Keita Mahamadou S., Deputy Executive Director, Regional Centre for Training in Aerospace Surveys (RECTAS), Ile-Ife, Nigeria
Advances in space and information technologies have positively impacted on critical capacity globally through availability of geospatial information technology tools. To be fully utilised however, the space and information technologies must be understood by skilled manpower in Africa to tackle the major challenges in disaster management.
In Africa, the majority of the professionals and technicians in different organisations involved in geospatial information activities have not been making full use of data and tools to manage and alleviate the consequences of natural disasters due to low proficiency in the space technologies. Today there is increasing demands of well-trained staff at all levels, to face the main challenges of disaster management and emergency response. Therefore, it became necessary to provide training and capacity-building in the use of space- and information technologies for different levels of professionals involved in disaster management. This is for the benefit of communities affected by different kinds of hazards. It will involve exchanges and communication between experts and development partners on one hand, and experts and local communities who must also understand and value the use of space technologies to solve their problems, on the other hand.
This paper examines the constraints for manpower development in space- and geo-information technology to tackle numerous disasters occurring in Africa (flood, drought, windstorm, wild fire, famine, epidemic, etc...). The role of capacity-building by training institutions like the Regional Centre for Training in Aerospace Surveys (RECTAS), Ile-Ife, Nigeria in improving the situation and facing the main challenges is emphasized and case studies presented.
The impact of natural disasters on the global environment has become increasingly severe over the last decades. The reported number of disasters has risen dramatically, as well as the number of people affected and the cost to global economy. About 95% of the deaths due to disasters occur in developing countries. (Kufoniyi, 2007). While natural disasters have drastically increased in magnitude and frequency, the possibilities of improving the technical capability to mitigate them have also dramatically increased.
Through the current initiatives in and outside Africa, it can be observed that the future orientation of space- and geo-information activities is that they must be available for people who need them for various applications and decision making. The advances in space technology (specifically earth observation satellite technology), with high spectral resolution data has increased the potential of these tools in all scientific and social areas. In disaster management, space-based technologies are used to monitor the environmental situation at certain intervals and to carry out risk analysis by combining the data with detailed local knowledge about the area in combination with geographic information. Therefore, there is a need for pro-active capacity development in all aspects of earth observation and geo-information production, management and use in Africa in order to address the huge capacity gaps. It will require the development of a critical mass of skilled human resources, organisational reforms, technological capacity and institutional strengthening.
The paper presents some important aspects of capacity-building in earth observation and geo-information science that are essential to overcome the challenges of disaster mitigation and emergency response. Recent developments and initiatives are presented. The role and contributions of RECTAS, a regional training-- and research institution in West-Africa, are also highlighted. Recommendations are then advanced to face the challenges of man-power development for disaster management in Africa.
Capacity-building encompasses improvement in the country’s human, scientific, technological, organizational, institutional and resource capabilities. A fundamental goal of capacity-building is to enhance the ability to evaluate and address the crucial questions related to policy choices and modes of implementation among development options, based on an understanding of environment potentials and limits and of needs perceived by the people of the country concerned. (Ayeni, 2008).
The main components of capacity-building are the following:
Capacity-building for the production, management, dissemination and use of geo-information is therefore of immense importance, which requires focused and concerted efforts towards strengthening of national and regional capacity-building institutions including harmonization of methods and concepts.
In the context of human capacity-building, three major groups have been identified as having critical needs of geo-information capabilities:
Training and capacity-building in Earth Observation and Geo-information Science for disaster management / disaster risk reduction will help the experts and stakeholders in the following areas:
Different issues and events have brought up the need for capacity development efforts in Africa. These include increasing interest of African countries in Space Science and Technology development, National Geospatial Data Infrastructures and National Disaster Management.
The Regional Centre for Training in Aerospace Surveys (RECTAS) was established in 1972 under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to undertake training and research in Geoinformation Science for the manpower needs of African nations. It is situated in the campus of the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Nigeria. Currently, the participating member countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal.
The main mission of the Centre is to contribute to rapid sustainable development of member states in particular and Africa in general, through the development of critical capacity for timely delivery and responsible use of appropriate geospatial information.
The objectives of the Centre are:
From inception in 1972 to date, the Centre has trained 1522 students from 28 African countries (Ikhuoria, 2010). RECTAS has conducted many studies and research, capacity-building and projects execution in different areas of specialisation including disaster management in the participating countries as well as in other countries in Africa. In collaboration with different institutions and partners, the following activities were undertaken:
The following show some case studies by students and staff of the RECTAS:
Figure 1: Landsat view of the area under investigation
Figure 2: Flooded areas detected by Radarsat-2 (September 2010)
This paper particularly emphasizes the use of remotely-sensed data and the access to space-based technology for assessing and monitoring natural hazards. Enhancing the skills in interpreting multi-temporal, multi-date and multi-sources input data has been considered as a priority for developing countries. The relevant data should be made available to communities for early warning and emergency response, mostly to those affected by the major and frequent disasters in Africa. African experts as well as the communities affected by the catastrophes are facing a lot of challenges, including the access to space-based information, human capacity-building, development of appropriate institutions, monitoring of parameters, etc.
However, the following recommendations are made in order to improve the situation and save the lives of people when possible:
Finally, it should be noted that the continuous capacity-building of experts and communities on a more careful planning for the location, type and durability of developments in and near hazard-prone areas, can definitely reduce losses and enhance the speed of recovery.
Keita Mahamadou S.
keita [at] rectas.org, ded [at] rectas.org