Mapping for disasters with UNOSAT

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 at 10:00 AM


Seasonal floods are currently affecting West Africa. Senegal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mali, Liberia and Guinea are all experiencing significant damage to infrastructure and agriculture due to heavy rainfall causing floods in numerous locations. More than 350,000 people have been impacted thus far.

Based on requests from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the
Space Charter - created to acquire imagery in the wake of disasters - was activated, and UNITAR/UNOSAT started satellite mapping. UNITAR/UNOSAT is formally recognized by the Space Charter as “Charter User Intermediary” -- this status grants the privilege “to act as gateway for request submissions on behalf of UN users related with humanitarian actions”. Imagery from Space Charter members was sent to UNOSAT within a few hours after being taken. A dedicated technical team immediately started the analysis, and turned this near real-time satellite imagery into useful information products, which were disseminated to a range of users in the field, at national & regional offices, and in headquarters. This rapid mapping production chain ensures all relevant parties simultaneously receive the same crucial information as quickly as possible.

One important component in this process was the use of the Google Map Maker data to clearly map the transport networks, allowing emergency managers to plan and implement relief assistance. For example, they could avoid roads that are marked on the maps as likely to be flooded by comparing satellite flood layers with road layers.


Satellite image derived flood map showing current situation in Niger - flooded areas in red.

Courtesy: UNITAR/UNOSAT & International Charter Space and Major Disasters

We've been pleased to hear positive feedback directly about this combination of imagery with Map Maker data directly from those in the field -- as one simply stated, "Thumbs up!"