Image 1 - Satellites Respond To Humanitarian Needs
November 22, 2011

Satellites Respond To Humanitarian Needs

A review of crisis response using Earth observation techniques is now available online. The Respond Atlas outlines global events where remote sensing assisted in preparing for and responding to disasters and humanitarian crises.

The Respond project began in 2004 as a European Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) initiative. During its five years of service, hundreds of maps were produced to assist in relief efforts linked to crises such as the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, the 2004 Asian tsunami and even Sudan´s refugee situation in Darfur.

The project has recently released a portfolio of its services, called the Respond Atlas.

“Respond has successfully demonstrated the utility and effectiveness of using satellite-derived services to support the international humanitarian community,” said Francesco Pisano, Manager of the UN Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT).

“It was able to provide important information for crisis response operations and to open the way to the use of geospatial information in decision-making processes in humanitarian contexts.”

Respond´s users came from five main groups: EU bodies, UN organizations, international humanitarian aid organizations (like the Red Cross), donor governments and international non-governmental organizations.

Over the course of the project, more than 38 user organizations signed up to receive Respond services.

The service provided mapping far beyond the disaster response phase by supporting recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities. Earth observation-derived mapping was used for years following the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the products were also used for resettlement.

The maps were produced by a network of public and private value-adding centers such as DLR ZKI (Germany), SERTIT (France) and Geneva-based UNITAR/UNOSAT. The network was led by UK-based Astrium Geo-Information Services.

Respond also worked closely with the International Charter ℠Space and Major Disasters´, an international collaboration that gives rescue and aid workers rapid access to satellite data in the event of a disaster.

Not all disasters have a rapid onset. Some, such as drought and famine, can grow for months before being recognized as a crisis needing international intervention. Once an emergency was recognized and assistance requested, Respond provided reference mapping from archived satellite imagery to compare to newly acquired satellite data specifically tasked to monitor the event.

Satellite maps also supported programs to help internally displaced persons and refugees. Customized maps were delivered to UN refugee agency and other non-governmental organizations for the planning and placement of shelters, as well as life-line services such as power, water and sanitation. Maps were also used for rehearsing evacuation plans.

Today, the members of the Respond consortium are actively engaged in realizing Earth observation capacities for crisis response with leading providers from Europe involved in the European Commission´s GMES SAFER project.

In October, the team provided crisis mapping following the Charter´s activation after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey.

Continued availability of Earth observation data is prerequisite for the continuity of crisis mapping services in the long term. The upcoming Sentinel missions — developed specifically for the operational needs of the GMES program — are essential to the supply of rapid multisensor coverage over disaster-stricken areas.


Image 1: Earth observation-based flood monitoring of the 2007 floods in the Zambezi River valley, Mozambique. This map was provided in response to an activation of the International Charter ℠Space and Major Disasters´ by the UN World Food Program. Credits: DLR-ZKI (the Respond project)

Image 2: Earth observation-based earthquake damage mapping in South Asia´s Kashmir region. This map was provided in response to an activation of the International Charter ℠Space and Major Disasters´ by the Indian authorities, the UN and the French Civil Protection in the aftermath of the October 2005 South Asia earthquake. Credits: SERTIT (the Respond project)

Image 3: This compilation image from Envisat´s radar depicts surface changes in Bangladesh during the harsh monsoon season in 2009. Each acquisition is assigned a color (red, green and blue) and combined to produce this representation. New colors reveal changes in the surface between Envisat´s passes. Typical signatures of changes associated with flooding are evident. Credits: ESA


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