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Satellite Imagery Gives WFP Extra Edge In Pakistan

A new set of maps produced thanks to satellite imagery provided by the Italian Space Agency are helping WFP teams in Pakistan deliver food and other humanitarian supplies more effectively. In many cases, these maps are helping to save valuable time and resources.

Detailed maps are a vital part of any emergency food operation. Copyright WFP/Louis Hamann

ROME – The work of WFP teams on the ground in Pakistan has just been given a great technological boost with the delivery of a new, highly visual set of geo-spatial maps of the Manchar Lake area. The maps clearly show the teams – including those operating helicopters – where they need to go as the first priority to reach people with desperately-needed food and other humanitarian supplies.

As in some areas, search and rescue operations are still being carried out, this dramatically reduces the vast area to be covered.

Italian technology

The maps are based on radar and satellite images and data acquired from the Italian Space Agency ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana) after the Italian Civil Protection Agency triggered the Cosmo-SkyMed imaging constellation especially for the Pakistan Emergency.

The maps themselves were produced by the ITHACA academic research and development institute at the Politecnico of Turin.  ITHACA  is a pro-bono partner of WFP, working directly with WFP’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch. ITHACA’s analysts worked on 4 different satellite images from ASI which showed several geometric resolutions, from 5 metres to 10 metres on the ground. The information revealed was then combined with images from 2 satellites from the American Space Agency, NASA to show the extent of the flooding.

WFP’s Emergency Co-ordinator in Pakistan, Carlos Veloso, says the maps are so highly operational that they also show places where the flood waters are abating at a faster pace than others. “This allows WFP to really plan ahead,” he says.

“We can now calculate that in a few days time we will be able to reach this place or that by road, and so we can divert our helicopters ahead of time to other places in need, saving time, money and most importantly lives. This kind of technological help, us having access to these “eyes in the sky” is invaluable in an emergency the size and scale of Pakistan. It can literally make the difference between life and death.”

Planning ahead

Professor Piero Boccardo, Director of ITHACA, warmly welcomed the help given by the Italian authorities. “This kind of collaboration in giving us the imagery and data we need is a big step forward in using developments in science and technology for humanitarian work. We hope we can co-operate further in the future with the Italian Space Agency and Civil Protection.”

The Deputy Chief of WFP’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch, Etienne Labande, agrees: “The right information is crucial to WFP’s Emergency Response – and we need it quickly and clearly to take rapid decisions. These kinds of maps also help with our Emergency Preparedness – we can deploy our resources and staff wisely when we have a picture of how a crisis situation is evolving.”