Contribution of remote sensing to the organisation of medical assistance

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Context and objectives

Natural disaster, civil war and repression endanger populations and can cause massive population movements. When humanitarian aid organisations, such as MSF, are alerted to a new crisis situation in a given area, they send an identification team to the field. The team will assess the overall situation and the medical, nutritional and sanitation needs, so that a first material shipment, medical and non-medical staff can be sent within a week.

The spontaneous population concentrations do not always occur at the most appropriate sites. One of the first tasks of MSF is thus to help identify a more appropriate site for the organisation of one or more camps, taking into account the availability of drinking water, food, and energy sources in the neighbourhood and the possibility for the evacuation of waste and polluted water. There is a need for spatial information on a regional level (e.g. location of construction wood) and local level (e.g. spatial organisation of the camp). Existing maps are often fragmentary and outdated. The use of aero-spatial remote sensing techniques can contribute to supply vital and up-to-date information, needed to decide on the location of the camp(s) and to organise the camp(s), and required for long-term

Project outcome

Expected scientific results

For each task during the different phases (Emergency, Consolidation, Chronic) of a humanitarian intervention for displaced people, the type of remotely sensed data that could be used has been determined, indicating the recommended scale range, the area covered, the processing to be achieved, and the time and budget needed for the execution of the task (operational table).

Remote sensing, aerial photography and field survey should be considered as complementary tools for optimal information supply. Satellite remote sensing can provide data in a very short time and its acquisition is independent from local authorities and security conditions. Printouts of satellite images are useful up-to-date base documents. Low altitude aerial photographic survey is adequate for map production at a scale finer than 1:25.000 (map of the camp), and for population estimation. Calibration by ground survey is, depending on the kind of application, necessary or recommended for both methods.

The use of remote sensing in an emergency context involves the immediate availability of imagery and experienced personnel. The creation of a ‘crisis cell’ is, therefore, suggested to support humanitarian agencies with the production of adequate geographic information.
Project leader(s): ULB - IGEAT - ANAGEO (Analyse Géospatiale)
Location: Region:
  • Kenya