Remote sensing and technology transfer in developing countries
H.M. Hassan and Wayne Luscombe
Natural disasters are more devastating in developing countries
than in developed countries as developed countries are better prepared to cope
with disasters through well-established surveillance, early warning, and
preparedness programs. Information technologies designed to predict, monitor,
and assess disasters are generally unavailable and poorly understood in
developing countries. Improving disaster information management in developing
countries is a technology transfer problem, but issues of intellectual property
rights limit disaster information management applications in those countries.
The use of remote sensing information in disaster management in developed
countries has been limited and mostly exotic. Remote sensing is considered high
technology, and there is a widespread belief that it cannot be transferred to
developing countries - whether for disaster management or broader uses such as
natural resource and environmental management. Developing countries must be
helped to have better access to remote sensing technology so they can deal with
disasters more effectively.
Disasters can never be eliminated, but modern technologies give
us access to detailed information that can be used to minimize damage. Most
disasters must be dealt with in a matter of days and sometimes hours. Disasters
are by nature unpredictable, uncontrollable, difficult to assess, and
disturbing. Decisions must be made in a state of shock and uncertainty, when the
information needed for rational judgments is imprecise and often nonexistent.
Remote sensing is especially helpful in developing countries in which baseline
information is unavailable and communication systems are weak. Remote sensing
can play an indispensable role in disaster warning, monitoring, and damage
assessment, especially in relation to droughts, floods, storms, earthquakes,
volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and locust outbreaks.
Floods. Satellite images made it easy to compare the
extent of inundation to normal preflood conditions during the Mississippi River
Flood of 1973 (Deutsch and others 1973). The synoptic (three-dimension) coverage
of satellite remote sensing provides a birds-eye view of the whole flood
area at uniform scale. The satellites frequent revisits to flood-prone
areas allows a comparison of flood conditions over time at reasonable cost.
Remote sensing allows quick delineation of inundated areas, allows rapid
calculation of flood damage to agricultural and urban lands (combined with other
data), and facilitates planning for flood control and disaster preparedness
programs. The flood forecasting and early warning program in Bangladesh was one
attempt to use different remote sensing and ground survey data to establish a
dependable early flood warning system. With significant recent improvements in
spatial, spectral, and temporal resolution of satellite remote sensing, flood
monitoring and forecasting are now more achievable. State-of-the-art disaster
management technologies have been used in a few developing countries, but such
applications were situation-specific and implemented mostly by outside agencies.
There was little, if any, interaction with local people and no real know-how was
Earthquakes. Satellite remote sensing is of limited use
in the assessment of earthquake damage to buildings, structures, transportation,
and communication networks because of the relatively coarse resolution of
current commercially available satellite images. However, the synoptic view
provided by satellites has been helpful in studying earthquake-prone areas
worldwide. It is possible to analyze the surface signatures of deep-seated
structures that appear on satellite images as distinctive lineament patterns.
Using satellite data, seismologists are able to pinpoint areas of dangerous
deformation on the earths surface - information that is useful in
forecasting seismic activity. Active earthquake zones can be roughly located and
risk maps produced by reviewing plate tectonic motions and past seismic activity
and geologically interpreting remote sensing data. It is also possible to assess
landslide-susceptible areas by analyzing spectral patterns on satellite imagery
and studying maps of soil and water resources.
Earthquakes are not preventable, but it is possible at least to
reduce the damage from them. At least twice in China the prediction of
earthquakes saved many peoples lives (Gunner and others 1984). Advanced
Japanese, Soviet, and U.S. research in earthquake prediction is promising, and
applications of satellite images for earthquake damage assessment have been
reported (Simonett 1978, Carter and Easton 1973). Time is the most important
factor after an earthquake disaster. If less time is spent gathering information
on which to base decisions, early search, relief, and restoration measures may
save lives and property.
Volcanic eruption. Timely satellite images allow rapid
assessment of the damage caused by volcanic eruptions. Areas covered by lava,
mud-flows, and volcanic ash are easily detectable against satellite images of
undisturbed soil. Thermal and infrared channels on satellite and aircraft
sensors have been used to study the temperature differential between lava flows
and ash and their colder surroundings. Measuring the tilt of a volcano before
eruption allows an early warning if coupled with other indicators such as the
geochemistry of emitted gases, the heat flow from the volcano, and measures of
Tropical cyclones. Because of their violent nature, their
duration, and the extensive area they can affect, tropical cyclones can be among
the most devastating of disasters. They develop over the open sea and may
continue to have destructive power for two weeks or more. Cyclone disasters
result from violent winds, excessive rainfall, and rising seas. If a tropical
cyclone moves inland or along a coastline it can bring death and damage to
extensive areas, involving many countries. Scientists understand the nature of
tropical cyclones relatively well, thanks partially to radar, weather
satellites, and computer modeling. It is not possible to prevent tropical
cyclones, but radar, satellites, and radios allow their course to be tracked and
warnings to be issued in reasonable time. Cyclone-prone areas can be studied and
preparedness programs developed for those areas.
