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Haiti: Eyes In The Sky Guide Relief Work

When a disaster strikes, humanitarian agencies like WFP need information more than anything else. They need a clear picture of the damage to roads and bridges, for example, to be able to respond fast. A new set of satellite maps produced by WFP helps provide this information.

by Jane Standley

ROME -- WFP has published the first comprehensive picture of damage to the town of Leogane – the epicentre of the earthquake which struck Haiti. The picture – which has been produced in the form of a satellite-based map -- shows massive devastation in Leogane, where an estimated 90% of buildings were destroyed.

The map is the first in a series focusing on the areas outside of Port-au-Prince which were affected and where WFP needs to establish the extent of the impact. It comes after WFP's Emergency Preparedness and Response Branch produced a series of high resolution maps showing the damage in the capital itself.  Information - like how many people live in the area - is then overlaid to give a clear one page picture.

Haiti emergency

Get the latest information on the situation in Haiti on our special Haiti emergency page.

Satellite technology

The maps have been produced in partnership with a research and development institute of the world-class Politechnic of Turin called ITHACA (Information Technology for Humanitarian Assistance,Co-operation and Action) which was set up two years ago especially to work with WFP in bringing developments in satellite technology into its response to disasters.  Images come from space agencies and even commercial companies, as was the case in the Haiti satellite pictures.

When a disaster on the scale of Haiti's earthquake occurs, humanitarian agencies like WFP need information more than anything else. They need a clear picture on the ground of damage to roads and bridges for example, to be able to respond fast and to plan their operations.

See the damage

Just a few years ago, this would have meant having to wait for helicopters to overfly areas and for human beings to physically see the damage.  The satellites which buzz around high above our heads are an enormous help - but even then cloud cover can get in the way - so remote sensing devices like radar have to be used.

The images have to be of a very high resolution and not all are. In the case of the Haiti maps, one pixel represents half a metre of land - that's a very close look at how things are on the ground.

Both WFP and ITHACA have teams working around the clock to make sure as more images become available they're putting advances in technology to their best possible use to help the people of Haiti.