Iman Tantawy – On a mission to tackle water scarcity with geospatial data

Iman recently obtained her Master of Science degree in water management from Delft University of Technology. With water management being the Netherlands’s most renowned expertise and Egypt’s ongoing water scarcity challenge, the motivation to study water management was a no-brainer, considering her dual Egyptian/Dutch background.

Starting point

Throughout the second year of her degree, she pursued an internship at the Water division of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The division addresses the interests of the Dutch partner countries regarding safe access to and sustainable use of national water resources. “Although I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, I knew that real-world impact could best be achieved by working with the policy-making sector. The combination is what has always drawn me.” – she explains.

In joint collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the Dutch government funded an open-access data portal to monitor water use efficiency in agriculture. During her internship, she was responsible for the successful integration of the portal, that aims to assist and provide policymakers with information to improve their current water management practices and tackle water scarcity. Her engineering background proved to be a valuable asset, to help translate the data into actionable information and this way achieve a successful implementation of geospatial technologies within the Ministry.

Bridging the gap between technology and policy

“The use of satellite data is a powerful and cost-effective technique to assess water use efficiency and is therefore internationally acknowledged to help tackle water scarcity. Governments have a responsibility towards ensuring water security nationwide,”– Iman explains. “However, after my 6 months of internship, I realized that there is a big challenge in bridging the gap between policy and technology. The use of big data is relatively new and still needs time to embed in the current policy and decision-making sector. In addition, it is often unclear what type of data policymakers actually need to be able to improve their policies. I find it important that policy-and decisionmakers on all different levels are informed and encouraged to implement geospatial data in their respective fields. Without their involvement, much of the derived data and information will remain in the field of science and research. The key to do this is to translate data into actionable information. This is where I come in.”

After her internship, Iman knew she found her passion: To reach end users, the tangible contribution of satellite data in relation to the improved water resource management needed to be identified. After launching her startup, WaterSense, she continued to support the Dutch policymaking sector with the implementation of geospatial data. By translating satellite observations into actionable information for policymakers, she aims to bridge the gap between technology and policy and this way tackle water scarcity.

Future Plans
"Luckily, I share my mission with many other organizations. Tools and (preprocessed) data sources such as Google Earth Engine and the FAO WaPOR portal really assist in providing the capacity and framework to bridge the gap between policy and technology. I would love to collaborate with or work for one of these organizations to learn and increase my knowledge."

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