Drought warning system trialled in Pacific Islands

13 Sep 2022, 8:33 AM

A new drought warning system successfully piloted in Northland is now being trialled in the Pacific Islands.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s International Development Cooperation (formerly our aid programme), administered by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade funded Engineers Without Borders to develop and pilot the $247,500 Pacific Drought Warning System (DEWS) in 2020.

COVID-19 meant it could not be piloted in the Pacific Islands, so Te Kao and Ngunguru in Northland were selected as pilot locations with on the ground support provided by Northland Regional Council and Engineers Without Borders NZ (EWBNZ). The sensors and the user application were developed by IOT Ventures.

Council Monitoring Manager Jason Donaghy says Northland’s water supply situation has some similarities to Pacific Island communities, particularly in the dependence on rainwater supplies.

When rainfall is unreliable, in some places there are not big local storage facilities like dams or large aquifers available, then communities are dependent on delivery of emergency water from a distance, which takes time to organise.

He said these similarities made Northland a good place for the trial of a system that warns when water reserves are running low in communities. Given the impact of the recent drought on communities reliant on water tanks, council is looking at how technology can support and help people manage through drought events.

The DEWS warning system is based on smart sensors that detect the current level in a water tank and link it with information provided by families about their daily water use. This is then combined with weather forecasts, to give the household warning when supplies are running low.

The information can be combined for a geographical area, to help communities recognise shortages, and give disaster response organisations early notice of the need for water relief in different areas.

The aim is to avoid crises and build community resilience to the increased risk of droughts on Pacific Islands, as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns shift.

A story about the Drought Early Warning System on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website reports the system is now being trialled on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands after the success of the Northland pilot.

Work began in April 2022 in the project trial led by Aitutaki Island Government, with support from Engineers without Borders New Zealand and Infrastructure Cook Islands, and funding through Aotearoa New Zealand’s International Development Cooperation.

Men on water tank in the Cook Islands.

Installing a sensor on a community water tank at Arutanga in the Cook Islands. Matt Brenin of Green Earth Development works with Timothy Tangirere of Infrastructure Cook Islands and Kaitai Kaitai of the Aitutaki Island Government Water Works Department. Photo: Infrastructure Cook Islands.