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How satellites and social media help us anticipate the needs of conflict-affected countries

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
The World Bank Group plays a major role in recovery and reconstruction efforts in conflict-affected countries. Therefore, it is important for us, in collaboration with international partners, to engage in assessing the needs and planning for recovery and reconstruction as much ahead of time as possible. In recent times, we have been conducting broad-brush damage assessments in active conflict situations using innovative remote-based techniques like satellite imagery or social media analytics to provide not only damage numbers and trends but also qualitative information on the status of various services. These new approaches have helped us maintain situational awareness of and be ready for recovery when the situation allows.

During the initial stages of recovery efforts, supporting local-level recovery initiatives can serve as a springboard for large-scale reconstruction programs, which remains our biggest comparative advantage. Therefore, there is a need to expand these assessments to include other elements of recovery, which would inform preparation of multi-sectoral local level recovery interventions in the short-term, and major reconstruction programs in the medium- to long-term.

The Global Urban Footprint: A map of nearly every human settlement on Earth

Thomas Esch's picture


Urbanization is increasingly central to the global development process, but until recently, basic spatial information on the world’s urban areas has been unavailable, inconsistent, or unreliable. The lack of consistent data on the world’s cities makes it hard to understand the overall impact of urbanization. However, innovations in geospatial mapping are now helping to provide one major piece of the puzzle:maps of practically all built-up areas around the world are available thanks to new uses of satellite data.
 
Scientists at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have succeeded in using a newly developed method to map the world’s built spaces at an unprecedented spatial resolution, resulting in the ‘Global Urban Footprint’ (GUF), a global map of human settlements at a spatial resolution of 12 meters per grid cell (aggregated to 75m for public use).
 
The German radar satellites TerraSAR X and TanDEM X acquired over 180,000 images between 2010 and 2013, which were processed, together with additional data such as digital terrain models, to produce the Global Urban Footprint. In total, the researchers processed over 20 million datasets with a combined volume of more than 320 terabytes.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The data revolution: finding the missing millions
ODI
For governments wanting to end poverty, steward sustainable environments and foster healthy, thriving populations with the opportunity to earn a decent living, many of the necessary pieces are now in place. They start from a good base. Millions of families have escaped poverty and many million more children are in schools than was the case 15 years ago. Much more is known about successful developmental pathways. And many of the world’s poorest countries are experiencing strong economic growth.  But, finance aside, there is still one key element the absence of which is impeding progress: data. Governments do not adequately know their own people.
 
Economic Coalition of the Willing
Foreign Affairs
or the past decade, a quiet experiment has been underway at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Paris-based body composed of the United States and other advanced market democracies. Although it is often dismissed as sleepy and technocratic, the OECD has found a way to remain relevant in a quickly shifting global landscape, and other multilateral organizations would be wise to pay attention.  The OECD, like numerous other international bodies, must adapt to changing geopolitical dynamics that have left new major global players outside its ranks. Its response is a so-called “key partner” initiative that allows it to engage—and seek to influence—pivotal nonmember states. This method strikes the right balance between maintaining the OECD’s symbolic role as the enforcer of Western norms and meeting its practical need to maintain a foothold on the global stage. 
 

Bright Lights, Big Cities

Mark Roberts's picture

Delhi night-time lights data imageIf you visit the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., one of the exhibits you’ll come across is a map of the Earth, which shows lights detected by satellites at night. With even a cursory look, it’s clear the lights pick out spatial patterns of urban and economic development.  Look at the USA, and you see the coasts are brightly lit, whereas the country’s interior is much less so.  Look at the Korea peninsula and you see that whilst South Korea is almost ablaze with light, the North is noteworthy for its almost complete absence of light.

The potential ability of night-time lights imagery to detect spatial patterns of urban and economic development has been known in the remote sensing community since the late 1970s.  However, it has only recently been brought to the attention of economists following a paper by Vernon Henderson, Adam Storeygard and David Weil entitled “Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space.”  This paper alerted economists to the strong correlation between a country’s rate of GDP growth and the growth in intensity of its night-time lights, and the fact that the lights represent (for economists) a relatively untapped dataset with global coverage and a time-series dating back more than twenty years.