Tuesday, 26 April 2011

NASA and USAID sign geospatial accord

The heads of NASA and the U.S. Agency for International Development on Monday signed a pact to share more satellite data and mapping tools with international partners for disaster response.
One of the programs slated for expansion under the agreement harnesses satellite imagery to generate maps and other visual depictions of land change for village leaders who otherwise would not have access to such intelligence. SERVIR -- the name derives from the Spanish translation of "to serve" -- combines satellite data, ground-based environmental surveillance and weather forecasts to speed aid after a natural disaster. Monday's five-year memorandum of understanding covers SERVIR and other initiatives funded through both agencies that focus on global health, hunger, disaster relief and environmental dangers.
"Outside of the SERVIR program, USAID and NASA may cooperate on the applications of geospatial technologies for solving development challenges that affect the United States at home and developing countries abroad," states a copy of the MOU obtained by Nextgov. "NASA's range of unparalleled expertise with spatial and imagery analysis and remote sensing, coupled with USAID's expertise as the world's leading field-based development organization, provide great opportunities for collaboration."
The deal calls for the two agencies to turn SERVIR's network of several regional hubs into a worldwide system. To that end, USAID and NASA are expected to deploy the core technologies, as well as provide technical support, training and financial stability to partner countries.
The monitoring program, established in 2005, is based at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and connects to three international nodes: Panama's Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean, Kenya's Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development, and Nepal's International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. The Nepal node, which just launched last fall, supports the Himalayan region encompassing Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan.
All the satellite imagery and mapping tools are publicly available online.
"Space-based information can affect policy here on Earth to protect our natural resources," Daniel Irwin, the NASA scientist who runs SERVIR, said at a signing ceremony to celebrate the accord.
For example, satellite imagery last summer provided U.S. and foreign officials with an understanding of the degree to which floods that displaced a million people in Pakistan would affect that country's infrastructure and agriculture. More recently scientists began processing satellite data to predict where forest fires are likely to strike in Guatemala. During the past few years, fire incidents there have increased, rendering wild areas sterile.
"Through our partnership with NASA, we can apply the latest, cutting-edge technology to deliver meaningful results for people in developing countries in areas like health, food security and water," USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden added, "We're expanding the work that we do to include more education and more scientific initiatives."

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