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Case Studies
  Flood Mapping by Italian Civil Protection  
  Use of Satellites for Flood Disasters in Southern Africa  
  Australian Flood Mapping  
  Uses of Satellite EO for Disaster Risk Assessment  
  Sentinel Asia – Space-based Disaster Management Support  
  The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters  
  UN use of EO for Disaster Prevention and Response  
  EO for the Mitigation of Geological Disasters  
  Volcanoes and Aviation  
spacer UN use of EO for Disaster Prevention and Response

The UN system has in place a range of programmes and activities to support countries in making the best use of space-based tools for disaster risk reduction. This case study illustrates the importance of capacity development, regional cooperation, and technical support in providing access to space-derived information while fostering and emphasizing the high-level intergovernmental commitment needed to effectively utilize these tools. This report will emphasize how the use of EO will be fundamental to reaching the new sustainable development goals and post–2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. It shows how EO is an enabler for reducing risks, improving response, and thus building resilience into development.


Within their respective mandates, many UN entities routinely use space applications tools for telecommunication, positioning and navigation, or for EO. The UN system is supporting nations in developing their own capabilities to use EO tools and applications. This support includes assistance in the creation of infrastructure to acquire data, providing platforms to share and disseminate information, and integrating organised information into decision making. The result is that countries are better able to use this information for environmental and natural resource management, for socioeconomic development, and in the monitoring of national, regional and global issues. Through international agreements such as the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters (referred to below as the Charter) and the Asia-Pacific Plan of Action for Applications of Space Technology and Geographic Information Systems for Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development, 2012-2017, the UN is proactive in promoting the streamlining of space-based data and information for emergency response to DRR at the national and regional levels.

This case study presents a few initiatives of UN entities, highlighting support to nations in reaching their commitments towards the post-2015 Development Agenda and the new Framework for Action to be created at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.

Building Individual and Institutional Capabilities

Many governments, through commitments under the HFA and from their own national requirements, have developed policies and institutional frameworks to better prepare for disasters and to improve their response. Governments are also investing in infrastructure for data acquisition and analysis. Working with National Disaster Management Authorities, the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER) Programme promotes practices to integrate EO tools and applications into those frameworks. In 2010, UN-SPIDER conducted an advisory mission to the Dominican Republic to assess its institutional framework for data collection, sharing and dissemination, human resource development strategy, and DRR and emergency response (ER) policy framework. Following this mission, the Government of the Dominican Republic developed an agreement signed by ten ministries for the coordination of actions on DRR and ER. This major achievement paved the way for increased coordination on planning and response efforts.

In another example, UNITAR’s UNOSAT is developing practical knowledge and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) capacities for the Government of Chad through a multi- year programme supporting sustainable water-resource management. Likewise, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in East Africa and UNOSAT work on developing regional and national capacities in the use of GIS and EO for DRR by taking an integrated approach towards practical training on relevant applications for the region. This includes training on integrating GIS solutions for regional climate outlook, combining natural hazards with human security factors, and ensuring EO and other geographic data are available from geographic data portals.

Hands-on training on use of GIS and EO for DRR within IGAD.

Image credit: UNITAR-UNOSAT
spacer Additionally, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) contributes to efforts in this field by facilitating the use of online geo-referenced information portals combining socioeconomic data with satellite imagery for countries with special needs to ensure that the right information is available to the right decision-makers at the right time (Figure 3) for disaster preparedness and rapid analysis/impact assessment.

UNOSAT, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC), and ESCAP continue to provide practical and hands- on training on GIS and EO for disaster management, with special focus on DRR, including for government representatives in Asia-Pacific.

Creating Access to Data and Tools through Regional Cooperation

Besides facilitating and creating access to data at national and regional levels through specific training and awareness raising activities, the UN system has put in place dedicated data access solutions. While EO data are readily available during national disasters through mechanisms such as the Charter, the Asia-Pacific Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development (RESAP), and Sentinel Asia, providing such information for DRR purposes can be more challenging. This is an area where the UN combined efforts facilitate improved access to data and comprehensive practical solutions.

