Space: the final frontier of disaster risk reduction

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction

GENEVA, 17 April 2013 - Outer space isn't a place organizations usually think of when looking to build resilience and reduce disaster risks. Yet, this is exactly where participants' minds were when experts were invited by UNISDR and the UN's Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) to discuss the incorporation of space technology into the post-2015 disaster risk reduction framework.

While it might sound like a meeting from science-fiction, the implications of space technologies, such as satellites for communication, earth observation, navigation, and telecommunication, have very real impacts to lives on a daily basis. Typically used by the humanitarian community to respond to disasters, emergencies and crisis, these technologies are also being used to forecast weather, build cities, monitor the health of the environment, and provide channels to communicate.

This point resonated in the remarks of UNOOSA's Chief of Section Niklas Hedman who referred to how these technologies can not only help communications in times of emergency, but also to "address broad-based issues of resilience in the areas of urban planning, land-use planning and rural development."

"We need to make these technologies more accessible and educate people on the benefits of new technologies to reduce disaster risks and support resilience building," remarked UNISDR's Deputy Director Helena Molin-Valdes, who also coordinates the Making Cities Resilient campaign which has signed up over 1300 cities.

"The question now is how do we link spaced-based technologies, and the information they capture, to the wider issue of disaster risk reduction and long-term sustainable development? Will urban planners, engineers, and development practitioners step up to the challenges of openly sharing data, building capacities, partnering and innovating to build a disaster resilient future?"

Consultations on the post-2015 disaster risk reduction (DRR) framework have also echoed the same concerns with many calling for not only greater political commitment for DRR and engaging all stakeholders to strengthen the resilience of local communities, but also enhancing public access to information on risks, and the use of evidence and application of science for policy-making.

During the day-long forum last month, some innovative responses to building resilience and preventing future disasters were highlighted. This included the idea of 'underground space' raised by the International Tunneling and Underground Space Association's Committee on Underground Space (ITACUS) who believed that, in addition to understanding the benefits of technologies in outer space, underground space has the potential to make cities and communities more resilient.

"When developed properly, underground space can be less susceptible to disaster. As cities continue to grow and house a majority of the world's population, research and focus in this area will also need to increase. Yet, we only know 1% of what there is to know about underground space compared to how much resources we've put towards outer space research," said Han Admiraal, Chairman of ITACUS.

Keiko Saito, from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), presented the example of InaSAFE, a free software that produces realistic natural hazard impact scenarios for better planning, preparedness and response activities. It was developed by Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) and AusAID through the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction (AIFDR), together with the World Bank. The software also won the 2012 Black Duck Open Source Rookies of the Year program, which recognized top new projects that reflect important trends in the open source community.

According to Juan-Carlos Villagran, Head of the UN Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER), the use of space technology, geographic information systems and geospatial data are tools that can help countries report against the Hyogo Framework for Action, the current 10-year international framework for DRR which ends in 2015.

He also proposed that, "countries use data and space technology to provide evidence when reporting against the future DRR framework and that this will also provide recommended practices on how space technology can be used for resilience building."

This interactive forum took place on 14 March in Geneva and discussed the wider use of geospatial data in urban planning and mainstreaming space technology in land use planning and rural development for effective disaster management. It was organized as part of the 33rd session of the United Nations Inter-Agency Meeting on Outer Space Activities which was also hosted by UNISDR.

In addition to UNISDR, UNOOSA, UN-SPIDER, ITACUS and GFDRR, panelists included representatives from the Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée, UN-HABITAT, UNITAR/UNOSAT and the COPERNICUS project, a European Programme for the establishment of a European capacity for Earth Observation.

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