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United States Government & World Bank Collaboration: Remote Sensing & Water

Introduction and Background

In March 2011, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and World Bank President Robert Zoellick signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen U.S. Government-World Bank relations.

This partnership has a concerted mission of "supporting developing countries’ efforts to create a water secure world and to fight water scarcity and poor water quality." Under this agreement, USG Agencies have agreed to provide remote sensing data (where possible) and means with which to interpret and employ it to support (a) the proper management of water resources; (b) reliable and sU.S.tainable access to an acceptable quantity and quality of water to meet human livelihood, ecosystem and production needs; (c) reduction of the risk for hydrological events; and (d) rehabilitation of degraded watersheds – among other goals.

Key Thematic Areas of Interest

There has been increasing interest in the water community at the Bank in the use of remote sensing/earth observation technologies. This has been both to support Bank studies as well as to help Bank clients leapfrog technology in modernizing their approaches to water resources management and service delivery.

U.S. Government Agencies, especially NASA, NOAA, USGS, and USDA, have been working on cutting-edge advances in these tools that offer tremendous potential for the developing world in terms of improving productivity, reducing vulnerability and conflicts, and improving resilience to climate change. There is significant potential to use the provisions of this USG-WB MOU to help Bank staff become better aware of modern remote sensing tools, knowledge products, and expertise and how activities in this regard could be further enhanced.

A survey of Bank task team leaders (TTL) related to the water sector on their needs for assistance in remote sensing identified three priority categories:

  • Climate Variability and Change: As the climate and its variability change, including alteration of the frequency and intensity of extreme events, remote sensing will prove useful for countries seeking to improve their capabilities in: (a) drought and flood management, (b) other disaster risk reduction, and (c) climate change. These can provide opportunities for forecasting and early warning systems as well as disaster preparedness, management, and response, in addition to improving resilience to climate variability and change.

  • Agricultural Systems: The agriculture sector in the developing world is also particularly vulnerable and can benefit greatly from remote sensing assistance, particularly towards: (a) evapotranspiration mapping for use in estimating water losses and monitoring irrigation water use, and (b) cropping systems performance. These can provide valuable inputs for improved management of irrigation and rainfed systems.

  • Water Systems Planning and Management: Comprehensive water system planning requires the ability to estimate surface water and groundwater fluxes in river basins. Existing remote sensing systems can help provide new tools to monitor or estimate various parts of the hydrologic cycle, including precipitation, ET, flows, changes in availability of surface and ground waters, water storage, aquifer recharge, inundation, and other aspects. These can provide new opportunities for basin planning, inflow forecasting, systems operations, and water infrastructure management.


To help further operationalize the alignment of interests between World Bank TTL’s and USG agencies involved in remote sensing, a day-long event was held on February 29, 2012 at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, DC. This event coincided with the World Bank’s Sustainable Development Network (SDN) week at which several hundred World Bank sustainable development specialists, many working on water resources related activities around the world, took part.

The objectives of the meeting were to:

  • Facilitate a “meet and greet” between Bank staff interested in remote sensing for water applications and USG specialists working on such applications.
  • Expose the work of the Bank in water and identify those areas that can benefit from enhanced coordination with USG specialist agencies.
  • Present successful experiences of various USG agencies involved in remote sensing for water applications and identify opportunities for replication/expansion in World Bank financed projects/studies etc.
  • Identify pipeline of projects on which cooperation between Bank projects and USG agencies is both technically and economically feasible.

More information

Last updated: 2012-04-02

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