One example of this preparatory effort is the work of ESCAP in implementing the Regional Cooperative Mechanism for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning (Regional Drought Mechanism). Six countries have requested to be pilot nations under the Mechanism, specifically Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, with further interest having been expressed by other member states and international organizations. The two supporting regional service nodes presently established (in China and India) have provided specialized training, space-derived data, products, and services to the initial pilot countries of Mongolia and Sri Lanka. Further work is beginning in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Nepal in the near future.

Creating a regional platform in Central America for addressing the cross-border threat of drought, UN-SPIDER fosters collaboration for a coordinated early warning system and good practices in drought management. Drought early warning can be improved if different systems are brought together efficiently and if authorities are part of an institutional arrangement that allows for data exchange and data sharing as well as synchronising the reporting of individual systems. Figure 2 summarises the approach promoted by UN agencies in Central America and reflected in various capacity building and institutional strengthening activities in the region.

UNOSAT has also developed and made publicly available a historic flood extent GIS database. This resource helps furnish national DRR actors with precise flood-information on past events covered by UNOSAT. The data, provided in various ready-to-use GIS formats, are typically derived from Charter imagery as well as open-source data from NASA and other sources. This live database is updated each time UNOSAT produces new EO-derived flood data.

A dedicated digital elevation model customized for flood- modelling has been developed jointly by USGS and UNOSAT. Data for the full African and Asia continents are ready, The Americas is under development and will be ready in 2015. Test-runs show improved accuracy of flood models when taking this new dataset as input compared to previous elevation models of the same scale.

By having a fund for EO data available, UNOSAT programmes satellite imagery in advance to be prepared to provide early warning and more timely response over areas exposed to high risk of flooding. This facilitates improved preparedness by both national and international actors and ensures information will reach relevant actors in a timely manner.

Furthermore, through the RESAP network and UNOSAT, ESCAP member states can request, share, and access satellite-derived products and services. Images are provided in the spirit of regional cooperation and with the understanding that disaster mitigation is a public concern that benefits the region as a whole, for example through information systems.

UN entities wanting to increase access and use of EO in a regional context have the advantages of partnering with established regional organisations. UNOOSA/UN-SPIDER, ESCAP, and UNITAR-UNOSAT favour working with and through regional bodies as well as providing bilateral support. All are strong partners with regional mandates and a strong regional presence, building on capacities and resources at the national level. Similar organisations with expertise in remote sensing, geospatial information management, and disaster management are also collaborating with the various UN agencies for the same reasons.
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The approach promoted by UN-SPIDER and FAO in Central America and reflected in various capacity building and institutional strengthening activities in the region.

Image credit: UNOOSA
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The Way Ahead

The UN is working on identifying the best options for use of EO in support of DRR in a constantly changing environment, both from a technical development perspective as well as impacts from climate change and required adaptation and mitigation measures. Below are some activities that are recommended to benefit from this technology at regional, national, and local levels.

– Focus on practical capacity development, technical backstopping, and institutional awareness raising;

– Increased coordination and collaboration between various regional and international initiatives and programmes to benefit many developing countries, particularly the LDCs, LLDCs, and SIDS, which are unlikely to have an extensive space applications programme of their own;

– Taking advantage of the strong synergies among UN organizations working on GIS and EO, such as thematically focussed FAO, WFP, WMO, and WHO. This is particularly useful for impacts on food security and moving from early warning of disasters such as drought to longer-term crop monitoring;

– Opportunity for greater utilization of EO data and tools for natural resource management, in particular for sensitive regions and ecosystems;

– Working in partnerships, including with academia and private industry, to build the capacity of various sectors to better utilize EO data for disaster management and planning;

– Greater expansion of EO tools for urban planning to reduce exposure to disaster risk and also enhance the know-how and expertise of planners to develop urban areas in a sustainable manner;

– Develop multi-risks strategy models for countries to make adjustments to their policies for a more integrated approach to DRR;

Leveraging private sector initiatives such as assessment of risk in collaboration with insurance and re-insurance agencies.
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Example of geo-referenced information system for disaster risk management.

Image credit: UNESCAP
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Einar Bjorgo (UNITAR)
Luc St-Pierre (UNOOSA)
Keran Wang (UNESCAP)

Further information

Geographic Information Systems and Earth Observation for Disaster Risk Reduction:
UNEP Environmental Data Explorer:
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