Satellites and Space Technology in Aid of Development

Feature | 18 June 2013
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Space technology is providing vital information that helps address development challenges in Asia and the Pacific.

Data gathered from the vantage point of space provide critical information to help understand how the Earth works, how its regions undergo complex changes, and what policy-makers can do to mitigate them. Earth observation satellites have been used for years to gather such data, which is then used by agencies and institutions involved in development, aid and relief support.

In natural disasters-prone Asia, countries have high demand for meteorological observation systems to predict threats more precisely. For example, precipitation data gathered by satellites has great potential to be used to warn people living in areas at risk before a flood occurs. In addition, during and after a flood, high resolution images of inundated areas can support rescue and recovery operations.

"Space technology and associated geographic information systems (GIS) applications are highly valued due to the illustrative and easy-to-understand means of presenting complicated calculations and forecasts for policy makers, technical advisers and most especially field personnel," explains ADB Space Technology Specialist Yusuke Muraki.

Information gathered from space, however, is not only useful when dealing with natural disasters and directing relief operations. It is used daily in sectors as diverse as transport, urban planning, agriculture and energy. In both the planning and construction phases of large infrastructure projects such as dams, pipelines or irrigation facilities, and the assessment of their environmental and social safeguards impact, space technology supports solutions that benefit millions in the region.

View from above

There are three categories of satellite technology used in development. These include: remote sensing, location and time information services (typically provided by systems such the USA's global positioning system, better known by its acronym GPS), and communication and broadcasting.

"While all of them have practical applications in development, perhaps remote sensing offers the most interesting array of benefits to support operations," says Muraki.

Remote sensing allows the collection of data and images of the territory, while GIS facilitate the management of data. When the two are used in tandem, the benefit for development operations can be game-changing.

"Satellite information provides objective information even though it requires some ground validation," says Muraki.

Information provided by space agencies from around the world is made available to developing countries and institutions like ADB that do not have enough resources to collect independently fresh and accurate data.

Working together for a 'higher' purpose

ADB cooperates with institutions that have space technology capability such as Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the United States Department of Defense and, more recently, the European Space Agency (ESA) to use space-gathered information in ADB projects. An example of this cooperation is a brochure comparing night sky views of Asia and the Pacific from 1992 to 2009 to reveal gaps in electrification.

In July 2010, ADB signed an agreement with JAXA to cooperate in the use of space technology for disaster management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, forest monitoring, and water resources management.

In January 2012, ADB became a member of Sentinel Asia, an initiative that forges collaboration between space agencies and disaster management agencies to apply remote sensing and Web-GIS technologies in support of disaster management in the Asia-Pacific region.

ADB and JAXA also joined forces in a project that required the application of satellite rainfall data to support the national flood forecasting agencies in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Viet Nam. The project assisted the three countries with the improvement of their monitoring and warning systems.

Recently, a project involving the trial of innovative new crop insurance products to give income protection from increasingly severe storms and natural disasters to small-holder farmers in Bangladesh was announced. In this project funded with a grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction, satellite-based rainfall data is used as supplement data source for the insurance.

Another project involving JAXA as technical adviser targets food security and subregional cooperation in the six countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion. Satellite-based drought monitoring systems using freely available satellite data will be developed for regional food security cooperation.

"Drought is a big issue in that region but they don't have a standard tool to measure the situation in these countries," Muraki explains.

"By providing the objective drought information using satellite technology all over the subregion, the policy makers can see the third party view of the situation of the drought."