and culture; it is considered the most important city in Northern Ethiopia with close proximity to the Red Sea, Eritrea and Sudan.

The government is currently strategizing improvements in water quality and quantity for the residents of Mekelle and the surrounding region. Geospatial data production, modeling, and analyses are vital tools to a broad range of stakeholders in this context, from city water delivery infrastructure planning to conservation of catchment zones and surrounding watershed that are critical to these services. Universities provide a foundation for training in geospatial tools, and can partner with local stakeholders to facilitate planning, implementation, and evaluation of water service programs. With the new project, CSU and MU will use a combination of classroom instruction with on-line resources to teach and produce high-priority digital maps of infrastructure, land-use, and water resources in Ethiopia that will improve self-governance, conservation and sustainability of water resources, and adaptive planning for climate change.

Multiple water catchment and transportation features can be found in the surrounding region of Mekelle including: earth dams, river diversions, ponds, hand dug wells and irrigation canals as shown here (Photo by P. Evangelista).

The CSU team is currently developing training materials in geospatial technology for the program, and preparing to lead two workshops for project partners in Mekelle.