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InfoNile: Digital scholarship and communication for water peace in Africa's Nile River Basin

InfoNile is a geojournalism platform mapping data on water issues in the Nile Basin with journalism stories to promote transboundary peace.

Photo of Annika McGinnis
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The Nile River, the world’s longest river, winds through 11 countries in Africa and is crucial to many of these nations’ economies, diplomacy and wellbeing. The river is also a world biodiversity hotspot and the backbone to many of Africa’s fragile ecosystems. Today, it is under new and evolving threats including climate change, population and economic growth and transboundary hydropolitics. The $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam scheduled to be completed this year in Ethiopia, for instance, threatens the survival of Egypt’s 95 million people who are largely dependent on irrigation waters from the Nile. Sea level rise impacted by climate change also has the potential to significantly reduce the Nile River delta, increasing intrusion of saltwater and threatening freshwater availability for much of the basin’s 10 countries.  

The overall objective of “InfoNile” is to promote the communication of scientific research and technical knowledge on water issues in a way that encourages cooperation on transboundary water resources and helps the public better understand issues emerging from scientific research. InfoNile will be a “geojournalism" platform mapping news articles as layers on interactive maps visualizing scientific data using the template initiated by Internews' Earth Journalism Network. This digital platform seeks to integrate scientific research and local/indigenous journalistic reports, generating user-friendly platforms for policymakers, citizens and scientists to understand the broader scale of water issues along with local/human impact. 

InfoNile will further offer seed grants to teams of journalists, scientists and photographers to put together in-depth multimedia story packages incorporating scientific research and data visualization on issues of the Nile Basin. These stories will be published on InfoNile as interactive multimedia special projects highlighting key issues of the Nile with a strong focus on the human impact. The seed grants will also include training and mentoring for the story/research teams in science and environmental communication, as well as basic data visualization. 

The Nile basin will be used as a pilot case with the idea of scaling up and applying the same approach to other international river basins in the future. The project builds on the initial results of our partner, UNESCO-IHE's initiative called Open Water Diplomacy Lab, aiming at studying the role of the media and science in transboundary water negotiation and at training journalists and scientists in scientific communication that facilitates cooperation on transboundary waters. Along with UNESCO-IHE, we will partner with project leader, Fredrick Mugira's African Water Journalists and the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network

Above Photo: Dr. Emanuele Fantini, the project manager of UNESCO-IHE's Open Water Diplomacy Lab, with Fredrick Mugira, the founder of African Water Journalists. 

Above Photo: InfoAmazonia, an example of a geojournalism website created by Internews' Earth Journalism Network for the Amazonia region of South America. 

Explain your idea

InfoNile will: - Bring together water scientists (UNESCO-IHE, NBCBN and more) with water journalists (AWJ and others) working in the Nile basin. Visual designers, big data analysts and experts in hydro-informatics will develop a platform easy to use by the public, building upon a ‘geojournalism’ Wordpress template initiated by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network that combines journalistic storytelling with interactive data mapping. - Communicate scientific research on water to the broader public and to selected audiences (water diplomats, NGOs, policymakers, etc.) by dint of data visualisation, videos, digital mapping, audio podcasts, in-depth multimedia stories and more. InfoNile would create and publish interactive maps tracking Nile Basin issues, including the effects of climate change, water pollution, water scarcity, water governance and transboundary conflict, biodiversity, irrigation and more. - Aggregate citizen, local and international reporting on Nile issues and publish them as layers of information on the digital maps, stemming from reports by a network of water journalists in Africa, as well as local, national, and international media outlets. Provide translation in English, Amharic, Arabic and Swahili. - Commission 10 in-depth multimedia data journalism projects to small teams of journalists, scientists and photographers, incorporating investigative journalism, analysis and data visualization with on-the-ground videos, photos, podcasts and text stories. Such projects would include training for scientists and journalists in data visualization and science communication. - Promote citizen journalism through: providing ways for citizens to submit stories or story tips online, over Whatsapp and by calling; conducting a local advocacy campaign to increase awareness of InfoNile; republishing stories by local radio stations as podcasts; creating an InfoNile radio show with reports by environmental radio journalists throughout the region who are part of the InfoNile network. Citizens, especially those in remote areas, could call in with local stories or tips. - Broaden and formalize an existing network of African water journalists through online story generation discussions, resources for science/water communication development, regular networking, professional development and grant opportunities, and in-person interactions including a series of ‘Nile Talks’ initiated by UNESCO-IHE where journalists and scientists will publicly present Nile research. Both scientist and journalist users of the InfoNile platform will gain access to an internal website portal where they can interact and share ideas. - Develop trainings for journalists and mass communication students in the Nile Basin in science communication and data visualization including a mentorship program. Development will be based on the results of UNESCO-IHE’s Open Water Diplomacy Lab research on existing journalistic reports and trainings in the Nile Basin.

