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NASA and USAID Bring Earth-Observation Benefits to Africa

(Dec 2008) NASA, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and their international partners cut the ribbon Friday in Nairobi, Kenya, for SERVIR-Africa. The SERVIR-Africa system integrates the satellite resources of the United States and other countries into a Web-based Earth information system.

(WASHINGTON) This effort puts previously inaccessible information into the hands of local scientists, government leaders and communities to help address concerns related to natural disasters, disease outbreaks, biodiversity and climate change.

SERVIR, Spanish for “to serve,” has been in operation in Central America, the Caribbean and southern Mexico since 2005. Now, through the support of multiple government agencies and other organizations, NASA and USAID are expanding the system to Africa in partnership with the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development in Nairobi. The center, an intergovernmental organization with 15 member states in eastern and southern Africa, is a leader in geospatial mapping in the region.

“A satellite birds-eye view can provide an overall picture of a natural disaster, such as a flood, and its consequences,” said Tesfaye Korme, director of remote sensing and geographic information systems at the center. “Using the SERVIR-Africa platform, we will be able to develop near-real time maps of flood-affected areas to estimate the number of displaced people and locate potential transportation disruptions.”

SERVIR-Africa will use Earth science satellite data from many of NASA’s missions and other information to better predict areas at risk for severe flooding and map regions hit by floods. It also will develop an early-warning tool to predict the distribution of vector-borne diseases such as Rift Valley Fever. By mapping the location of climate change projections, the system will allow people to see impacts on such things as Africa’s diverse ecosystems.

SERVIR-Africa’s information technology team will use the Internet to acquire and distribute satellite and ground-based Earth observations, map data, and geospatial analyses that target issues such as urbanization, biodiversity threats, and management of natural resources.

SERVIR-Africa will benefit from the breadth and depth of valuable NASA Earth science satellite and model analyses,” said Dan Irwin, SERVIR project director at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. “Science and technology are key, but ultimately it is the combination of local knowledge along with space-based observations that makes real time monitoring of Africa’s environment effective.”

The strength of the SERVIR system is in its diverse international team of scientists, developers and researchers. SERVIR-Africa builds on existing capacity at the mapping center in Nairobi. The center, together with SERVIR’s lead partner in Central America, the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean, are jointly developing an integrated system. These two regional organizations are standardizing database management and evaluating common methods for predicting severe weather events, analyzing impacts from climate change and working to understand health and ecosystem interactions.

SERVIR also has been building relationships with industry

“Public-private partnerships are critical to the success of the SERVIR system,” said Jacqueline E. Schafer of USAID. “Bringing together the expertise and resources of geospatial information systems software and cell phone companies, university researchers, conservation organizations, and governments, SERVIR puts science and technology into the hands of local decision-makers.”

The SERVIR system was developed with USAID by researchers at a global coordination office and rapid prototyping facility at Marshall. Three other NASA centers — NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, Calif., and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. — partnered with Marshall on the system. Also participating in the implementation of SERVIR-Africa is the Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology in Auburn, N.Y.

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