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Satellite imagery goldmine to developing countries

(September 2013 by Cécile Barbière for in Paris) Backed by EU funding, satellite data is increasingly used to monitor urban development and natural resource use in developing countries, EurActiv France reports.

Forest protection, urban growth planning and water resources are growing issues for developing countries, where the lack of scientific data represents a big challenge.

Several international space programmes help bridge this gap by providing this valuable data to developing countries within the framework of international cooperation.

“This type of programme is especially aimed at countries that do not have tools for collecting and processing data efficiently,” says Anna Burzykowska, a specialist of Earth observation at the World Bank.

Through the project Eoworld, the World Bank, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), provides for five years the collection and analysis of satellite data in more than twenty countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The space agency provides free images, as well as the processing and analysis in the context of specific projects. The World Bank is responsible for defining and implementing the projects, engaging local stakeholders, facilitating access to available in situ data and providing final feedback on the quality and benefits of the project results.

In a coastal community in North Africa, a project has allowed to observe the adaptation to climate change in the region and locate the areas where the land sags.

“The results obtained during the observation have shown the extent of the problem with our government counterparts,” says Sameh Wahba, project manager at the World Bank. “Following this, authorities immediately decided to incorporate risk mitigation policies in their plans for adaptation and resilience,” she says.

Since 2010, the French Development Agency has also launched a programme to monitor the evolution of forests in Central Africa. Achieved through an agreement with EADS-Astrium, this programme provides data to tropical forest countries to improve the protection of their natural heritage, something that would be impossible without satellite images.

Satellites provide real-time data on a variety of development issues: climate change, rising sea levels, water quality, floods and movement or urban growth.

“Being able to monitor very large areas with limited resources is one of the main challenges that developing countries face,” says Zoubida Allaoua, Director in the Network of the World Bank for sustainable development.

These non-invasive technologies are also particularly useful in areas of conflict, where the collection of field data can be extremely difficult.

Still, if the satellite images are usually available free of charge, the cost of processing and analysis remains very high, and often beyond the reach of developing countries. They are therefore highly dependent on international cooperation in this field.

Cécile Barbière for in Paris