Global Waters tells the story of USAID's water-related efforts around the globe, featuring in-depth articles exploring solutions to local as well as global water challenges, opinion pieces by development professionals, and first-hand accounts from stakeholders and beneficiaries.
From Satellite to Village, Turning Data into Action
Since 2005, an ambitious collaboration between NASA and USAID has been quietly but steadily building the capacity of scientific organizations, government officials, emergency responders, and communities across the developing world to better handle environmental challenges and more effectively pursue resilient development. Known as SERVIR — which means “to serve” in several languages — it seeks to deliver near-real-time environmental data from Earth-orbiting satellites to data-scarce communities and scientists, and translate that data into tools, products, and services that can inform local decision-making on everything from land use and food production to water management and disaster risk reduction.
SERVIR’s overarching goal of transferring knowledge from U.S. scientists and development experts to their counterparts abroad equips partners with the skills and information needed to handle environmental challenges as they arise, while empowering local scientists and policymakers — and the communities they serve — to become more self-reliant.
Now entering its 13th year, SERVIR showcases the productive potential of interagency collaboration within the U.S. Government. “The success of SERVIR is a result of bringing together perhaps two of the most different agencies in the federal government — NASA and USAID,” says SERVIR Co-founder Dan Irwin. “NASA works in space and uses the unique vantage point of space to monitor our planet, and USAID works on the ground in over 100 countries around the world. By sharing our complementary expertise — and partnering with leading technical organizations — we’re connecting space to village, creating demand-driven, actionable services using satellite data to help countries address critical issues such as floods and droughts.”
Democratizing Access to Scientific Data Fuels Greater Self-Reliance
SERVIR works hand-in-hand with institutional partners via four regional hubs: SERVIR-West Africa, SERVIR-Eastern and Southern Africa, SERVIR-Hindu Kush Himalaya, and SERVIR-Mekong. With that geographic reach, SERVIR has helped streamline access to scientific data in 45 countries since the program’s launch. The number of beneficiary countries is poised to grow in the coming years as demand surges for satellite-based Earth observation data that can inform decision-making, and the new SERVIR Amazonia hub arrives in South America in 2019.
Through each regional hub, SERVIR engages a primary institutional partner that helps connect NASA and USAID officials with their local counterparts. These institutional partners, such as the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center in the Mekong basin, not only offer connections to national governments and development agencies, but also facilitate knowledge transfer and accelerate capacity building by helping connect local scientists, development officials, policymakers, and emergency response officials. “If we want lasting influence, we have to connect effectively to local institutions,” says Kevin Coffey with USAID’s Global Climate Change Office. “We do think really hard about sustainability.”
How does the program know what type of data is most needed at the local level, and how to effectively translate that data into actionable information? SERVIR’s institutional partners conduct needs assessments in consultation with local stakeholders that identify information gaps. In turn, SERVIR is able to more effectively gather and distribute the data in highest demand, and help integrate this information into technical tools and services that assist communities in making better-informed choices about land use and economic development.