In this month’s edition of our Mapping for Good series, we’re taking a look at a multinational effort to use geospatial technology to compliment aid efforts in the developing world. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme, known as UNOSAT, seeks to use satellite imagery and mapping resources to support aid workers on the ground. The two aspects of UNOSAT’s operation, satellite imagery and cartography, are inherently intertwined as much of their work involves utilizing up-to-date high resolution imagery to create current maps of areas that have been affected by natural disasters, war and other events that distort or destroy a landscape.
If you’ve already read our series, you might wonder how such a service differs from other programs we’ve covered, such as the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap initiative. Einer Bjorgo, manager of UNOSAT, was quick to point out what makes UNOSAT both vital and unique in a recent article detailing the organization’s history. The maps that UNOSAT creates, he noted, are extremely precise in comparison to others in the field. Bjorgo pointed out that while many humanitarian maps rely on low or medium resolution satellite imagery to make updates, UNOSAT “uses…satellite images made available by space agencies and public and private satellite data providers…the maps we produce are of very high resolution, up to 30 cm.”
Being an arm of the United Nations, UNOSAT is often able to cut through otherwise debilitating diplomacy and bureaucracy by taking advantage of the unique connections that the UN and its many agencies make available. Of additional help is the fact that UNOSAT is hosted at the European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva (better known at CERN and recognized worldwide for its many technological advancements throughout history, notably its massive particle collider), which provides its staff with further access to the best technology available. Its projects are varied and have been at the heart of many well-known disasters and conflicts over the last 15 years. For example, UNOSAT’s team guided field workers through the emergency responses in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2014 fight against the Ebola epidemic.
If you would like to learn more about UNOSAT and the projects with which it is involved, you can visit their website at: https://unitar.org/unosat/.