I’m a specialist in public health and disaster management. I spent part of my career working for national healthcare and the Red Cross. Twenty years ago, I was asked to create a civil protection agency in Haiti.
Note: Yolène Surena died from Covid, 28 May 2021. This great lady will live on in our hearts and minds for her boundless commitment, energy, optimism and humanity.
Space satellite data is very important in the event of natural disasters. When disasters strike, there are parts of Haiti that cannot be accessed. For example, when Gonaives was flooded in 2008, 80-90% of the town was underwater so search teams could not be sent into the town. Using satellite imagery we were able to visualise population movement and dispatch rescue teams. We also used satellite imagery in assessing the economic impact of hurricanes in the Artibonite region which was also largely inaccessible.
The space satellite data and images we received enabled us to view how rice could still be harvested in paddy fields. We were able to use the data to respond to local populations’ needs.
In October 2016 in the wake of Hurricane Matthew the Pic de Macaya area became completely inaccessible and for a long time we couldn’t directly access its local populations. But with the post-disaster space imagery we received, we were able to pinpoint isolated residential areas that required rescue intervention.
Later in December 2016, we activated the Recovery Observatory (RO), which is jointly governed by Haiti’s National Centre for Geo-spatial Information (CNIGS) and CNES. We used space data to monitor rehabilitation and reconstruction activities after the disaster. Today there are still areas of the Macaya reserve that are very isolated and inaccessible. Using space data however we can see where forests and vegetation have grown back. There are also areas where, in their daily lives, inhabitants have continued damaging the environment, threatening its biodiversity.
So space data is essential, not only in the immediate post-disaster period, but also to monitor developmental and agricultural activities as well as changes to the habitat where people have resettled and begun rebuilding.
For me, as an end-user, I rely on bodies like CNES. The images and data that their Pléiades satellites send can be used to make important decisions on the ground. This data can be communicated to decision-makers and ministers to release resources and change policy. Today if we want to benefit from funding from the World Bank, BID, European Union or whoever, we can offer concrete evidence. We can say, “This is what is going on and this is where we want to go.” This is invaluable to us.
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