Solving Poverty from Space

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VIENNA — On June 11, 2014, The United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space opened its 57th annual session in Vienna. A major topic of discussion for this year’s panel, which runs through June 20, is how to use space to aid developing countries. From telemedicine to more accurate farming, there is no doubt spatial technology will have an increased role in the future of humanitarian aid.

This agenda is an extension of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. At the 2012 conference, governments readily recognized the importance of space-directed data in improving conditions in developing nations.

At the start of the session, Azzedine Oussedik of Algeria accepted his position as Committee Chair, acknowledging “the need to increase awareness at the global level to fully recognize the importance of space tools and space-derived geospatial information to meet the objectives of the global development agenda.”

On the schedule for the Committee session this week are discussions of possible contributions of space technologies to more effective agriculture and more sustainable development. This involves making the space activities themselves more sustainable. These subjects include the creation of space debris, space-situational awareness and space weather.

A U.N. report from 2013 states that more detailed geospatial data would allow for “more accurate environmental and social impact assessments and more informed decision-making at all levels.” Currently, the U.N. uses space technology in their routine operations aimed at enhancing food security and sustainable food production. Using satellites, scientists can collect data about the conditions of the Earth’s surface and make predictions.

According to the Committee’s 2013 report on agricultural development, high-resolution satellite data from space helps make farming more productive for developing areas. This data aids the monitoring of soil condition, humidity, temperature, intensity of planting and other variables in order to precisely identify water, fertilizer and pesticide requirements. Correctly targeting such areas helps farmers increase crop yields, save money and reduces the environmental impact of agricultural activities.

Additionally, satellite monitoring is crucial to predicting storms, flooding, frost and other weather patterns that directly impact food security in developing countries. Advancing space technology will allow countries to better prepare for changing weather systems and thus decrease their negative effects. These various uses of spatial technology mean possibly alleviating poverty from space.

Along with satellite monitoring, satellite telecommunications aid U.N. peacekeeping missions. The Committee plans to discuss prospects for framework support and capacity building for geo-enabled peacekeeping operations.

Peter Hulsroj, Director at the European Space Policy Institute, has looked at the potential applications of telemedicine to aid the primary and secondary care of developing countries. With telemedicine, information about a patient’s health status can be transmitted electronically, via video conferencing, remote monitoring of vital signs, transmission of still images and nursing call centers.

The overall tone of this year’s Committee is expected to be one of hope and progress. It sparks a movement toward humanitarian projects fully supported by geospatial data. The work being done by the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space deserves global attention, because it demonstrates an innovative solution to extreme poverty in developing countries.

Sources: UN 1, UN 2, American Telemedicine Association

Photo: Two Rivers Blog

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Grace Flaherty

Grace Flaherty is a writer based in Williamstown, Massachusetts.