Beijing, China: “If we fail to prepare, we prepare to fail,” observed the United Nations International Conference on Space-based Technologies for Disaster Risk Management – “Best Practices for Risk Reduction and Rapid Response Mapping.” The conference, held here during 22-25 November, was organised by UN‐SPIDER (United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response) and the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China.
The conference covered a wide range of topics from advancements in technology, best practices disaster risk management, experiences in rapid response mapping etc.
Through this conference UN‐SPIDER gathered elements to re‐define its Plan of Action to tailor its activities, especially in Asia, the Pacific and Africa. The conference helped to identify strategies to bridge gap between the space and the disaster management communities and improve the communication and coordination among existing initiatives regarding use of space‐based technologies for disaster risk management. The conference provided recent updates on initiatives, portals and platforms contributing to disaster risk management, emergency response, rapid response mapping, capacity building opportunities and regional networks.
Some of the gaps and challenges in efficient disaster risk management identified at the conference were the following:
• Different countries and agencies do not follow the same standard. For example, at the national level there is often a national datum/coordinate system. Different datum and projections make data interoperability more difficult at international level.
• Even within the same country different agencies use different data structures that pose challenges in data sharing and interoperability.
• Although a large number of maps and products are available, it is quite common for National Disaster Management Offices (NDMOs) to not make use of them. Decisions are made without taking space‐based information or spatial data (or any data management) into consideration.
• Satellite imagery provided from international sources often comes as PDF and JPEG file and not in the form of digital data that can be used for analysis/interpretation.
• There are sometimes issues of timeliness in countries that do not have their own receiving station to download satellite images.
• Data sharing is easier said than done. Organisations that promise data in workshops often do not follow up in actual practice.
• Information supported or generated by space based technology is not reaching the ground level.
The suggestions made by the participants of the conference to address gaps and challenges emphasised on preparedness. The suggestions included the following:
• Raising awareness of GIS benefits to stakeholders is imperative to build institutional capacity with respect to developing expertise, allotting funding, seeking support from policy makers.
• Geospatial data that feeds in GIS needs to be made public and shared
• Advocate for more investment in key areas such as getting reliable data (such as satellite images) to help countries forecast disasters more accurately and thus enable better preparedness and response activities
• Build on existing knowledge and experience of the communities and use this knowledge as part of the institutional planning.
• Partnerships across different agencies is required, for example, ASEAN AHA Centre could become a regional support office of UN‐SPIDER which could benefit ASEAN member countries and at the same time, this may increase the presence of UN‐SPIDER across the region.
• How to communicate risk? Using maps and other visual means – for many people in the domain it is elementary, but for many people it is not. This complicated data needs to be simplified for a basic user to be able to understand and then act on.
A general problem raised was that data is available, but a centralised repository recording datasets is not in place yet. UN‐SPIDER informed that it is about to step into this gap and is currently developing a geodatabase for all kind of data, datasets, etc. Another point raised was regarding the low usability of end products and strong limitations on licencing.
The conference brought together 128 participants from 42 countries representing 93 organisations (national, regional and international organisations, non‐government organizations, the private sector and Academia) from all the continents. Participants represented civil protection agencies, emergency management organisations, space agencies, remote sensing agencies, research institutions, ministries of environment and natural resources, science and technology bureaus, and other government and nongovernment agencies. In the context of the United Nations, the conference attracted the participation of representatives from ASEAN, OCHA, ECOWAS, ISPRS, IEEE, WHO, ESCAP, ECCAS, UNDP, WMO, and UNOOSA. The conference was held in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the National Disaster Reduction Center of China of the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, the Institute of Remote Sensing Applications of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Asia Pacific Space Cooperation Organisation (APSCO).
Source: Our correspondent