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Remote Sensing applications in disasters monitoring in Bangladesh

M. A. H. Pramanik
International Center for Disaster – Mitigation Engineering (INCEDE),
Institute of industrial Science, University of Tokyo
7-22-1 Roppongi, Tokyo 106, Japan

Bangladesh is a disaster prone country. Almost all types of disasters like flood, cyclonic storms, tidal surges, droughts, tornadoes, river bank erosion, earthquake, etc. occurred in Bangladesh regularly and frequently. In conjunction with conventional techniques, space science, remote sensing and GIS methods are also used in disasters. Remote sensing aerial photography is being used in Bangladesh since 1930s and 1940s for cartographic mapping, forest inventory and water resources studies. The use of satellite technology started with the establishment for an APT (Automatic Picture Transmission) system in 1968. Since then all the cyclonic storms formed in the Bay of Bengal have been tracked and necessary forecasting and warning through Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) have been issued. Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organization (SPARRSO) is the focal point of space and remote sensing activities in the information to BMD for forecasting the devastating floods of 1974, 1987 and 1988 and Cyclones of 1970, 1985, 1991 and 1994. Remote sensing and GIS techniques are being used by other agencies like Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB), Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), Local Government Engineering Department (BLGED), Departments of Environment and Forest, etc for resource inventory, environment protection, disaster monitoring, development planning and educational purposes.

Bangladesh is a disaster prone country with a high of population (about 800 persons per square kilometer) having area of 144, 000 sq km and a population of about 110 million. The physiographic, windstorms (Cyclone/storm surges/tornadoes) and others which occur regularly and frequently. Major factors responsible for disasters in Bangladesh are flat topography, rapid run-off and drainage congestion, low relief of the floods, plains, low river gradients, heavy monsoon rainfall, enormous discharge of sediments, funnel shapes and shallow Bay of Bengal, etc Bangladesh is a developing country discharge with numerous problems of overpopulation poverty, complex socio economic structure, frequent disasters, low level industrial base, resource constrains lack of appropriate infrastructural and institutional facilities, dearth of trained manpower, etc. These problems are complicated and compounded with the occurrences of regular and frequent disasters impeding the overall socio-economic development efforts of the country. The present paper mainly discusses the applications of space sciences, remote sensing and GIS by various agencies related to some of their activities. A few case studies are described followed by some recommendations.

Use of Space Sciences, Remote Sensing and GIS
1. Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing (SPARRSO) is a government is the focal point of space and remote sensing activities in the country. Though the remote sensing activities mainly aerial photography, were initiated in Bangladesh area in 1930’s and 1940s – for water resources studies, cartographic mapping and forest inventory purposes, the space technology entered Bangladesh in 1968 with the establishment of an APT (Automatic Picture Transmission) system for synoptic view of cloud formation and for cyclone and flood forecasting in the country. The system has been upgraded in 1970’s and 1980′;s and integrated RS-GIS including modern cartographic and photographic laboratory facilities have been established by SPARRSO. These facilities are used as follows:

  1. Cyclone warning and flood forecasting in collaboration wit Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD) and Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) using their conventional data / information and field observations. These were very useful for the devastating and unprecedented floods of 1987 and 1988 and cyclones of 1991 (138,000 killed): in these efforts the role of space sciences and remote sensing is praiseworthy.
  2. Damage assessments, rehabilitation and reconstruction works after any disaster are undertaken by Public Works Department (PWD) Bangladesh Local Government Engineering Department (BLGED), Port Authorities, etc and they use space information/data and GIS techniques in association with SPARRSO for development planning and infrastructure built up activities.

2. Survey of Bangladesh – Use space imagery and aerial photographs for updating of topographic maps (Topo sheets) at scales of 1:250,000 and 1:50,0000 and also at larger scales for project area mapping depending on the request of the operational agencies.

3. Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC), Soil Resource Development Institute (SRDI) and Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB): RS-GIS is being used by these agencies for the planning and management of land capability and suitability, ecological zoning, water resources management etc.

4. Departments of Forests (DOF) and Environment (DOC): RS-GIS is being used of these agencies forest resources management and environmental monitoring purposes.

5. Universities RS-GIS for education and training at different levels and on the job training for the officials of the operation departments are used. This is a continuous process and having more interactions with the operation agencies.

6. Non-governmental Organizations and private sectors : In Bangladesh, NGO’s and private sectors are also using RS-GIS for various purposes of project planning and development activities.

