European and international aid agencies responding to the South Asia Earthquake have been supported by rapidly produced crisis and damage maps based on satellite images. Now, with the race on to deliver food and shelter to three million people left homeless before the onset of winter, this detailed geographical information provided by the ESA’s backed Respond consortium remains vital to humanitarian relief efforts. At a meeting in Geneva this week held by the United Nations for Ministers of major donor countries for South Asia Earthquake relief efforts, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland both received sets of maps produced for the disaster relief agencies by Respond, a consortium of European and international organisations combined with industry that works with the humanitarian aid community to improve access to maps, satellite images and geo-information.
The earthquake that struck the Kashmir region on 8 October measured 7.6 on the Richter scale. Its epicentre was near the city of Muzaffarabad, 138 kilometres from the Pakistani capital Islamabad, but the damage done extends into northwest India as well as Afghanistan. More than ten aftershocks – their magnitudes ranging from 5.2 to 6.3 – have since rocked the mountainous region. The scale of disaster swiftly led to three activations of the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters by the French Civil Protection Agency (DDSC) and the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) as well as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The Charter prioritises the acquisition of satellite data over disaster areas in support of relief efforts.
The task of satisfying the first two Charter activations was assigned to Respond. In the earthquake’s aftermath, crisis mapping was carried out as a joint effort by Respond partners the Center for Satellite Based Crisis Information of the German Aerospace Center and the Rapid Disaster Mapping Service of SERTIT based in France, along with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (EC-JRC), Infoterra UK and UNOSAT – provider of satellite data for UN agencies who oversaw mapping job management for the activations.
Respond has been established as part of the pilot services of Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), a joint initiative between ESA and the European Union to build a global monitoring capability in support of Europe’s environmental and sustainable development goals. Respond is an alliance of European and international organisations with industry working with the humanitarian aid community to improve access to geographic information.