Notes on the use of satellites to combat drought in Angola

View of Angola Drought Data Explorer website and respective geolocation instruments.

Article by Paula Nunes Tartari (School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg), part of an ongoing research on satellite technologies and climate change.

As the drought in southern Angola continues, the Angolan and international scientific community has mobilized to seek solutions in its fight. On 30 September 2020, a webinar was organized to launch the program “Das Secas às Cheias. Um Programa Científico Nacional”. One of the issues raised was the use of satellite technology to collect information for decision-making, combining information on environmental changes, socio-economic vulnerability, policy options and technological resources related to drought in southern Angola. (See, for example, Angola Drought Data Explorer). In this post, we offer an exploratory study on satellite technology for monitoring climate change, focusing in particular on the case of Angola.

Southern Angola continues to suffer strong consequences from a long period of drought that affects the country, one of the most drastic climatic shocks of recent times (UNICEF 2020, 2). Temperatures recorded in Angola in 2019 were the highest in the country in 45 years, with an estimated 1.6 million people affected by drought, equivalent to 333,163 families in 488 different counties (UNICEF 2020, 2). According to Nascimento (2020), the provinces initially affected were Cunene, Huíla and Namibe, later extending to Cuando Cubango and Moxico. This situation directly affects the Angolan social landscape and daily life – in particular rural and agricultural communities, due to their direct dependence on aquatic resources for their survival -, which results in the urgency of projects that monitor and mitigate the effects of drought.

From this perspective, satellite technology is a great ally when it comes to monitoring climate change. According to Gill (2020), the images provided by satellites are a source of essential data for research and understanding of climate change. Earth observation satellites provide real-time information that is used in decision making in scenarios of natural disasters and climate crises, becomes essential in the formulation of policies. Despite this, space is still an area dominated by countries and agencies with large budgets, given the costs of satellites and components, as well as launch and control bases. As a result, scientific diplomacy is a great ally in civil space cooperation projects. According to Fedoroff (2009, 10), the global scenario faces more and more interconnected challenges, which shows that issues such as global warming do not respect borders. In this way, collaboration between nations through scientific diplomacy becomes increasingly necessary (Turekian et. Al. 2015, 3).

In view of this, this text aims to present projects in Angola that have contributed to the monitoring of drought in the country through satellite technology. Although the Angolan space program has only recently started through the creation of the National Space Management Office (Gabinete de Gestão Espacial Nacional, aka GGPEN), some efforts can already be seen in this direction. This study aims to analyze how the country’s space exploration contributes to the panorama of the country’s scientific diplomacy and how it can intensify cooperation in the global scope.

Angosat-1 (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite technology in drought in Angola

The Angolan Space Program is still recent, but some significant achievements can already be seen. According to SGAC (2020), Angolan space activities started in the 1970s, with the installation of a 32-meter antenna, however it was in 2013 that Angola took the first concrete steps to become a nation with space capabilities, through the creation of GGPEN. The office aims to conduct strategic studies in order to establish cooperation agreements with technical-scientific institutions in the space area, ensure the creation of national technology and academic training and technology transfer, as well as know-how in the scope of the Angolan space program.

The Spatial Strategy of the Republic of Angola 2016-2025 is a public document that aims to establish the objectives as well as the guidelines “that should govern space activity in Angola taking into account the recognition of the vital importance that the use of space has for the socioeconomic development and the strategic positioning of the Republic of Angola” (Space Strategy of the Republic of Angola 2016, 4). The document also presents the pillars that should govern the Angolan space program, namely: the development of the space and terrestrial segment; human capacity for creating programs; the creation and increase of the Angolan space industry; international affirmation and space policy.

Much of the plan is based on the construction of a National Strategy for space development that depended excessively on the success of the launch and operation (as well as the revenue derived from it) of what was the first Angolan satellite, ANGOSAT-1 – which unfortunately lost its signal after four months of launch – and is cited as one of the pillars to justify the National Strategy. In addition, the National Strategy puts a vision for Angola in 2025 that:

Angola will be a country with spatial infrastructures, with independent and sustainable national scientific and technological competences in this field, which effectively takes advantage of space to promote socio-economic development – placing space at the service of citizens, industry and the State – and which assumes a leadership and cooperation role in the regional and international context (Space Strategy of the Angolan Republic 2016, 16).

ANGOSAT-1 was part of the ANGOSAT project, which is the result of a study by the Inter-ministerial Commission for the General Coordination of the Multisectoral Support Satellite Telecommunications Project (CISAT) and the Russian consortium by ROSOBONEXPORT and RSC Energia (GGPEN 2020). For the satellite’s manufacturing, launching and control processes, approximately US$ 320 million was spent, in a project that took 8 years to complete (Massala 2018). Angolan telecommunication companies spend approximately US$ 30 million per month renting satellite capabilities from third parties, and ANGOSAT-1 was the first Angolan communication satellite and aimed to try to solve some of the country’s problems in accessing communication, such as price and connectivity between cities and provinces, given the vast area of ​​the country (ITU 2020). With the revenue generated through the service to third parties derived from ANGOSAT-1, the country would reinvest in the space program so that it could be boosted, in addition to ensuring the country’s independence in the satellite communication sector. Angola, with a Russian partnership, has plans to launch ANGOSAT-2 in 2022 as a way to compensate for the loss of signal from ANGOSAT-1, which will cover Africa and part of Europe (GGPEN 2020). In May 2019, Angolan President João Lourenço signed a contract with Airbus for the construction of ANGOSAT-3. In addition, Angola is at the forefront as a leader in the shared network project via satellite of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) whose main focus is to provide telecommunications services at an affordable price.

