From basic topographic features on a map to complex 3D models and images of natural phenomenon beyond what the human eye can see, space applications, comprising geospatial information and remotely sensed data, provide far-reaching solutions to the pressing issues facing humanity. This includes early detection of severe cyclonic storms, management of agricultural areas and crop yields, management and design of roads to reduce traffic congestion, monitoring of the spread of pandemics, identification of optimal site selection for renewable energy infrastructure and the monitoring of global atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, among others. Today, geospatial information has expanded into almost every sector and more people around the world are realizing the potential that space applications can provide for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Space-derived data and information plays a key role in evidence-based decision-making for the efficient management of the environment, assets and communities. Around 40 per cent of the SDG targets rely on the use of geolocation and Earth observations. Geospatial information can help global stewardship, enabling faster, more accurate and trustworthy support to inform decisions, monitor progress, and assess the impact of interventions. Geospatial data should be accessible, available, actionable, and affordable to benefit people and inform practices, processes and policies. However, such information alone cannot bring about improved management, decisions or change. In addition, many developing nations continue to lack the infrastructure and trusted data to make evidence-based decisions.
Geospatial applications offer stakeholders, across multiple agencies, the option to create planning scenarios, analyse different site options, and assess impacts from local to national levels. For example, the “OneData-OneMap-OnePlatform" project, currently under development, encourages developing nations to build a platform that integrates geospatial technologies and Big Earth Data to support local SDG monitoring and decision-making. In this regard, ESCAP is working with its member States and partners such as the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) to strengthen the institutional capacity in integrating geospatial information to help stakeholders in developing nations explore the possibilities for effective country-level SDG assessment and monitoring, leveraging geospatial and digital tools for increased community engagement, using geo-referenced and integrated data for urgent and necessary decision-making, and helping decision makers understand the full potential, limitations, and application of geospatial information.
Countries within the Asia-Pacific region are already making steady progress on the uses of geospatial information and space applications. Through its long-standing Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development (RESAP), ESCAP has made concerted efforts to promote the application of space technology and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for supporting disaster risk reduction and inclusive and sustainable development.
This has been demonstrated by the latest development of the Asia-Pacific Plan of Action on Space Applications for Sustainable Development (2018–2030) (Plan of Action). This Plan of Action is a country needs-driven blueprint that harnesses space and geospatial applications, as well as digital innovations to support countries, particularly those with special needs, to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Ministers and the heads of the space community from over 30 countries within the Asia-Pacific region met in Bangkok for the Third Ministerial Conference on Space Applications for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific in October 2018. During this Ministerial Conference, not only the Plan of Action, but also the Ministerial Declaration on Space Applications for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific was adopted. Both documents guide the work in the Asia- Pacific region for the next decade.
Heads of Delegation of the Third Ministerial Conference on Space Applications for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific, 2018
In addition ESCAP is promoting the regional cooperation in integration of geospatial information for resilience building and sustainable development, such as the “Space+” concept which goes beyond the traditional space applications approaches to support the implementation of the Plan of Action and will seek to: (a) leverage digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, cloud computing and Big Data; (b) engage end users in multiple areas, such as the youth and the private sector; (c) more effectively manage information through the creation of a regional or national cloud-based metadata platforms; and (d) strengthen implementation through enhanced partnerships with global and regional stakeholders.
Research and Analysis
ESCAP promotes space applications for inclusive and sustainable development through a range of policy analysis, capacity building, and partnership engagement activities. As underlined in the Data Strategy of the UN Secretary-General, data has become a strategic asset. ESCAP is fully committed working closely with member States and all stakeholders, to implement the Asia-Pacific Plan of Action on Space Applications for Sustainable Development (2018–2030), and COVID-19 data-driven responses to build back better and to accelerate implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific.
The following include a sample of research and analysis conducted by ESCAP and Partners.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll across the world and has triggered tremendous social and economic impacts, reversing hard-won development gains. There is a natural link between geospatial information and epidemiology. The preliminary methodology discussed in the working paper helps to determine and visualize the dynamic between socioeconomic aspects and COVID-19 as well as the impacts of Government response measures. This is complemented by practices from China, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand to serve as a guideline and example for decision makers.
This publication explores one of ESCAP’s flagship programs, the Regional Drought Mechanism, which provides a tailored and customized toolbox of data, products and services to support countries in building their capacity to apply earth observation-based risk information for managing drought risk, ultimately building resilience to drought.
The Ready for the Dry Years publication series is part of the effort to mobilize a region-wide action as the drought risk intensifies. This edition expands the geographical coverage of the first edition and combines rainfall data with other socio-economic indicators to reveal the hotspots where the populations are most vulnerable to drought. It takes a holistic approach to understanding drought impacts by adopting a standard definition of drought across the region and by examining the issue from socioeconomic, health, environmental, and humanitarian perspectives.
This handbook provides procedural guidelines for sharing space-based information during emergency response. Free satellite-data for emergency response is increasingly becoming available and accessible, but end-users are often unaware of such global and regional initiatives.
