Press Releases

UNIS/OS/317
11 October 2005

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs Emphasizes Role of Satellite Technology in Disaster Reduction

United Nations Makes Available Satellite Pictures for Rescue Efforts Following Earthquake in Asia

VIENNA, 11 October 2005 (UN Information Service) -- On 12 October, the United Nations will observe the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction, which is held annually on the second Wednesday in October.

An important but not very widely known aspect of natural disaster reduction is the role played by space technology. Making the benefits of space technology, in particular satellite applications, available to all countries, including developing nations, in order to mitigate the devastation caused by natural disasters, is one of the activities of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA).

Remote sensing by satellite of the area afflicted by a disaster (such as a flood, storm or earthquake) can provide information needed to assess the extent of damage caused, and forecast the expected further spread of the disaster to other areas, as well as provide vital information for search and rescue operations. Satellite technology can also be used to enable communication in the affected area if on-ground infrastructure has collapsed. Such solutions are already an integral part of disaster management activities in many developed and even developing countries. Within the framework of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications, OOSA has held several workshops on the use of space technology for disaster management, to incorporate the use of space technologies into operational disaster management programmes around the world.

Following the devastating earthquake of 7.6-magnitude on the Richter scale, that struck Pakistan, India and Afghanistan last Saturday, pre- and post-disaster satellite images of the afflicted area are being made available for rescue efforts by the United Nations through the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, which aims at providing a unified system of space data acquisition and delivery, through authorised users, to those affected by natural or man-made disasters.

OOSA's status as a cooperating body to the International Charter since August 2003, has enabled the UN system, by means of a permanent hotline set up by OOSA, to request data from seven satellite operators through the Charter in response to emergency situations. The Charter has been activated 21 times by the United Nations since August 2003, for floods and landslides in China, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines, for hurricane and typhoon aftermaths in Grenada, Haiti and the Philippines, for earthquakes in Afghanistan, India, Iran and Morocco, a train disaster in North Korea, the Indian Ocean tsunami and most recently for the floods and landslides in Central America following Hurricane Stan and for the earthquake in the India-Pakistan border region.

In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly decided to observe the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction as a vehicle to promote a global culture of natural disaster reduction - including disaster prevention, mitigation and preparedness. Such a global culture would significantly reduce the dramatic visibility of relief efforts and the loss of lives and livelihoods due to natural disasters.

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The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) implements the decisions of the General Assembly and of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its two Subcommittees, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee. The Office is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, and assisting developing countries in using space science and technology. Located in Vienna, Austria, OOSA maintains a website at http://www.unoosa.org .

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For further information on the International Day for Natural Disaster Reduction, visit: http://www.unisdr.org/eng/public_aware/world_camp/2005/2005-press-kit.htm

For further information on the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, contact:

Qais Sultan
Associate Programme Officer, OOSA
Telephone: + 43 1 260 60 4962
E-mail: qais.sultan@unvienna.org