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Big data and transboundary groundwater resource management

Transboundary groundwater resources

Water does not adhere to the strict political boundaries set by people. Just as some rivers flow through National boarders, the same is true for aquifers that store groundwater. Having different governments and organisations utilising these transboundary groundwater sources can make their management complicated and often unsustainable. One such example is the Ramotswa Transboundary Aquifer Area (RTBAA), which lies on the boarder of Botswana and South Africa. This aquifer is crucial for the upper part of the Limpopo river basin, which is shared and used by the people of South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  

Conceptual diagram of how data was managed, which aids in transboundary water management.
Conceptual diagram of how data was managed, which aids in transboundary water management.

Big data management

For transboundary groundwater resources to be managed effectively, there is a need for co-operation between various stakeholders. This was the case in the RTBAA, where various stakeholders in addition to Umvoto Africa, such as, IGRAC, DWS Botswana, DWS South Africa, IWMI, SADC-GMI worked closely to set up a system for sustainable management of the RTBAA.

Central to effective management was ensuring the ease of access to good quality data. As with most datasets, the data can suffer from errors, incompleteness, and inconsistencies. This is all certainly true in projects like this when various stakeholders have their own ways and means of collecting data. This was certainly the case with this project. The team thus had to develop PythonTM computer code that allowed for big data management and for the data to be collated and standardised. This involved data gathering, assessment, cleaning and quality control. This process is shown in Figure 1.

Additionally, a quality control system was formalised which included protocols on monitoring, procedures for data recording and handling erroneous data. This example of data sharing and management could serve as an example to stakeholders in other areas of the SADC region where there are transboundary groundwater resources.

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