Furthermore, ESCAP gives high priority to capacity-building programmes, many of which are conducted through RESAP training nodes at the Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP) in Dehradun, India, and training partners in China, Indonesia, Thailand (ARTSA) and other countries, and in collaboration with ESCAP’s strategic partner the Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).
Examples of Regional Implementation
Asia and the Pacific has become a hub of digital and science innovation that brings new and innovative solutions to achieve the SDGs. Faster and more versatile digital connectivity, satellite-derived data, geographic information systems (GIS), and spatial analysis has become progressively accessible and available and increasingly been incorporated into national and local development planning. As a result, geospatial information applications have come to play a more prominent role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
Geospatial Practices for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific 2020: A Compendium demonstrates the diverse use for geospatial information and applications and the vital role that they will continue to play in the future. It has been designed and devised for policy and decision makers working towards sustainable development as it shows clear linkages to both economic and social value. It showcases the benefits and importance of accessible, available, actionable and affordable geospatial data, tools and innovations to maximize its potential benefits to Asia-Pacific member States. It achieves this by highlighting relevant country situations and circumstances from across the region; these good practice examples cover the six priority areas identified in the Asia-Pacific Plan of Action on Space Applications for Sustainable Development (2018–2030).
This is the first time these country-based examples are available in one place, in an interactive, searchable digital publication and serve as a baseline for understanding and tracking future progress and initiatives. The aim is that this multi-sectoral and cross-cutting compilation and analysis of country-based examples helps assess the implementation of the Plan of Action while promoting peer learning and innovative thinking.
The following are a select number of highlighted examples of regional implementation across Asia and the Pacific.
- India: Big Data and disaster risk management
- Tonga: Initial damage disaster report for tropical cyclone Harold
- India: International Charter to assist in cyclone ‘Fani’
- Mongolia: Operationalization of the Regional Drought Mechanism
- Thailand: Managing agricultural areas through space applications and GISTDA initiatives
- Philippines: Mangrove monitoring and conservation
- Philippines: Use of frontier technologies to address road traffic incidents: LocalSim
- India: Use of geospatial technologies in transport management and traffic navigation
- Thailand: Lockdown measure impacts and COVID-19 iMAP dashboard
- India: Solar site selection using geospatial information
- Sri Lanka: mapping the impact of climate change on water resources and agriculture
- China: TanSat mission to promote global carbon monitoring
Regional Drought Mechanism
Compared with earthquakes and cyclones, which are sudden ‘intensive’ risks, droughts are considered ‘extensive’ risks with slower-onset, repeated or persistent conditions of low or moderate intensity. They are often highly localized and operate over longer timescales – with large, cumulative impacts on widely dispersed populations. Due to their slow onset and persistence, however, droughts, are often under-reported and receive relatively little attention from policy-makers. For example, over the past 30 years, droughts have affected over 66 million people in South-East Asia. The most severe events have been during the El Niño years. Most of the economic impact of drought is absorbed by agriculture. However, the impact extends beyond agriculture. Through both demand and production, agriculture is linked with industry and services.
The socio-economic and environmental impacts of droughts have increased significantly, particularly among the most vulnerable groups in Asia and the Pacific. The tragic consequences of drought include:
- Loss of human life and livelihoods
- Reduced water and food security
- Increase in debt among farmers
- Deepening poverty with intergenerational consequences
- Farmer suicides
- Potential for unrest and violence
- Land degradation and desertification
In order to save lives and livelihoods, time is of the essence. ESCAP's focus on drought is proactive, not reactive, as taking action once drought has occurred is more costly and less effective than acting pre-emptively. Signs of drought can be observed from space long before they are visible to the human eye on the ground. Therefore, integration of space-derived data and land-based information is vital in combating drought. However, there is a lack of resources and capacity to perform such analysis in many drought-prone developing countries.
Through the Regional Drought Mechanism, a flagship programme under ESCAP’s long standing Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development (RESAP), timely and free access to space-based data/products and tailored services/capacity building are provided to countries in the region to support evidence-based decisions in response to drought, with the direct support from three Regional Service Nodes in China, India and Thailand as well as other cooperation partners. This can also translate to strengthening water management, adjusting crop cycles, planting drought resistant seeds and initiating timely relief measures.
The Regional Committee of United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management for Asia and the Pacific (UN-GGIM-AP) is one of the five regional committees of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM).
UN-GGIM-AP aims to promote the use of geospatial information to maximize the economic, social and environmental benefits for sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region. It brings its member countries together to exchange on and promote the use of geospatial information through conferences, capacity building workshops and webinars.
UN-GGIM-AP intentions is to identify regional issues relevant to geospatial information management, to take necessary actions and find solutions together, as well as contributing to discussions on a global level.
UN-GGIM-AP has three working groups on ‘Geodetic Reference Frame’, ‘Cadastre and Land Management’ and ‘Integrating Geospatial Information and Statistics’.