Satellite Data Bring Innovation to Development

Article | 28 November 2014

Data from satellites orbiting the Earth are proving to be a rich resource not just for scientists but for development professionals too.

The last decade saw significant progress in refining techniques to process raw satellite data. Though usually presented in the form of images, satellite data is digital information that can be processed with computer software. The data stream is useful in a variety of applications, such as agriculture, forestry, infrastructure planning, environmental management and, increasingly, development work.

Remote sensing satellites provide additional information to support and supplement ground data or fill critical information gaps. For instance, satellites can capture the extent of large-scale phenomena, such as the impact of a super typhoon or the effects of climate change and rapid urbanization. In some cases, historical data can be used to look back in time up to 30 years. For very remote areas, satellites are often the only feasible method of gathering environmental and geographical information.

Since 2010, ADB has been working with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in introducing to countries in Asia and the Pacific satellite-based applications for disaster management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, forest monitoring, and water resources management under a capacity development program. Starting this year, ADB is collaborating with the European Space Agency (ESA) in improving project planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation by using satellite data. This initiative has been called the Earth Observation for a Transforming Asia Pacific or EOTAP.

Twelve Test Cases

Twelve ADB projects have been selected as test cases. The projects are located across the Asia-Pacific region and cover information needs in different sectors.

  • Integrated Rural Development in Uzbekistan
  • Secondary Cities Urban Development in Armenia
  • Climate-Resilient Rural Livelihoods in Mongolia 
  • Increasing Climate Resilience in Tonga
  • Transport Sector Climate Proofing in Timor-Leste
  • Transport Infrastructure Assessment in Papua New Guinea
  • Collecting Transport Infrastructure Intelligence in Asia and the Pacific
  • Disaster Risk Assessment in Bangladesh
  • Supporting Hydropower Development in Viet Nam
  • River Basin Flood Management in Indonesia
  • Urban Services Improvement in Myanmar
  • Urban Environment Climate Change Adaptation in Viet Nam

These test cases will explore how a range of environmental information from satellites can improve project planning or implementation.  For instance, satellite data on land use and land cover changes (e.g. roads and buildings, vegetation, inland water) can serve as a pre-planning as well as a monitoring and evaluation tool for urban and rural development, resource management, carbon accounting, and disaster risk modelling.

One of the test cases is a regional project on transport infrastructure, which will use satellite-based information to update the inventory of transport infrastructure in Asia and the Pacific and support the development of sustainable, low-carbon transport in the region. Areas of interest are Baku in Azerbaijan, Peshawar in Pakistan, Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia, and Suva in Fiji. The project will also deliver maritime traffic statistics using the Philippines as a pilot by integrating coastal and satellite AIS (Automatic Identification System) data, which tracks the world’s merchant fleets, with Earth observation (EO) data.

Satellite data can also help monitor compliance with project safeguards. In the hydropower project in Viet Nam, baseline and change maps will be used to measure environmental changes after the 156-megawatt Song Bung 4 plant starts operation.

Satellite-based information for the 12 ADB projects is being produced by specialist EO service providers in Europe to meet as closely as possible the individual information needs of each of the projects. The ESA team is providing independent technical oversight and management of the activities. The projects were started in October 2014, and are expected to deliver results in the third quarter of 2015.

Geospatial information for sustainable development

"ADB is increasingly applying EO data and products in the design and implementation of projects across the region,” says Nessim Ahmad, deputy director general of ADB’s Regional and Sustainable Development Department and concurrent chief compliance officer. “We hope enhanced cooperation with agencies such as ESA and EO service providers will lead to strengthened capacity among our developing member countries to better exploit the potential of geo-information for sustainable development."

ESA has worked with the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development since 2008.

“The possibilities for large-scale and systematic use of EO information in international development working processes are evident,” says Stephen Coulson, head of the ESA team from the Directorate of Earth Observation Programmes based in Frascati, Italy. “We look forward to building closer cooperation with ADB to see how we can get EO established in the longer term, as best practice environmental information for the planning, implementation, and monitoring of all development activities, on a fully sustainable basis.”