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Using satellite technology for humanitarian relief

Source(s):  Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)

By Ida Sem Fossvik

With the assistance of satellite technology, NORCAP deployees to UNOSAT in Geneva develop new tools and initiatives in disaster risk reduction and climate services.

UNOSAT, a programme within the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR), collects and generates data and photos from satellites to create maps and analysis that can inform and influence work in areas such as humanitarian relief, climate change and sustainable water management.

During the last year, NORCAP experts Beatrice Progida, Tanja Bergqvist and Hari Prasad Vajja have been deployed to the programme to provide support within their various areas of expertise. The deployments are funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA).

Early flood warnings 

Hydrologist Hari Prasad Vajja currently contributes to developing UNOSAT’s global flood monitoring tool “Flood Finder” and will support its implementation in the coming months. Since 1995, flooding has been the most common natural disaster, accounting for 47% of all recorded events and affecting more than 2.3 billion people.

With tools like “Flood Finder” and reliable geographical information, governments, humanitarian and development organisations can make better decisions on prevention, early warning, response and recovery in cases of flooding.

“I want to support the operationalization of the Flood Finder tool in countries where flood is the most serious disaster”, Vajja says, adding that he also aims to help produce global early flood warnings alerts based on simulated flood scenarios.

High demand for expertise

Beatrice Progida, who was the catalyst for establishing a standby partnership between NORCAP and UNITAR in June 2016, has also helped UNOSAT establish new partnerships with IFRC and UNICEF. The goal is that UNOSAT can support these organisations’ efforts to increase the use of geographical technologies for disaster risk reduction.

Progida is currently supporting UNOSAT in scaling up the long running ResEau Chad project in the Lake Chad Region. The project maps groundwater resources on a national scale and builds capacity in the use of geographical technologies, in order to support a more sustainable water resource management.

“I feel that this is an extremely interesting and unique niche for UNOSAT, as it is a specialised programme in the UN that can provide dedicated technical support to boost national capacities to identify water sources. At the same time, it can assess risks and development opportunities through analysing geospatial information. Having worked for several humanitarian actors in the past, I know how much demand there is from governments and humanitarian partners for this particular expertise”, she says. 

Great potential

In addition to the technical capacities of Progida and Vajja, NORCAP has supported UNOSAT in developing the programme’s next five-year strategy. Strategic management specialist Tanja Bergqvist has identified UNOSAT’s directions for future growth and has been instrumental in contributing to building a more solid, efficient and sustainable UN-programme.

“There are major possibilities for UNOSAT to continue providing high-quality and innovative satellite imagery products and services to UN sister agencies, UN members states and partners”, Bergqvist says.

She explains that to scale up and operate at full speed, it is essential that UNOSAT as a programme is set up to respond to the future needs of the humanitarian and development community and continues to be a place where it is attractive to work for highly skilled employees.

“The deployment to UNOSAT has opened up unique learning opportunities between the two organisations. I look forward to continuing my work as an advocate for the use of satellite technology in the humanitarian community. We have vast opportunities to explore”, she concludes.

According to UNOSAT Manager Einar Bjorgo, the collaboration with NORCAP opens up new areas of knowledge transfer and allows UNOSAT to invest in the development of new products and services. Mr. Bjorgo considers that he is now a lot more familiar with the diversity of strategic approaches. “We are very grateful for their support”, he says. “It complements our current team and activities with additional high-quality staff.”



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  • Publication date 14 Jun 2017

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