Specific Case Studies
As mentioned earlier Bangladesh Space Research and Remote Sensing Organization (SPARRSO) is the focal point for space and remote sensing activities in three country. SPARRSO’s main objective is to transfer the technology tot eh user agencies so that they could use the technology for resource development planning and monitoring purposes. Thus an all out effort could be made for attaining ESSD. A number of such projects have been undertaken by SPARRSO and only a few of them is described below:

  1. Coastal Afforestation Project of the Forest Department
    The Forest Department has undertaken a massive afforestation project in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. SPARRSO has been entrusted with monitoring of progress of afforestation by using satellite imagery, aerial photos and ground observation. Training of Forest personnel was also undertaken by SPARRSO.
  2. Water Bodies Survey for the Fisheries Department. The project was supported by UNDP.FAO for inventorying of water bodies (both large >25 hectare and small water bodies) throughout Bangladesh
  3. FCDI (flood Control, Drainage and Irrigation) projects mapping and River Catchments are mapping of Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) were completed.
  4. Geologic and Drainage mapping of Geological Survey of Bangladesh was made.
  5. Thana (sub-district) level infrastructure development mapping and training of personnel of Bangladesh Local Government Engineering Department (BLGED) was done by SPARS O.
  6. Regular information/data/satellite imagery etc to Bangladesh Meteorology Department and Bangladesh Water Development Board for weather/cyclone forecasting and flood warning purposes are disseminated.
  7. A number of user agencies both public and private sectors are also using space and remote sensing data including GIS.

Potential for Further Applications
The improvement of resolution and cloud penetration capability of the satellite technology are narrowing the present limitation and widening the scope of activities. This technology has much potential applications of this technology could be as follows:

  • Identification and mapping of land use patterns, cropped and non cropped areas.
  • Identification and mapping of inland water resources of perennial water pools, ponds etc
  • Mapping of natural vegetations, forests etc and their physical conditions including degradation, density, type identification etc.
  • Monitoring charges in river courses aiding planning of embankments, hydraulic structures etc
  • Monitoring of yearly change coastal morphology showing land accretion and erosion
  • Preparation thematic maps for development planning at Thana level.
  • More integration of remote sensing and GIS needed for planning purposes.


  1. Development of common strategy for extensive use of SS-RS-GIS (space science, remote sensing and geographic information system) should be made. The problems should be tackled locally, nationally, regionally and globally.
  2. Development of infrastructural facilities and manpower capabilities in each country in phases. Strengthening of existing mechanism of information exchange by organizing more conferences / workshops / seminars and also publication of newsletter / other documents. Networking mechanisms could be established and public awareness should be created.
  3. Exchange of education and training facilities and expertise through workshops, study tours, on-the-job-training, short-term and long-term courses, etc. should be made.
  4. Undertaking of joint research projects and filed application projects of mutual interest to promote appropriate inter-disciplinary studies on a regional basis should be implemented.
  5. More collaborative participation of Asian countries in IDNDR (International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction-1990-2000 AD), Follow up of ISY (International Space Year-1992), IGBP (International Geosphere Biosphere programme) and other international and regional activities.
  6. There should be a targeted and integrated approach of using SS-RS-GIS for economic development, environment protection, poverty alleviation and improvement in the quality of life of the people at all levels-local, national, regional and global.
  7. It is proposed that an International Institute for Disaster-Mitigation, Environment and Remote Sensing (IIDMERS) be set p in one of the Asian countries (preferably in Bangladesh) with the functions of research, education, training, consultancy, mapping remote sensing, GIS, computer processing, etc. IIDMERS will act as the nodal point in the region having close linkages and interface with the national centers (selecting one as a focal point). This will have more collaborating linkages with existing institutes without affecting their functions/funds.

The paper has dealt with various aspects of disasters monitoring by SS-RS-GIS (space science, remote sensing and geographic information system) taking Bangladesh as a case study. The present and future potential applications of SS-RS-GIS have been also highlighted. This was followed by some recommendations. It is suggested that more use of SS-RS-GIS should be made nationally, regionally and globally for natural resources management and environment protection with ultimate aim of improvement in the quality of life of the people.

The author is grateful to INCEDE/IIS/University of Tokyo for giving permission to publish this paper. The author is also thankful to Prof. T. Katayama, Director and Dr. A.S. Herath, Associate Professor of INCEDE/IIS/University of Tokyo for their valuable suggestions in the preparation stage of the paper.


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