Big Space data will benefit disaster response in Africa


Outer space and disaster response experts at a United Nations forum in Bonn, Germany, discussed how “big data” including social media, crowd-sourcing and satellite imaging, can reduce the risk of natural disasters in Africa and support response efforts.

Big data are extremely large datasets, which on analysis can reveal complex patterns in real-world situations such as the movement of people or humanitarian needs in the aftermath of a disaster.

Synergies between such big data and space-based information, including satellite imagery, can have benefits for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, according to the Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency (UN-SPIDER), a specialised programme of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).
“Space and big data technologies are important elements in early warning systems, central to effective disaster preparedness and feature prominently in the Sendai Framework and the Paris Agreement,” said UNOOSA, referring to the globally agreed set of goals to reduce disaster risk and combat climate change.

The importance of these technologies will only grow in the future, it added.

Applications of space technology vital for developing countries

Additionally, applications of space technology and newer domains, including big data, are vital for developing countries, according to the UN office.
“These countries are particularly susceptible to the impact of natural hazards as societies are more vulnerable and exposed and less resilient to recover when disasters strike,” it added.

The one-day expert meeting, entitled “Towards Big (Space) Data in Support of Disaster Risk Reduction and Emergency Response in Africa”, took stock of new developments in implementation of the Sendai Framework pertaining to big data and space technologies.

It identified ways to strengthen African countries’ capacity in the use of big data and satellite technologies, as well as the technical needs on the continent, to tailor UN-SPIDER support efforts in Africa, in line with its mandate and the Africa Space Policy. This policy was adopted by the African Union in 2016 on development and use of space science and technology for socio-economic progress on the continent.

According to UNOOSA, outcomes and recommendations from the forum will be incorporated into UN-SPIDER’s plan of work for the coming years.