NASA Water Hole Monitoring

A study was initiated in 2007 to enhance the Livestock Early Warning Systems (LEWS) decision support system (DSS) by using NASA Earth-Sun Science data by adding water resources monitoring and herd migration tools that are disseminated to pastoral communities using RANET technologies. The existing LEWS project had recognized a need to improve the existing DSS to better identify situations where water becomes a limitation to pastoral use of forage supplies in a given region. The region identified for study provides a rich environment where the technology would greatly enhance water resource monitoring and provide high impact on the national livestock sector. Monitoring the status of waterholes and rivers is important not only to the pastoralists but also for better management of the environment in terms of land degradation brought about by excessive concentration of livestock during droughts.

WaterMon Banner

The project was located in a transboundary site in East Africa where pastoralism is a significant component of the economy. The study area traverses an ecologically, ethnically and institutionally heterogeneous transect of approximately 750 kilometers, from Yabello in southern Ethiopia south through Baringo, Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera and Samburu districts in northern Kenya. The spatial extent of the study area is approximately 150,000 km2. This study area was chosen not only because of the international nature of its extent (i.e., Ethiopia and Kenya) but also to capture variation in ecological potential, market access, livestock mobility and ethnic diversity across the region. It is also an area characterized by a growing number of conflicts between pastoralist communities over land, water and pasture. 

Men Observing Algae Growth

The study area is inhabited by several main pastoral ethnic groups: the Boran, Gabbra, Somali, Rendille, Samburu and others. Climatically, southern Ethiopia is semi-arid to arid. The main pastoral group in this zone is the Boran people who are pure pastoralists. Somali clans are also found in this zone. Northern Kenya can also be characterized as semi-arid to arid with the major pastoral groups in this region being the Samburu, Turkana, Borana and Somali. All these groups are pure pastoralists and practice transhumance (i.e. the practice of moving between seasonal base camps throughout the year to optimize use of forage resources). Their livelihoods depend on herds of cattle, sheep, goats and camels for food security. They move their livestock seasonally in order to exploit grazing in areas away from their permanent settlement sites. The animals owned are used for milking, slaughtered for meat, sold for cash or bartered for other commodities.

Waterhole At Sunset

Pastoralism by definition is an extensive system of livestock production in which a degree of mobility is incorporated as a strategy to manage production over a heterogeneous landscape characterized by a precarious climate. Because of the need to take full advantage of the landscape, pastoralism is poorly fitted to the rigid structure of national and international boundaries. The pastoral strategy of mobility therefore underscores the need for a regional perspective, especially since other impacts such as resource access conflict, spread of disease and livestock rustling are side effects of pastoral mobility. For this study, we are conducting four integrated activities that will provide a prototype application for arid regions in East Africa that will greatly improve the scope and effectiveness of the LEWS DSS. These four activities/objectives are as follows:

  1. Characterization and verification of water resources identified with NASA Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER), Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data to add a water resource mapping component to the LEWS
  2. Improvement of the forage mapping component of the LEWS DSS using Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Vegetation Continuous Fields (VCF) data to extend field collected data to other unsampled areas;
  3. Mapping of seasonal migration patterns and resource utilization of pastoral lands using GPS technology;
  4. Operational monitoring of water resources with NASA Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) data.

The website,, represents the operational components of activities 1 and 4 above.