Bringing drought monitoring and early warning systems to the Middle East and North Africa region

October 10, 2020

Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute is continually improving a drought monitoring system that aims to reduce impacts of increasingly common drought events.

The percentage of the planet affected by drought has more than doubled in the last 40 years, and drought has affected more people worldwide than any other natural hazard, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Severe episodes of drought can have a devastating impact, leading to famine, migration, natural resource degradation and weak economic performance, or exacerbating social tensions and civil unrest.

While drought can’t be stopped, it can be forecasted and its impacts substantially reduced. The Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI) at the University of Nebraska is helping countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region predict future drought and devise drought mitigation plans for implementation.

To complete this project, the institute has teamed up with international and regional partners, including the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), University of Maryland, NASA, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS), International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and International Water Management Institute (IWMI), with funding from United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Using data to inform and minimize the impact of droughts

The project delivers new insights, management plans, and drought resilience strategies at the national and local levels to reduce drought impacts on the food supply and on the quantity and safety of the water supply in vulnerable communities.

In the last year, DWFI updated its GloDET spatial datasets adding 2018 and 2019 to the database and continues to work toward its goal of real-time evapotranspiration (ET) mapping. The GloDET portal provides free access, after a registration process, to ET data calculated by the ALEXI two-source energy balance model, available at

ET represents daily crop water use and can be used to determine the amount of plant stress. If remote sensing shows that a plant’s ET is decreasing while its temperature is increasing, it can be a sign that the plant is stressed by a lack of adequate water and can be an early indicator of drought.

The product is presently being tested against energy balance flux data collected with eddy covariance towers in the central plains of the U.S., as well as Brazil, in a project funded by Brazilian Federal agencies. This project is a partnership between DWFI and University of Sao Paulo, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Federal University of Santa Maria, and the Brazilian Space Agency – INPE. The goal is to compare evapotranspiration in several natural and agricultural ecosystems.

In the future, the daily ET product can be used to extend the estimation of the Evaporative Stress Index, used in drought detection and early warning.

According to the FAO, this type of proactive monitoring is proven to be effective in enhancing the resilience of communities and their capacity to cope with drought — a present but increasingly burgeoning threat to agriculture amid the backdrop of climate change.

The satellite mapping in the MENA region, showing the soil moisture levels in the area. (This map is available to view on the GloDET site:
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