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From: Dan Dubrick
To: All
Date: 2003-07-12 23:32:00
Subject: 7\09 ESA - UN development work guided from space

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European Space Agency

Press Release

UN development work guided from space

9 July 2003
 
United Nations-led development efforts in some of the poorest and
most remote parts of the globe are being guided by images from
space. 
 
The ESA-backed UNOSAT consortium is providing an average of five new
satellite-derived maps or data products to UN agencies and
non-governmental organisations every week.

The poor Nicaraguan highlands municipality of Matagalpa is just one
site among many where UNOSAT-supplied geographical information
system (GIS) tools are being used in development projects. Here the
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (part of the UN Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) is using space-derived
relief data that identifies areas most at risk of landslides to plan
safe urban expansion.

And by using GIS tools to combine a satellite image of newly built-up
areas with local data on the limits of the local water supply, zones
most at risk of disease are highlighted for attention.

Such Earth Observation (EO) services are being made available
worldwide to United Nations agencies and non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) concerned with short-term emergency relief and
longer-term development assistance. The provider is UNOSAT, a
consortium funded by ESA's Earth Observation Market Development
Programme, together with the Centre National pour les Etudes
Spatiales of France (CNES) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of
France. 

"UNOSAT is operated by the United Nations Office for Project
Services (UNOPS), which provides technical support and advice for
other UN agencies involved in reconstruction projects," said Alain
Retiere of UNOSAT. "It's often true that maps of remote areas are
outdated and unreliable so that led us to take an interest in the
potential of EO data."


Service born out of a hurricane
 
The catastrophic experience of Hurricane Mitch - which killed 10,000
people and destroyed 150 bridges as it crossed Central America in
November 1998  was actually helpful in demonstrating how an
operational EO service might work.

The scale of the damage done was such that ESA's ERS and France's
SPOT satellite systems were specifically tasked to acquire images in
order to elaborate and supply cartographic and damage mapping
products across the complete region  a unique experience that
involved combining radar and optical images together in a rush
production for delivery into a fully operational environment, with
people in the field awaiting the final products.

"UNOPS already had a presence in Central America so we provided
ground validation for the damage mapping carried out by satellite,"
explained Retiere. "We then helped ensure the results got into the
right hands to do some good. That experience showed us how a more
open-ended EO service for the development sector might work in
practice." 

To form the UNOSAT consortium UNOPS struck deals with data providers
such as Spot Image and Space Imaging Eurasia, along with value-adding
companies (VACs) such as Gamma Remote Sensing and Digitech who work
to turn raw satellite data into usable products and maps. This
non-profit initiative is eventually intended to cover its costs
through the services it provides for clients.

"In the past, use of EO data in the development arena has been
limited, partly because of cost but also because EO is a very
specialist field," said Retiere. "We have brought the price down by
increasing the overall number of users. In addition we know both our
users' precise requirements and the capabilities of the VACs very
well and so we can bring both sides together."

Clients access the UNOSAT service through a 'one-stop' website
http://www.unosat.org. Here they can search through and download
images, maps and other geographical information products already
produced, and also order the creation of new ones. For optimal
connectivity the website is hosted at CERN, the place where the
World-Wide Web was created. UNOSAT is also considering partnerships
with VSAT operators in the space telecommunications sector, so access
to the website can be assured even in regions where terrestrial phone
lines run out. 

"Once on the ground, UNOSAT maps do a great deal of good," Retiere
said. "Long detailed reports don't have the same influence as a good
map, especially in places where many people who live there still
cannot read. There's a big difference between just telling local
people about a problem like deforestation and actually showing them
it on a map."

Besides being used by NGOs in the pursuit of sustainable development,
UNOSAT has also helped make EO data available directly to local
authorities. In Matagalpa, UNOSAT  with the financial backing of the
Swiss canton of Geneva  has helped set up a local centre to broker
EO data to users within the Rio Grande water basin and elsewhere in
Nicaragua. Another such EO brokering centre is being created in East
Africa.

"The idea is to set up networks that provide local people with
experience and skill in making use of EO data," said Retiere. "We're
conscious that our real final end user is the people in the
localities we're working to benefit."

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