Recovery Observatory

On a global basis, disasters strike regularly, in both developed and developing countries. Occasionally however, disasters take on monumental proportions, either because of particularly vulnerable populations, a dramatic natural event, or exceptionally unfortunate circumstances. Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, Typhoon Haiyan or the Great East Japan tsunami are examples of catastrophes that hold a special place in our collective memories as mega-disasters from which populations and governments take years to recover and rebuild. Hurricane Matthew, on a national scale in Haiti, is one such disaster.

Figure 1: Hurricane track of Matthew, courtesy  of NOAA/NHC. Background image courtesy of NASA.

Figure 1: Hurricane track of Matthew, courtesy of NOAA/NHC. Background image courtesy of NASA.

Hurricane Matthew struck southwest Haiti as a Category 4 storm on October 4th, the first Category 4 hurricane to strike Haiti since Hurricane Cleo in 1964. With upwards of 1,300 lives lost across the Caribbean, and more than a 1,000 lives lost in Haiti, the storm is the deadliest hurricane to strike in the Caribbean since Jeanne in 2004. The impact of Matthew will be lasting. While flooding caused significant damage and loss of life, the main impact was felt from the wind, which in some regions has destroyed more than 95% of buildings and has completely destroyed trees and agriculture. In addition, widespread environmental damage occured. It is worth noting that the area most affected has the largest concentration of natural protected areas in Haiti.

Since 2014, the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) has been working on means to increase the contribution of satellite data to recovery from such major events. A Recovery Observatory Oversight Team (ROOT) was created with representatives from the satellite data providers, the international recovery stakeholder community and value-added providers. It oversees the development of basic infrastructure, monitors international events for potential triggering. The ROOT is co-chaired by the French Space Agency CNES, and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). The ROOT was responsible for establishing several recovery pilot activities in Malawi and Nepal in 2016.

Figure 2: Aerial view of Jeremie in the Gran-Anse. Credit: OCHA/UNDAC

Figure 2: Aerial view of Jeremie in the Gran-Anse. Credit: OCHA/UNDAC

In November, 2016, the ROOT recommended the triggering of the Recovery Observatory for impact of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. This recommendation was endorsed by the CEOS Executive in December 2016, which officially triggered the Recovery Observatory. A new project team made up of CEOS agencies, national partners and international DRM stakeholders is being established to oversee this project, which will be set up in early 2017, and is expected to track recovery of buildings, transportation networks, agricultural activities and environmental rehabilitation for a period of three-to-four years.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, satellite-based Earth Observations (EO) are increasingly used to estimate impact. Grading maps are produced to show damage and to support the response and early recovery process. Focusing on reponse, governments have come together in partnership to act more efficiently through mechanisms such as the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, Sentinel-Asia and the Copernicus Emergency Management Services. These programmes place satellite data in the hands of experts who quickly generate information products. After the initial response to the crisis however, much of the satellite data acquired is no longer available for distribution, and new data are not programmed for collection.

Figure 3. Demand for geo-information during crisis and recovery. Graphic courtesy of UNOSAT.

Figure 3. Demand for geo-information during crisis and recovery. Graphic courtesy of UNOSAT.

While satellite data could be made available, it is not acquired either because users are not aware of the possibility of its use, or because the benefit of its application to mid and long-term recovery planning and monitoring has yet to be clearly demonstrated to the international recovery community and the national governments of affected areas. In some cases, the necessary data is only available commercially, requiring the demonstration of a greater benefit before users begin to exploit its potential.

The aim of the Observatory is to:

  • Demonstrate in a high-profile context the value of using satellite Earth Observations to support recovery from a major disaster:
    • near-term (e.g. support to PDNA process); and
    • long-term (e.g. major recovery planning and monitoring, estimated to be from 1 to 3 years).
  • Work with the recovery community to define a sustainable vision for increased use of satellite Earth observations in support of recovery.
  • Establish institutional relationships between CEOS satellite data providers and stakeholders from the international recovery community.
  • Foster innovation around high-technology applications to support recovery.

The main benefits from the establishment of the Observatory include:

  • providing key information (analytical, geospatial) about the Recovery to support end-users in their decision-making processes and progress monitoring;
  • obtaining access to regular imaging of affected area over a long period, especially for higher resolution data not typically available;
  • compiling in a single framework the key data sets (both satellite images and large number of other data) and use them seamlessly thanks to the DotCloud framework to be established;
  • establishing a “real-life” demonstrator to identify where EO can bring useful information in the recovery phase and define “best practice” for the DRM community;
  • demonstrating usefulness of sat EO, together with other datasets, on a large scale for long-term recovery monitoring;
  • demonstrating applications tied to very high resolution imagery and to high frequency high resolution images, to open the way to broader use of satellite EO after smaller and more regular events. 
Figure 4: Pléiades CNES Satellite Imagery acquired on 07 October 2016. Map produced in the context of International Charter Call 582

Figure 4: Pléiades CNES Satellite Imagery acquired on 07 October 2016. Map produced in the context of International Charter Call 582

The Recovery Observatory, to be effective, will be strongly linked to the governmental and international organizations responsible for recovery activities in the affected areas, ideally with a champion within the national government and strong local relays, to ensure user needs are properly addressed.

National Users: three key national users and partners have been approached as early RO partners. They will assist in coordinating input from other national users. These are:

Comité interministeriel de l’aménagement du territoire (CIAT): The CIAT mission is to define government policy for land use planning, for protection and management of water sheds, water management, urbanism and public works. The institution was created in response to a need for greater coordination between government departments. The CIAT has agreed to play a federating role with regard to user requirements for the RO. CIAT has expressed strong support for the RO concept in an official letter to the RO Team, identifying a need for a recovery baseline documenting damage in the zone, and regular monitoring in relation to agriculture, forests and protected zones, coastal zones and coastal settlements, population movements and rural habitat, as well as landslides and changes to water courses.

Centre national d’information geo-spatiale (CNIGS): The National Centre for geo-spatial information has agreed to be the champion for the RO within the Haiti government, ensuring both delivery of the RO infrastructure in Haiti and serving as a catalyst for capacity building and EO use for disaster recovery within Haiti.

Observatoire national de l’environnement et de la vulnérabilité (ONEV) : under the ministry of Environment, the ONEV has as objective to create an institutional and technical mechanism for the production, analysis and dissemination of environmental information necessary to support decision making.

Throughout 2015, significant investment was made in developing an IT platform that could host the Observatory once it was formally established. This work will be the basis for the new portal being created in Haiti to support recovery from Hurricane Matthew. 

Figure 5: Pléiades CNES Satellite Imagery acquired on 07 October 2016. Map produced in the context of International Charter Call 582

Figure 5: Pléiades CNES Satellite Imagery acquired on 07 October 2016. Map produced in the context of International Charter Call 582

The portal will:

  • display raw and georeferenced images (only SPOT and Pléiades available at this time; CSK, ALOS-2, TSX, RSAT-2, Sentinel-1 & 2, Landsat-8 to be implemented soon, and US VHR to follow);
  • display information products or other documents (word files, value-added products in pdf format, etc);
  • support geographic and temporal search functions;
  • offer a simple registration process;
  • allow networks of users to define communities of practice and share resources available for browsing, download, and upload.

An early version of the platform will be available in April 2017.

If you are interested in learning more about the RO or would like to contribute data or resources to the RO, please contact Helene Deboissezon.