Aldo Agostinelli

Since the early days of humanity, man has monitored rivers to prevent floods and draughts. But what before could be done visually, is now achieved through a data analysis process. According to the experts who recently gathered in Rome for the International Water and Climate Summit, data analysis is now a crucial factor if we want to be able to efficiently tackle the effects of climate changes on rivers, which are more and more frequently affected by long periods of intense rain alternating with hot, dry weather. However, a serious issue has been identified, too: poor countries are not equipped with data collection points and, there are very few experts, to say the least, who can read such data and provide us with effective corrective measures. Read it in Italian. 

The European Centre for River Restoration has pointed out that, if we compare the city of Vienna with any province in Ethiopia, this latter will have 1/10 of the data collection centers to be found in the Austrian capital. Definitely too few for a serious “environmental monitoring process” to be carried out. Therefore, data collected cannot be compared to the ones recorded in European cities.

Despite the difficulties, however, even the representatives of developing countries who joined the aforesaid convention, admitted that data analysis and data sharing are  fundamental processes to be applied if we want to improve the global reaction to the effects of climate change (with reference to this subject, you can also read Big data, a powerful weapon scientists can use to defend our planet ). These are the only tools we have to create a clear live map of different phenomena that are taking place in different locations at the same time. For instance: there may be huge floods in Sudan, caused by the river Nile, while Ethiopia may suffer from long draughts. If we keep on applying traditional methods, it will take months to study such events, and to plan some effective actions which may be critical for local people.

Luckily, data and studies have started being shared online and authorities in charge of monitoring big rivers have been preparing some public online databases with open-data projects, aimed at helping scientists and making their work easier. And we are not only talking about Western realities such as the U.S. Geological Survey Surface-Water Data for USA, but also like the Mekong.

Nevertheless, the lack of experts who can read big data and turn them into a precious resource is still a big issue. And we are not really talking about big data, but only about “huge quantities of data”.

When such “huge quantities of data” actually become big data, such experts will be even more fundamental. Unfortunately, time is running out and climate changes won’t wait for us. We’d better work faster on both issues if we want to save both rivers and ourselves.

What about climate change and the safeguarding of big rivers? Which actions should be taken in your opinion? Tweet @agostinellialdo.

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Aldo Agostinelli