Using Remote Sensing and Geoinformation for Environmental Monitoring in Mauritania

The Challenge

Environmental changes happening at unprecedented scale and speed present new problems when monitoring the effects of climate change, deforestation, sea-level rise and other concerning trends. Adaptability and resilience are crucial to the survivability of states in the coming century, demanding innovative and real-time approaches to allow policymakers to be aware of changes and act to protect people and the environment. Mauritania, a predominately desert country with a long coast on the Atlantic Ocean, is susceptible to many of these impacts including desertification, sea level rise and drought. Better monitoring may help the government of Mauritania in mitigating these harmful effects and enable them to better protect various ecosystems and overall biodiversity.

The Approach

The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development in Mauritania and the GIZ country office in Mauritania approached the Data4Policy initiative to develop a strategy for increasing uptake and understanding of available data sources to monitor environmental changes in response to climate change. Data4Policy, in conjunction with the GIZ Data Service Center, developed a guide based on free and open-source resources to empower the Ministry to monitor multiple types of environmental changes on a near-real-time (NRT) basis, including coastal, water, forest and land-based changes.

The Benefits

The Mauritanian Government and Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development now has a technical roadmap to monitor environmental changes. Policymakers can act and react to climate threats in near-real-time. Analysis of Mauritania’s coastal changes, changes that affect land use such wildfires, changes in vegetation and agriculture and changes in desertification enable policymakers to develop data-informed solutions to build climate resiliency.  

This work contributes to SDG 13 Climate action. Geospatial mapping will allow both environmental advocates and government officials to protect against the effects of climate change and will inform solutions that create long-term sustainability in the region. Additionally, the technical guidance supports SDG 15 Life on land, as the risk of biodiversity loss in the region is extremely high. Through preventative measures, policies can protect against loss of species and ensure the benefits of some land use changes do not outweigh the impacts.



of the land in Mauritanian is arable.

The context

Due to its high ratio of desert lands, Mauritania is at risk of bearing some of the most devastating effects of climate change, including with respect to drought, food security and coastal flooding.  

Its capital city, Nouakchott, is the largest city in the Sahara Desert and is located along the Atlantic Coast where it is susceptible to sea level rise. Outside the city, the Sahara desert ensures that just 0.5% of the country consists of arable land and approximately three-quarters of the entire surface is desert or semi-desert. This makes the country highly susceptible to increased desertification, affecting crop and pastureland as well as enhancing concerns of drought, food security and other sources of health and well-being. Increasingly, the impacts of climate change have also left parts of Mauritania vulnerable to wildfires, risking further destruction of the land.

Fortunately, it is now easier than ever to utilize remote sensing and satellite information for environmental monitoring. Open satellite data and software allows governments to understand and track changes in the environment in ways that would previously have been complex, laborious or expensive to achieve. This makes rapidly responding to such changes viable. With the appropriate technical expertise and guidance, geographic information systems (GIS) show significant promise in lowering costs and avoiding some of the hurdles associated with traditional environmental observation.  

How was it implemented?

GIZ’s country office in Mauritania coordinated an effort between GIZ Data4Policy and GIZ Data Service Center to understand the government’s needs. During initial feedback, Mauritania requested consideration of a wide range of environmental indicators, encompassing the monitoring of wildfires, watercourses and watersheds, forests and vegetation, soil degradation and coastlines. Overall, 14 indicators were requested by the Ministry to effectively monitor Mauritania’s priority areas.  

GIZ Data Service Center then conducted a feasibility study on each of the indicators. The most effective way to evaluate each indicator using open-source data and technology was sought. Specifically, GIS and satellite data should form part of the monitoring of each indicator. The Data Service Center then further developed each proposed indicator, discussing the available datasets which apply and how to access this data using appropriate tools. In cases where the specific indicator could not be monitored using existing datasets or where a GIS was not feasible, similar alternative indicators were created. Of the 14 requested indicators, 12 were determined to be feasible to monitor through remote sensing and geoinformation.

Each indicator was then scored on its availability, feasibility and scalability, offering insight into their usefulness. In addition, the report suggested specific challenges and advantages of each indicator. These findings were then presented to the Ministry in a closing presentation with appropriate stakeholders. The presentation offered further guidance on implementation, as well as an interactive element showcasing each indicator and the specific mapping processes that enable monitoring.  

Figure 1: Esri Sentinel-2 Explorer, Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NVDI), South Mauritania

How can better data contribute to better policy?

With this information, government agencies in Mauritania can better adapt and make decisions regarding the changing environment to prevent the most devastating impacts of climate change including flooding, desertification and wildfires. As much of the data covered in the report is in near-real-time, environmental monitoring can happen at regular intervals. Thus, Mauritania is better positioned to create policies that mitigate the adversarial effects that environmental changes may have on its population and land. Mauritania indicated that the report is assisting their implementation of their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), effectively supporting their efforts for more robust environmental monitoring.

Regular monitoring of these changes can potentially affect land use policy, and therefore slow the spread of desertification and prevent coastal flooding. Resources can additionally be allocated more effectively to create resilience to harmful effects, with NRT data making it possible to address wildfires, protect against deforestation and ensure more resilient infrastructure appropriately targets the country’s needs.

As countries look to create more robust systems to combat the negative effects of climate change, good, reliable and up-to-date data must be a priority. With a greater ability to leverage remote sensing and satellite and geoinformation data, policies can rapidly mobilize resources and allocate them to the most effective solutions to areas of concern.  

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Leveraging Remote Sensing and Geospatial Information for Effective Monitoring of Terrestrial Natural Resources Indicators in Mauritania

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