Space Science Expert at the African Union Commission Speaks on Space-based Solutions for Disaster Management in Africa at UN-SPIDER International Conference in Bonn

"Most natural disasters are climate-related and anthropogenic, meaning we human beings are the genesis. But for us to understand the root causes, degree of impact, and implement preventive measures, we need technology", said Dr Tidiane OUATTARA, the Coordinator of the GMES and Africa Programme. 

Speech by Dr. Tidiane Ouattara, GMES and Africa Coordinator and Space Science Expert at the African Union Commission, on Space-based Solutions for Disaster Management in Africa: Challenges, Applications, Partnerships.

Distinguished Guests, Ladies, and Gentlemen;

I am very delighted to address this gathering today, knowing that we have come from all parts of the world to deliberate on concrete ideas that can help reduce the impacts of disasters. But first, allow me to thank the UN-SPIDER and commend its efforts in organizing this important conference with a focus on Africa. Many of us here are directly or indirectly affected by one type of disaster or the other, and so we understand very well the importance of disaster risk reduction.

Most natural disasters are climate-related and anthropogenic, meaning we human beings are the genesis. But for us to understand the root causes, degree of impact, and the preventive measures that we need to take, we need technology.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Greek philosopher Socrates had said, quote: "Man must rise above Earth to the top of the atmosphere and beyond, for only then will he fully understand the world in which he lives", end of quote. We know that the concept of space has always been in the mind of humanity since antiquity, but never to match the excitement that was witnessed when the first artificial earth satellite (Sputnik) was launched on October 4th,1957. Soon, the idea of mapping the earth from space using conventional satellites became a reality. Today, we have constellations upon constellations, and the stream of data is voluminous.

To us as scientists, the increase in the availability of satellite data means that we have more raw materials. As scientists, we must understand that millions of lives depend on us, and we must do our best to protect them. We have a huge responsibility of ensuring that we utilize this data to share and influence the occurrence and impact of disasters; most importantly to embrace the Multi-Hazard Early Warning Systems (MHEWS), so that we avert disasters even before they happen.

The MHEWS calls for concerted international efforts, for we know that in the case of mega-disasters, no single country can save itself without a helping hand. It is a lesson for us that we should work collaboratively, to reduce the impact of disasters.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I need not emphasize on the importance of space in DRR, for we know the contributions of different domains of space in this agenda today. In EO, satellites have become a formidable tool in all phases of disaster because they can systematically monitor large-scale phenomena like ocean circulations, and record changes over time to assess the extent of hazard or damage. Navigation and Positioning applications provide data for the cycle of information for disaster prevention and mitigation, pre-disaster assessment, response during the floods, recovery after the flood, and accurate localized weather newscasts. Moreover, Communication Satellites provide back-up communication links in hard-to-reach places and help to stem catastrophic economic and human losses. Astronomy and Space Science are useful in Space geodesy which determines the International Celestial and Terrestrial Reference Frames. The terrestrial reference frame provides precise geographic coordinates that are used in many practical applications such as disaster locations, which is useful in mobilizing international rescue efforts.

Furthermore, at a critical time when we are bearing the brutal effects of climate change, more than half of the Essential Climate Variables on land, ocean, and atmosphere are measured from space-borne instruments overlooking the earth. These parameters are considered vital for the detection and quantification of climate-related changes and provide evidence-based means for either mitigation or adaptation. They contribute vitally to the assessment of risks and enable attribution of climate events to underlying causes.

At the African Union Commission level, we have understood how useful space is contributing to the socio-economic development of the continent and to the welfare of the people. This is why we have developed an African Outer Space Flagship which is now guided by a Policy and Strategy, focusing on the four areas I have alluded to, that is:
  1. Earth Observation (EO)
  2. Satellite communication
  3. Navigation and positioning
  4. Astronomy and space science

As you may know, Africa has a lot of potential in terms of Space, and already, some countries have started developing their own Space programmes. The aim is to bring all these pockets of excellence together to create synergized, complementary programmes, to foster collective action in Space activities, and to eventually enable the continent to be an active global Space player. The Strategy also strives at building awareness among the political, scientific and industrial leadership of African countries on the importance of introducing space education, which, in turn, will assist in the development of space programmes and related industries. With a strategic approach, Africa will be able to develop the requisite human resources for addressing our Space services needs, build African Space infrastructure, and promote capacity-building for the development of space products and services using African resources. Ultimately, Africa will work towards a common, integrated Space market with communities of practice for the sharing of experiences and best practices.

At the same time, we are implementing an Earth Observation programme called the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security, and Africa (GMES and Africa). This is a Pan African programme jointly funded by the European Union to address the growing needs of African countries to access and use Earth Observation data for the implementation of sustainable development policies on the continent. The first phase is focusing on providing operational services in Water, Marine, and Natural Resources. GMES and Africa is working with 13 regional consortia coordinating a collaborative network of over 120 institutions, to derive evidence-based information and value-added services that will improve the management of resources.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I conclude, I wish to emphasize that collaboration among initiatives is very vital in disaster risk reduction. We must draw good lessons from initiatives like the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, which has saved many lives and avoided drastic economic losses. These are the kind of networks that we need to create amongst our many initiatives. I am very optimistic that this meeting will bring out the best strategies for optimizing space solutions for disaster risk reduction.


The presentation delivered by the Dr Tidiane OUATTARA (PDF, 71 Mb)


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