Another pillar of the National Strategy is the training of professionals in the spatial sphere, and GGPEN organizes various training and programs for this, such as training on small satellites in 2019 and training with the Telecommunications Union (ITU) and SADC in terms of the application of satellites in 2020. In 2019, GGPEN sent six students to the master’s course at the Institut supérieur de l’aéronautique et de l’espace in France, with the aim of enabling students in the construction of the Angosat-2 and 3 satellites.

The office has a main project regarding combating, forecasting and mitigating drought in Angola. In November 2019, the Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technologies launched, through GGPEN, a project to quantify the problem of drought in southern Angola, called “Angola Drought Monitoring” (GGPEN 2019, 2020). The project has a partnership with the University of Tokyo, the International Space University in France and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and aims to monitor drought through the use of satellite data (GGPEN 2019, 2020). The project seeks to acquire information for drought monitoring and water management in Angola through a prototype satellite data mining system (Space in Africa 2019). According to GGPEN, the objective is to use satellite images to measure, quantify and diagnose drought, resulting in better management of assets and resources that are affected by drought. The study aims to identify the sources of water on the surface, measure the rate of soil cover as well as population density, rainfall history, vegetation indices and also predict and monitor drought periods (GGPEN 2020). No current information was found on the project’s progress, it is also believed that the images and the system are restricted to the project’s members. It is also necessary to know the use made of this information by the stakeholders (public administration, NGOs, etc.) in the field. In any case, it implies a major advance in the use of satellite technology to combat drought in the country, mainly given the very recent creation of the body responsible for managing the National Space Strategy.

Another project that indirectly assists in mitigating the effects of drought and whose main source is the use of satellite images, is the Mavo Diami application. The “Mavo Diami” project, which means “my land” in Kimbundo, one of the local languages -, aims to improve food and income security for more than 100,000 small farmers through the acceleration and performance of their agribusiness (Netherlands Space Office 2019, 1). Consisting of a public-private partnership through six organizations, the project encompasses World Vision, Aqueator Groen & Ruimte; eLEAF; FutureWater; Weather Impact, organizations from the Netherlands, and the Ministry of Agriculture of Angola (Netherlands Space Office 2019, 2). The project’s business model is based in part on the free and personalized services for farmers a through a subscription after the trial period, where direct revenue will come from the sale of the services (Netherlands Space Office 2019, 1). The additional revenue will be generated from providing the farmers’ profile to agricultural input suppliers and local companies (Netherlands Space Office 2019, 1). The investment in the project was 3,723,299 euros, with a duration of 3 years (between September 2019 to August 2022) (Akvo 2020). The project has already been launched and has more than 100 registered farmers, who receive information about cultivation and suitable soil, as well as daily agrometeorological updates through Telegram (Akvo 2020). Farmers can still contact a digital assistant to answer questions regarding soil preparation (Akvo 2020).

Image of agricultural work in Angola taken from the FutureWater website.

Despite being recent, GGPEN shows some significant advances in the Angolan space program and already makes use of satellite technology in the fight against drought that is plaguing the country. The available projects were only possible through scientific cooperation with organizations from other countries, showing the importance of scientific diplomacy for the country, especially in the case of a space program that is still being created and with a limited budget. In addition, the space sphere, as set out in the pillars of its national strategy, aims at the country’s international affirmation in this sector, as well as granting a regional leadership role.

References

AKVO. 2020. “Mavo Diami services launched“, 9 December 2020,

Fedoroff, Nina. 2009. “Science Diplomacy in the 21st Century“. Cell 136, p. 9-11. 9 January 2009.

GGPEN. 2019. “Efeitos da Seca no Sul de Angola vão ser monitorados por satélites” 13 November 2019.

GGPEN. 2020. “GGPEN participará de Webinar da UAN sobre secas e cheias no Cunene“, 24 September 2020.

Gill, Daisy. “Outside Looking In: Satellites in the Climate Crisis“, 24 March 2020.

ITU. 2020. “ANGOSAT-1: Space Communication and Broadcasting Satellite System of the Republic of Angola“, 2020.

Massala, Guilherme. 2018. “Entenda porque o satélite angolano custou 320 milhões de USD“, 23 September 2018.

Nascimento, Hugo do. 2020. “Uso de satélites de Observação da Tera para o monitoramento da seca”, 2020.

Netherlands Space Office. 2019. “Mavo Diami (My Land)“, October 2019.

SGAC 2020. “SGAC Angola“, 2020.

Turekian, Vaughan C.; Macindoe, Sarah; Copeland, Daryl; Davis, Lloyd S.; Patman, Robert G. e Maria Pozza. 2015. “The Emergence of Science Diplomacy”, inDavis, L.S e Robert Patman. Science Diplomacy; New day or false dawn?. Otago: University of Otago Press.

UNICEF. 2020. “Angola Humanitarian Situation Report No. 2“, UNICEF, 1 January to 30 June 2020.


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