Satellite Imagery Helps Countries Monitor Changing Water Conditions

Project Title: SERVIR Water Resource Assessments in Hindu Kush Himalaya
March 2019
An example of a water resource assessment image from Nepal. Credit: NASA
An example of a water resource assessment image from Nepal. Credit: NASA


Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal, along with other South Asian countries, face significant challenges in assessing the status of water resources in their countries. SERVIR Applied Sciences Team, through co-development with government departments in the region, are enabling use of satellite data and the latest hydrologic modeling to improve early warning systems in the region. SERVIR has conducted several capacity-building workshops in the last two years to ensure self-reliance to effectively use NASA datasets in the operations at those government departments.

The Story

SERVIR, a joint NASA and USAID initiative, is building the capacity of water resources departments in national governments in South Asia to use satellite data and hydrologic model products to improve water resource assessments. In Afghanistan and other countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalaya, SERVIR is helping government departments manage their water resources during the critical low-flow period, as well as during roaring floods.

In Afghanistan, glaciers serve as the headwaters of the Amu Darya River Basin and contribute to the Indus River Basin. A lack of baseline data for these glaciers makes it difficult to understand the impacts of periodic changes on water resources, particularly during the low-flow season before the monsoons. To address this need, the SERVIR Hindu Kush-Himalaya (SERVIR-HKH) initiative at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) collaborated with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Energy and Water to develop and launch a glacier dynamics tool—a first-of-a-kind inventory of glaciers and glacial lakes in Afghanistan. The tool is helping the ministry monitor how the water resources are changing during critical times of the year.

In another example, the Enhancing Flood Early Warning Services initiative is building the resilience of vulnerable communities in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya region by increasing flood forecast lead times and hosting the information on an interactive web platform. The service includes an operational 15-day flood forecast at designated locations based on a global hydrologic model, which is downscaled using methods co-developed by SERVIR Applied Sciences Team members from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Brigham Young University, ICIMOD, and Bangladesh Flood Forecast and Warning Center. Often, the lack of data sharing in transboundary watersheds increases the challenges of accurate flood forecasting downstream. Longer lead times and access to accurate, appropriate information ensures better preparedness for responders and, in turn, saves more lives and properties. Disseminating warning information, and giving communities timely access, is also important to get a maximum return from investing in early warning services.

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Strategic Objective(S)

Water Resources Management
Cooperation on Shared Waters


Provide technical assistance
Promote science, technology, innovation, and information