Who Benefits?

InfoNile will bridge gaps between Nile Basin scientists, researchers, journalists and the general public to increase mutual awareness and understanding of the various dimensions to water issues of this significant river. InfoNile will challenge chauvinistic and nationalistic perspectives on the use of Nile waters by facilitating joint work and co-production of knowledge. Through trainings and grants, InfoNile will develop Nile journalists and scientists’ communicative and collaborative skills to improve their capacity to provide accurate, holistic information on water politics and social/environmental issues. InfoNile will also benefit students and researchers by providing easy-to-understand data visualizations and making all data available for free download. InfoNile will also empower the public by seeking new ways to help citizens contribute to the gathering and disseminating of information, particularly in countries such as Ethiopia and Sudan with limited freedom of speech.

How is your idea unique?

Communication on technical and scientific issues is key in shaping public debate and orienting international negotiation on transboundary waters, but scientists and journalists’ work remain isolated in silos and often adopts national or sectoral perspectives, research by our partner UNESCO-IHE shows. InfoNile will uniquely address these issues by bringing together journalists and scientists for training and content creation on a user-friendly platform. Similar platforms exist for the Congo, Amazonia and Mekong river basins with the template developed by Internews, but not the Nile. Also, thus far the scientific community has been little involved in working with journalists in content creation. Given the sensitiveness and the securitization of Nile issues, scientists and journalists should be offered a tailor-made training and coaching led by our 7-year African Water Journalists network and expert in science communication (UNESCO-IHE), alongside practical experience working together.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

- UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education (Delft, The Netherlands) is the largest international graduate water education facility in the world. Since 1957 the Institute has provided graduate education to more than 15,000 water professionals from over 162 countries, the vast majority from the developing world. UNESCO-IHE will organize a launching event of the platform, provide insight to develop the most effective mentorship/trainings for journalists and scientists, and provide expertise and networks into the Nile basin scientific community. - African Water Journalists Network (AWJ: Coordination office in Kampala and Mbarara, Uganda) is the largest network of journalists reporting on water in the African continent (700 journalists from 50 African countries). It was established in 2011 in Cape Town South Africa with support from the UN-Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication. AWJ will set up the platform and test it in collaboration with UNESCO-IHE and NBCBN, manage seed grant calls for multimedia journalism stories on water issues in the Nile basin, train and mentor journalist/scientist recipients throughout the reporting process, engage citizen journalists; and broaden and formalize the network of Nile Basin communicators. - Nile Basin Capacity Building Network (Coordination office in Cairo, Egypt) started in the year 2000 serving as a pilot network for capacity building of water scientists and professionals in the Nile Basin. NBCBN has proven to be a unique structure and a valuable tool for capacity building over the years focusing on regional collaborative research and training. NBCBN will help identify and provide sources of data and other researchers for InfoNile. - IT Plus Solutions is a leading web development company based in Kampala, Uganda, specializing in GIS, responsive web design and data visualization. IT Plus Solutions will develop the website and train African Water Journalists staff in how to maintain it, including the GIS needed to upload maps. The follow up of the project and the regular update of the InfoNIle platform with new and original content, as well as the training of journalists and scientists on how to use it, will be ensured by the partners of the project, which are currently working together within the framework of a bigger project, Open Water Diplomacy Lab (funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs). InfoNile represents a spin-off of that project.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Annika, thanks for your contribution!

What organization are you affiliated with or submitting on behalf of?

Photo of Annika McGinnis

Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment! I am submitting on behalf of Water Journalists Africa, a nonprofit based in Uganda that represents the largest network of journalists who report about water on the African continent. Also leading this project is Fredrick Mugira, who founded Water Journalists Africa. Our main partners in this initiative are UNESCO-IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and the Nile Basin Capacity Building Network.

Photo of Fredrick Mugira

Thank you so much Annika! This is a true reflection of our idea.