Water Monitoring/Federated Water Monitoring System

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Many of the agencies and programmes of the United Nations spend substantial amounts of resources to develop and maintain data sets related to water but there is at present no systematic single point of entry which gives access to all this data. The creation of a UN-Water corporate information system may add value to the many existing efforts in data collection, development and dissemination of relevant water indicators, which are currently under way.

The Commission on Sustainable Development at its 13th session in 2005 specifically called for:

  1. Improving data collection at all levels;
  2. Enhancing the comparability of data at the regional and global level . . .”

The decision of CSD also requested the Secretary General to report on the activities of UN-Water, with regard to “the roles and responsibilities of relevant UN agencies, funds and programs in implementing and monitoring the water and sanitation agenda, including identifying duplication, overlap and gaps”. UN-Water is the virtual organisation which links the UN agencies and programmes active in water issues. The overarching objective of this proposal is to assist UN-Water in fulfilling its mandate to harmonise and make more efficient and effective the activities of its members, with regard to water monitoring.

The Statistical Commission of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations at its 34th session requested the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) to set up an Interagency Working Group on Environment Statistics (IWG-Env) to steer developments in this area. The permanent members of IWG-Env are in principle those international organizations or agencies that have a well-established international programme on environment statistics, including direct and regular collection of comprehensive environment statistics from countries. The founding members of the Group are UNSD, OECD, EUROSTAT, UNECE and UNEP. The secretariat is provided by UNSD. According to its work programme IWG Env focuses on the harmonization of methodological and data work in environment statistics. A sub-set of IWG-Env deals specifically with water statistics, and includes also FAO.

A meeting in July 2005 which brought together UN agencies with water officials of member countries discussed the collection of water statistics at a country level, and the development of a system of water accounting. However, this is a long-term project which does not currently meet the immediate information needs of the world’s water community, nor of member countries. At the UN-Water meeting in Paris in February 2005, the member agencies of UN-Water confirmed their commitment to monitor the state of the world’s water resources and water-related development issues, as per the UN-Water terms of reference. The need to set up a thematic group on water statistics within UN-Water was discussed, as well as the need for linkage with UNSD. The following agencies and programmes indicated interest in contributing to such a group: FAO (lead), UNESCO, UNDESA, UNEP, WMO, UNECA, UNESCWA, UNESCAP, WHO, GWP, WWAP.

The aims of this group are:

  • to set standards for data collection and reporting, including criteria for inclusion of data in the information systems and quality control;
  • to harmonise existing databases and those under development, to ensure that water data held within the UN system is consistent and up-to-date, and meets the needs of member countries; and
  • to synchronise the collection of water data, so as not to increase the reporting burden on member countries. UN-Water may add value by capturing and communicating effectively the existing water monitoring activities of its members, and thereby making these activities more useful and relevant.

The present proposal accordingly focuses on the development of a UN-Water corporate Federated Water Monitoring System (FWMS). The creation of this information system will raise the profile of its component datasets, providing additional visibility for the activities of individual agencies. Its existence will also provide an incentive to continue monitoring activities, and to update existing datasets.

The goal of the UN-Water is to provide the international community with a set of reliable, relevant, coherent and timely data to monitor trends and achievements in the water sector. This goal can be achieved with FWMS focusing upon the following:

  • to fasten the accessibility providing a single point of entry for country-level data on water held within the UN system
  • to provide water data that is relevant, up-to-date, reliable and accompanied by related under-laying meta data
  • to uphold the consistency and coherence of water data across the UN agencies
  • to strive for global coverage and cross-domain integration
  • to streamline the data collection process and avoid duplication of effort.
  • to speed-up data processing and dissemination over the internet
  • to guarantee data transparency and friendly user interface
  • to be a gateway to complementary also local databases
  • to include features for data query, extraction and visalisation and export to most commonly used formats

The set up a global UN-Water information system to be called FWMS is based on a Federative Data Warehouse Architecture reflecting the federative UN-Water nature. The idea is the shifting from mapping the “portals” (simple updated tidy collection of web sites) or replicating “secondary” data to establishing a Federative Data Warehouse providing acceptable level of consistency.

The Federative principle

The shared characteristic of all federative behaviour is the principle of “maintaining each member’s independence while obligating them to perform for the common good according to their ability”. Federalism is therefore the structural and organizational principle by which basically independent, autonomous entities join forces to form a higher-level whole in order to combine a required level of uniformity with the kind of diversity that is indispensable if the organization wants to be successful and the components want to keep their own sovereignty on their particular mandate. A business acting federatively — and the federation itself — profits from its network when the overall benefits increase and the overall costs drop. Federatively organized partners are characterized by a central and shared interest in forming a joint value creation network that leaves the individual members freedom to pursue their own particular aim. Federative organizations are led by a unit that is close to its customers (users). All related units operate within a space comprising shared processes, standards, guidelines and ethical norms.

