On a global basis, disasters strike regularly, in both developed and developing countries. Occasionally however, disasters take on catastrophic 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.
Hurricane Matthew struck southwest Haiti as a Category 4 storm on 2016 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 has been lasting. While flooding caused significant damage and loss of life, the wind in some regions destroyed more than 95% of buildings and has completely devastated forests and agriculture. Over a year after the event, many houses are still being repaired, and while the forest is regenerating, the impact will be felt for years to come. In addition, it is worth noting that the area most affected has the largest concentration of natural protected areas in Haiti, requiring on-going monitoring for rehabilitation over the coming 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.
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.
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.
In December 2016, the CEOS Executive officially triggered the Recovery Observatory for the monitoring of recovery and rehabilitation in the areas of southwest Haiti affected by Matthew. A new Steering Committee made up of CEOS agencies, national partners including CNIGS, CIAT and ONEV, as well as international DRM stakeholders, was established to oversee this project.
The establishment of the RO
In early 2017, a joint CEOS/GFDRR mission to Haiti was organised to meet with national champions of the project and establish the main elements of the Recovery Observatory Operations Plan (ROOP).
The Recovery Observatory, to be effective, needed 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.
Three key national users and partners agreed to serve as RO champions within Haiti. They will assist in coordinating input from other national users. These are:
Comité Interministériel 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.
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.
In May 2017, the RO team made up of national champions, the French, Italian and Canadian space agencies, and international DRM stakeholders such as UNDP and the World Bank/GFDRR, convened a user workshop to bring together RO users around a list of main themes, and to discuss RO products in each of these thematic areas. The main discussion areas were:
- To collect feedback on mock-up products developed in the thematic areas;
- To define the characteristics of the RO platform for document sharing and exchange, and its linkages to other platforms such as HaitiData.Org, KAL-Haiti, RASOR;
- To chart out together the next steps for RO development.
The workshop allowed for the development of a consensus on products, articulated at the first RO Steering Committee meeting in September and formalized in the ROOP document that was endorsed by the CEOS Plenary in October 2017. The table below summarizes the key products of the RO :
The RO platform (Dotcloud infrastructure) is the main access point for RO imagery and products. It can:
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;
- allow networks of users to define communities of practice and share resources available for browsing, download, and upload.
The RO platform is now functional and more data are being added regularly. It can be found here:
A technical mission to Haiti took place in December 2017, with a view to finalising the development plans and methodologies for each of the thematic areas. In-depth working sessions were held with each of the thematic champions. The week ended with a 2nd Steering Committee meeting.
The 2nd Steering Committee agreed that a 2nd user workshop would be held in May 2018, with events in the affected area to raise the profile of the RO with local users (Les Cayes). The main event will be held in Port-au-Prince, with detailed reporting on the products and interactive evaluation of product functionality with product teams and users.
The needs in capacity building related to the RO products will be addressed, both from technical point of view (capabilities to produce RO thematic maps by Haitian teams) and from end user point of view (capability to use the RO thematic products in Haitian institutions). These sessions will take place on 10 and 11 May, 2018.
The CEOS RO partners, together with the World Bank/GFDRR, the United Nations Development Programme, and the European Union are considering how to take the lessons learned from the Haiti RO and apply them to a generic RO concept that could be activated on a regular basis after catastrophic events.
If you are interested in learning more about the RO or would like to contribute data or resources, please contact Hélène de Boissezon and Boby Piard, the RO Steering Committee chairs.