Are you working in a region where the water availability and quality can be improved? And you are wondering if Rainwater Harvesting could be an interesting option? Then this tool is designed for you! It will show you how GIS (Geographic Information Systems) can help you to identify the rainwater harvesting potential and feasibility of a region.

Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater Harvesting has proven to be an effective and sustainable solution to overcome or reduce water shortages all over the world. Especially in the light of climate change, population growth and increased pressure on natural water resources, rainwater is becoming more and more attractive as an alternative water source.
Learn more about rainwater harvesting.

Mapping the Potential of Rainwater Harvesting

The methods to collect, store, use and re-use rainwater are easy to apply. Yet, to use these methods in a sustainable and effective way, it is important to understand exactly where Rainwater Harvesting can be applied to make full use of its potential.

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) can help you identify the rainwater harvesting potential and feasibility in a specific area. More specifically, it can support you with:

  • Identifying potential project sites for Rainwater Harvesting.
  • Sharing information easily on the Rainwater Harvesting potential of a specific area by making it visual.
  • Making informed decisions about time and budget investments during project implementation.
  • Informing donors, governments and other partners about the potential of Rainwater Harvesting. GIS maps are strong lobby & advocacy tools.

To develop a Rainwater Harvesting GIS map,
you have to follow three steps:

Collecting datasets
for input in a GIS model

Assigning scores & weights to each of the datasets

Combining & analysing
the selected datasets


STEP 1. Data Collection

To collect the information needed for developing the Rainwater Harvesting map, the first step is to define the datasets that are needed to answer your specific question and collect the data accordingly. If you are interested in the Rainwater Harvesting potential in your area, in general two types of information should be combined to assess this:

  • Need factors: where is the demand for rainwater harvesting largest and most urgent?
  • Success factors: where rainwater harvesting is most feasible and will most probably be successful?


Each of these two factors can be divided into underlying datasets. It is important to concentrate on the most relevant ones, but at the same time be practical on which data is available and relatively easy to obtain. The following seven datasets are considered the most relevant:

  • Need factors: population density, land use, access to other water source and aridity
  • Success factors: annual rainfall, variation in rainfall and soil drainage

Adding Data

Obviously, more information can be added if specific questions have to be answered. Datasets that you can include for these more tailored assessments are, for example, groundwater quality, GDP per capita, or gender aspects.

To cope with changing situations (climate, socio-economic), a more dynamic approach to the analysis could also be considered. For example, you can still use this GIS mapping method when you want to evaluate the impact of climate change on your Rainwater Harvesting potential by adjusting precipitation and evaporation data, reflecting climate change.

STEP 2. Assigning Scores and Weights

Having collected the correct data, you need to assign scores and weights to these datasets, as not all datasets might be equally important for the analysis. A GIS expert can help you putting the data in a GIS model and advise you on assigning scores and weights.

1. Suitability Scores

First, different suitability scores have to be assigned to the seven datasets in order to combine them to come up with a clear overview of Rainwater Harvesting potential in your area.

How does this work?
Datasets are always scored between 0 and 1, with 0 as the lowest suitability and 1 as the highest. If you look at the dataset of population density for example, you can assume that the more people live in an area, the higher is the need for Rainwater Harvesting. In this case, you could score as follows:

  • A population density between 0 and 100 people per km² = score is between 0.0 and 0.9
  • A population density higher than 100 people per km² = score is 1

2. Adding Weight

Secondly, weighting factors can be added to these suitability scores to reflect study specific preferences.

How does this work?
The guiding principle with adding weights is that you give higher weights to the more relevant datasets in your study. For example, when your study focuses on reaching the most remote populations in the region, the suitability class for “population density” will get a lower weight. The weights that should be assigned to the datasets need to be between 0 and 1. Remember that the sum of all weights is always 1.

The results of this scoring analysis are two maps: one with the need for Rainwater Harvesting and another for the potential success of implementing Rainwater Harvesting. Together, these form the basis for the third step.


STEP 3. Combining & Analysing Data

Once the suitability scores and weights for both groups of datasets (the need factors and success factors) have been assigned, in this third step you can combine the datasets to find out the Rainwater Harvesting potential of your specific area.

To do so, all seven datasets need to be converted into maps with the values assigned to the parameters. A GIS expert can help you with this. For each map, the suitability score is multiplied with its corresponding weight. The different layers can then be combined into one overlay: a map that shows the potential and feasibility for Rainwater Harvesting in a specific area or country.

Presenting the Maps

Once you have combined the maps and analysed the outcome, think about how you will present the GIS maps. This can be done in different ways and for different audiences. The maps can be presented separately to show interesting information in one or more maps, for example a comparison of the situation now and in 20 years. Combining all maps will give you the best overview of opportunities, potential and feasibility of integrated Rainwater Harvesting suitability.

Before and after undertaking Rainwater Harvesting GIS mapping,
take into account these five tips & tricks:

  • 1 Be clear on the objective of your analysis. Will you, for example, use it for project implementation purposes, or are you intending to use it merely for lobby and advocacy work?
  • 2 Make sure you know exactly which specific area or country you want to include in your GIS mapping exercise. Also consider which spatial resolution you need for the objective of your Rainwater Harvesting analysis.
  • 3 Take into account the broader context: the rainwater harvesting potential in your project region also depends on other than geographical factors, such as economic activities, educational levels or the institutional setting. Learn more about the broader context in Rain is Gain, the rainwater harvesting guide for sustainable water supply.
  • 4 Where will you get your data from? A wide range of data can be used to undertake the analysis. In general, local data is often more accurate, but more difficult to obtain.
  • 5 Validate and optimize: make sure you always validate the output of your GIS mapping exercise. Be aware of the opportunities and the constraints (the reliability and quality of the data used) of your GIS mapping.

Interested? Find out yourself what Rainwater Harvesting maps can do for you: check out these examples from Mali, Senegal and Burkina Faso.




This tool has shown you how GIS mapping can help you to determine the Rainwater Harvesting potential and feasibility of your project area. Are you ready for action? Doing a GIS mapping demands a certain expertise. RAIN and its partners have the expertise to help you in developing your own Rainwater Harvesting GIS map.

contact us

RAIN brings 10 years of hands-on rainwater harvesting experience and extensive knowledge in project and program design and management. RAIN can give you access to a wide international network of implementers, policymakers, networkers, experts and other partners. If you want to know how to design, coordinate, manage, monitor, evaluate and/or promote your initiative on rainwater harvesting, we’ll gladly stand by your side and provide insights and solutions.