While the construction of a integrated database requires filtering, aggregating and transforming the detailed source databases to a common denominator a federative information systems requires uniformity of syntax and semantics as a sufficient prerequisite for efficient communication, the trust-based exchange of information, orientation towards shared goals, and the development of output that fit together seamlessly.

Federative processes lower costs and boost effectiveness by allowing the partners to focus on their core competencies, and increase flexibility in the design and adaptation of corporate processes.

The unified business architecture

The unified business architecture starts with a single database which contains the information the businesses, partners and customers (users) need. It is based on the joint supply of services and portlets (graphical user interface modules), which can be combined via a network to new solutions or portals. It builds on the cross-company orchestration of automated and intellectual services through workflows.

Business functions, applications, processes or components are made available in the form of web services. Their interfaces are specified in a uniform standard and can be activated network-wide using a standardized message format.

Web services are modular, encapsulated IT functions with their own data sovereignty which can in turn use other web services to perform complex tasks on the internet or intranet within new solutions. Web services are nothing but applications which are addressed by a client via a message in SOAP format over HTTP, i.e. over a network.

Advantages of web services

  1. Web services provide interoperability between various software applications running on disparate platforms/operating systems.
  2. Web services use open standards and protocols. Protocols and data formats are text-based where possible, making it easy for developers to comprehend.
  3. By utilizing HTTP1, web services can work through many common firewall security measures without requiring changes to the firewall filtering rules. Other forms of RPC2 may more often be blocked.
  4. Web services allow software and services from different companies and locations to be combined quite easily to provide an integrated service.
  5. Web services allow the reuse of services and components within an infrastructure.
  6. Web services are loosely coupled thereby facilitating a distributed approach to application integration.

The widespread use of web services therefore has the potential to integrate and, if necessary, adapt many different applications (services) on different platforms quickly and efficiently over IT networks. Today, there are frequent requests for integration on the basis of standard solutions from leading IT companies like SAP, Siebel, PeopleSoft or Oracle.

The UN-Water dissemination default view could be the set of agreed list of indicators that could become also part of the WWDR routine reports. A milestone in the FWMS quick start would be the identification of the corresponding core repositories (i.e. agency/initiative) that can be activated by the FWMS via web services.

To become acting partner of FWMS data and indicators to be published (along with their metadata and micro-data) should be assessed against the seven “choosing” criteria of policy-relevance, analytical soundness, measurability, accessibility, ease of interpretation and cost effectiveness.

With this solution, while safeguarding standard high level production, valuable datasets may be faster included under the FWMS single point of entry (portal); originating Agencies/Initiatives will remaining in charge for the update of their proprietary information guaranteeing the fastest update of the data published by the federation without bringing in the burden of traditional integration.

The principles of service-oriented architecture

First and foremost, service-oriented architecture (SOA) is an organizational concept for the communication and exchange of IT services. SOA is based on the heterogeneousness of technologies and suppliers with respect to services, and most of all on the autonomy of the partners in the network. Since web services are a technical implementation of the federative principle, they are useful for setting up a SOA3. A service-oriented architecture has the following distinctive features:

  • It spans wide geographic distances.
  • It includes areas with different security mechanisms.
  • It uses different platforms for its services.

Service oriented architecture (SOA) with web service give also users the chance of a customized view of the information on the different datasets saving the diversity that a strict integration may put in danger, upholding the democracy of the net.

A gateway to local knowledge

Some regional, river basin, country, or other way local databases and information sources could, collectively, provide some global scale information. Access to federation can be granted also to local (as seen opposed to global world wide) providers to support, encourage and promote local awareness and to enlarge horizontally the knowledge base, keeping in mind the quality and copyright issues, metadata availability and uniformity of semantics.

In the environment disciplines, and water is no exception to it, it is well known that local geocoded data are of the highest importance, especially with reference to early warning. A practical example is the amount of emissions to the air of a given gas in a country that may be irrelevant if there is a wide dispersion but lethal if concentrated. Back to water, the exact localization of a water reservoir provides additional very effective information not included in the total amounts of stocks at national level; basic local information may not contribute to assess compliance towards MDGs, but still may save lives.

Local concerns could be as much valuable as global issues and local to local exchange of experience and information may sustain global goals. “Local Actions for a Global Challenge” it has been the novel focus developed as a means to confront global water problems in occasion of the 4th World Water Forum, held in Mexico, March 2006.

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