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INTERVIEW WooChong Um, Deputy Director General Regional and Sustainable Development Department Asian Development Bank.

Satellite data is used by ADB 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

EO Service Development

Can you describe in a simple way your daily work at the sustainable development offices of the Asian Development Bank?

Our work focuses on solving problems, developing business opportunities, and sharing knowledge, from clean energy to sustainable transport to education to food security. Our role is to connect research with action on the ground. We support ADB’s investments by piloting and embedding state-of-the art practices in our operations. We make certain that our operations are compliant with our safeguard policies. We also strive to share our know-how on these different topics with others through studies and training.

Could you explain how your team is assisting the sustainable development projects? How these units working in a particular project are coordinated?

We strive to take a nexus approach. We organize ourselves into multidisciplinary teams as the project requires. In addition to our department, we have 15 communities of practice that focus on diverse areas including urban, water, energy, gender, education and health.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have been partnering for the purpose of increasing the use of EO in the ADB´s lending operations, across all sectors but especially in development work… Could you explain further about the initiative from the ADB point of view?

The ADB-ESA initiative provides a good opportunity to demonstrate to ADB’s clients how EO information can be used for development projects. Although EO has much potential to improve ADB’s operations, most staff members are not yet familiar with the technology, and EO applications have not been customized for ADB projects.

Does cooperation with other space agencies take a similar approach or is this one different?

For the collaboration between ADB and ESA, the focus is on improving project planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation by using satellite-based information provided by ESA. For the collaboration with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the focus is more on introducing to client countries applications using satellite technology under the capacity development program. More than data or information, technical advice to support agencies in the countries on how to apply the technology is also provided.

Can you describe a typical project lifecycle and at what points geo-information data could be used?

A project starts out being part of a country partnership strategy between ADB and a particular client country, and then goes through the stages of preparation, approval, implementation, completion and evaluation. Geo-information data could be used for planning, monitoring and evaluating projects. If the project is designed to introduce the technology in a country, the data could be used even after the project finishes.

Which areas do you see as the priority and which can benefit most from Earth observation ? eg. water resources management, urban development, agriculture and forestry, natural resources management, climate change, environmental monitoring ……?

It’s difficult to say which area is the priority or could benefit the most. For design and construction of large infrastructure projects (transportation, energy, water, agriculture, etc.), high resolution satellite data is very useful for planning, monitoring and evaluating the project sites more efficiently and effectively. To use satellite data in a sustainable manner, free lower resolution data, which is good for agriculture, forestry, natural resources, environment, and water, is more suitable.

Which factors could be used to demonstrate the value of these services as useful tools to ADB teams? eg cost, improved delivery of aid, better involvement of the local; community…..

Some of the factors could include remote sensing information for dangerous or remote areas; objective information as an alternative source to unreliable content, such as a subjectively written report; cost effective wide coverage information could be good for national and regional scale information; freely available data to support the lack of ground data in a country; and quick data acquisition for disaster response.

What kind of support does ADB need to develop the capacity to use all types of space-based information in support of sustainable development projects?

We need technical advice and capacity development programs for our staff members to understand available applications, how to use them, and best practices. For our client countries, a capacity development program is needed to improve technical capacity, increase awareness and understanding of management of agencies to develop polices to allocate enough budget and human resources to sustain the use of EO by showing cost benefit analyses.

How can this kind of support be organised in the future?

A technical staff seconded from JAXA is at ADB to hold seminars and workshops. He is also implementing a capacity development technical assistance project for our client countries. ESA could consider seconding experts and support team to ADB to build a long-term sustainable partnership on EO for development in Asia through ADB operations.


Do you have any views on the role we (EARSC) can play to help ADB?

EARSC could encourage European EO application providers to develop applications and joint venture business plans with Asian partners to work on Asian requirements. You could share information on these applications and business plans with ADB.

We are organising a Portal which provides information on EO products and services to different end-user communities. Do you feel this could be useful for the ADB?

It would be useful if the portal could provide web-based browsing and analysis tools on examples of projects that are relevant to ADB’s client countries. Information on costs and design of sustainability would also be useful. Collections of results of EO applications in projects in different development organizations would be also useful.

Would any further joint initiative be appropriate to raise awareness of the capabilities of the European EO services industry?

Knowledge sharing about EO applications is not enough among development agencies. It would be good if European EO services could integrate the results with different partners and hold knowledge sharing events inviting different stakeholders.

How would you advise European-based service providers, which are mainly very small but highly innovative companies, to become better integrated in such a development and cooperation projects?

EO application is an interdisciplinary approach. Providing only data is not enough. If European service providers could work with non-space sector service providers and offer total solutions to meet development needs, I think they can provide more attractive and feasible solutions.


At the end of the interview, we would like to ask you for your overall views 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.

With the rapid growth in the variety of EO data and services and declining price for accessing them, I believe there will be more opportunities for the geo-information and earth observation industry to support the work of development organizations like ADB. To develop practical and useful solutions, dialogue between suppliers, partners, and end-users in developing countries in Asia is very important. Building on the experiences from the pilot initiative between ESA and ADB, members of EARSC can explore bright opportunities for significant EO applications in Asia in the future.

Mr. Woochong Um is the Officer in Charge and Deputy Director General for the Regional and Sustainable Development Department of the Asian Development Bank. He is currently overseeing ADB’s climate finance program with particular focus on leveraging private sector and carbon market financing. His responsibilities also include sustainable infrastructure, gender and social development, governance and public management, environment, and safeguards. Before his appointment as Deputy Director General, Mr. Um was the Director of the Sustainable Infrastructure Division of the RSDD. Mr. Um’s portfolio of initiatives included clean energy, energy efficiency, transport, water supply and sanitation, urban development, and information and communication technology.
Prior to this, Mr. Um was a specialist in charge of managing infrastructure projects in the in the Mekong Department. Most notably, Mr. Um led a team to prepare the Nam Theun 2 hydroelectric project in Lao PDR in collaboration with the World Bank. He is ADB’s focal point for dams and development issues, as well as mega urban development projects. He was also involved in various bank-wide initiatives, including the establishment of ADB’s accountability mechanism.
Before joining ADB, Mr. Um worked as the Corporate Information Systems Specialist at Pfizer Inc. in New York, and as Lead Programming Analyst at Pitney Bowes Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, USA.
Mr. Um, a Korean, has an MBA in finance and international business from New York University and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science/Management from Boston College.

Woochong Um