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INTERVIEW Mr. Anthony G. Bigio, Senior Urban Specialist, Sustainable Development Network, World Bank

In this EOMAG issue, EARSC has the opportunity to feature an interview with the representative of the Sustainable Development Network of the World Bank, Mr Anthony Gad Bigio. We wanted to ask some questions relevant for the use of geo-information on financial institutions and sustainable development projects…

EO Service Development

Satellite data is used by World Bank teams to assess disaster risk, study water resources, forecast manifestations of climate change, monitor the state of agricultural and natural resources, measure city growth, and carry out many other assessments

Can you describe in a simple way your daily work at the sustainable development offices of the World Bank? Could you explain how your team is assisting the sustainable development projects? How these units working in a particular project are coordinated?

At the World Bank, the identification of development projects is done in partnership with national agencies and authorities, and their preparation is carried out by colleagues in the six regional vice-presidencies. Each of these has what we call “sector units” which are in charge of water, environment, urban development, etc. Colleagues at the central departments, such as me, try to facilitate their work by providing sector policies as well as link with external agencies that can bring other necessary financial and technical resources.

The World Bank and the European Space Agency (ESA) are now partnering for the purpose of mainstreaming the use of EO into the World Bank’s lending operations, across all sectors but especially in development work… is “eoworld” the first initiative at the World Bank approaching the Earth Observation services? Could you explain further about the initiative from the WB point of view? Does cooperation with other space agencies take a similar approach or is this one different?

Recognising the value of using Earth observation satellite data to support development activities, ESA and the World Bank are working together on several projects through the ‘eoworld’ joint initiative

EO-world is certainly the first initiative of this kind for the World Bank in the realm of earth observation, given its structured nature, the underlying partnership with the European Space Agency, and the number of parallel projects and EO applications (12) it supports. What we are trying to demonstrate through these projects is that earth observation can be a powerful tool to better identify, prepare or monitor the implementation of a project. The Bank currently has other forms of collaboration with other space agencies, such as JAXA, NASA, and NOAA, but these have been so far more circumscribed to specific regions or specific projects.

How do you prioritize the key objectives of the “eoworld” programme in short and long term? How should this programme be undertaken? What structures and processes can ensure long-term financing? How can the results be evaluated towards bringing about continuous improvements?

The results of the 12 projects should prove that earth observation can be beneficial to the World Bank’s operational work. It will be important to draw all the possible lessons from this first generation of applications, and see where they have been most effective. 12 projects is a “drop in the bucket” given the number of operations the Bank generates every year, therefore it will be very important to communicate the results of the EO applications and to carry out the related dissemination and across our institution.

How did you choose the sectors which will benefit from Earth observation services (water resources management, urban development, agriculture and forestry, natural resources management, and climate change?

Nearly all sectors grouped under the Sustainable Development Network relate to physical transformations, and are hence good candidates for earth observation applications. We wanted to make sure that the partnership with ESA was useful to as many sectors and regions as possible. From about thirty proposals we received from across the Bank, we chose the most promising candidates.

Which parameters will be used to demonstrate the value of these services as useful tools to World Bank teams in the planning, implementation, monitoring and assessment of their ongoing and future projects? (How in your vision EO services will help to i.e, “Agricultural production must increase by 70 per cent to feed 9 billion people by 2050”?

We should not be overly ambitious: each Bank development project tries to provide some improvements, be they to the state of conservation of a natural resource, or to the livelihoods of the local population, or to the economic output of a given sector or location. Results can only be achieved incrementally. Measuring results can certainly be much improved with the use of earth observation, especially when they are related to the physical transformation of the environment, or to its protection.

Overall, how do you see Earth Observation services as potentially useful tools in providing a wide range of information to support the monitoring and management of World Bank projects? How will the World Bank ensure the access to and develop the capacity to use all types of space-based information in support of sustainable development projects? How can this kind of support be organised in the future?

We will see a real increase in the use of earth observation services only when Bank project teams will understand more clearly the benefits of using this technology and consequently will allocate financial resources to purchase the related EO services on the market, from the funds for project identification, preparation and monitoring. I am sure that when the World Bank demand for EO services will increase, service companies will quickly learn how to support Bank teams with their products and expertise.


What role EARSC, the European service industry association can play to help the World Bank activities? How EARSC can work with your unit to improve programme’s operations and get industry more involved? Would a joint initiative be appropriate to raise awareness and improve performance?

We already have a link to EARSC on our earth observation web-page observation , where colleagues from across our institution looking for more information on the topic can reach out and see what kind of market offerings are available. For starters, it would be good if EARSC facilitated the link in the other direction, so that EARSC web-site visitors could familiarize themselves with the development work of the World Bank, especially in the sustainable development sectors.

How can regional-based service providers, which mainly are real small but highly innovative companies, be better integrated in such a development and cooperation projects?

The World Bank is a highly decentralized institution, and we have field offices that carry out a very large share of the technical work related to project identification, preparation and implementation supervision. This means that for many operations most of the decisions are taken in the field. However, procurement of specialized services, such as Earth Observation services, would be always conducted on an international basis; therefore the location of the firms would not be a constraint in any way.


At the end of the interview, we would like to ask you for your overall recommendations on the future development of the geo-information service sector, and would like to ask to give some hopefully positive messages to the members of EARSC

I was personally very impressed by the impact that some EO applications had on a large study that I was managing recently, and I think that the on-going program of collaboration with ESA can really go a long way in demonstrating the potential of EO to many more teams and colleagues across the Bank. I am positive that in the next few years we will see a significant increase in the use of EO in the context of our development projects. So my message to EARSC members is to be on the look-out for more requests coming from the World Bank in the near future!

Anthony Gad Bigio is a Senior Urban Specialist with the Sustainable Development Network of the World Bank, and has been managing investment projects, studies and programs in the areas of cities and climate change, post-disaster infrastructure reconstruction, housing policy reforms, slum upgrading, urban poverty reduction, urban air quality management and historic cities preservation for over fifteen years. He has completed in June 2011 a major regional study on “Climate Change Adaptation and Natural Risk Preparedness in the Coastal Cities of North Africa” focusing on the cities of Alexandria, Casablanca and Tunis and on the Bouregreg Valley in Morocco, which included the use of EO applications provided by ESA. He is currently coordinating the World Bank – European Space Agency partnership aimed at mainstreaming the use of Earth Observation in the development operations financed by the World Bank. He is a Lead Author for the forthcoming 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and holds a Masters Degree summa cum laude in Architecture and Urban Planning from the University of Rome.

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