Drought. Drought is a long-term creeping disaster that is
usually not limited to one country but crosses national boundaries to cover
regional ecosystems. Satellite remote sensing has been extensively used in the
prediction, surveillance, and assessment of drought and drought damage. Early
warning systems with remote sensing components for drought monitoring have been
established in many drought-prone areas worldwide. Low-resolution satellite data
from weather satellites have been useful in making rough but quick predictions
and assessments of drought in Africas Sahelian zone (Heilkema and others
1986). High-resolution satellite and aerial data have been used to zoom in on
specific areas in a drought zone for detailed study and analysis.
Agriculture and forestry disasters. Many calamities occur
because of stress on forests and crops from disease, insect infestations, fires,
and the like. Changes in spectral reflection of remotely sensed images of crops,
forests, and rangeland indicate irregularities in the degree of plant vigor.
This clearly shows in the microwave and infrared bands. Changes in spectral
responses can be detected long before images are visible to the naked eye.
Time-lapse images are useful in early warning and damage assessment programs.
D.E. Pedgleys early work using satellite images in the surveillance of
locust breeding sites in Saudi Arabia was followed by FAOs successful work
using NOAA satellite data in the early detection of locust breeding habitats in
North Africa (Heilkema and others 1986).
Problems of technology transfer
Some problems hinder the transfer of remote sensing technologies
to developing countries for disaster management:
· Remote sensing is
considered high technology and because of trade issues involving intellectual
property rights often cannot be transferred to developing countries.
· Few developing countries have
the technical capabilities to absorb the transfer of such complex technology.
· Policymakers and managers find
it difficult if not impossible to devote limited human and financial resources
to such high-technology endeavors.
· In many developing countries,
long-term planning is practiced only on paper. Soon after long- or medium-term
plans are prepared and approved they are ignored and begin gathering dust on
shelves. Reactive, piecemeal, short-term programs are the norm, not the
· The supply-driven
approaches promoted by technologists and technology vendors have been
counterproductive in influencing policy-makers and planners to accept and
promote long-term disaster information management programs, because these
high-technology disaster information management programs have not been
integrated with indigenous policy planning.
· Remotely sensed data have been
only intermittently available in developing countries, because of the high cost
of data and security measures imposed by some countries. This makes the use of
such information for long-term planning difficult.
There is an inconsistency between the level of technological
development that can be used in disaster management, and the level developing
countries can and do actually use. Disaster information technologies transferred
to developing countries after a disaster are often both unfocused and
oversophisticated. Most of the disaster information technologies deployed in
developing countries are technologies borrowed from the military. Others are
makeshift technologies quickly put together for that particular situation.
What must be done
The 1972 Declaration of the UN Conference on the Human
Environment states that environmental deficiencies generated by the
conditions of underdevelopment and natural disasters pose grave problems and can
best be remedied by accelerated development through the transfer of financial
and technological assistance as a supplement to the domestic efforts of the
developing countries (OAS 1988). Until recently, disaster assistance
programs have traditionally provided relief immediately after a disaster. Few
disaster assistance efforts have included rehabilitation, and no comprehensive
systems of disaster preparedness have been implemented in developing countries.
In the last two decades, with recognition of the repetitive
patterns of many natural disasters, increased attention has been paid to
predisaster measures, especially early warning systems and preparedness
planning. The Organization of American States (OAS 1988) recommends making
natural hazard assessment and mitigation an integral part of development
planning. Disaster information should be part of ongoing natural resource
information management programs in developing countries.
Accurate data and effective communication are basic needs in
normal development planning. When and where disaster strikes, they are even more
important. Disaster information should be thought of as a layer of natural
resource information management with critical time requirements. Although there
may be certain specifications for disaster information, developing this
information as part of an overall information management program for development
planning will guarantee its sustainability and the effectiveness of technology
transfer. It will also help establish the long-term baseline information that is
crucial in disaster studies. Resources available to national, subregional, and
regional organizations in the fields of remote sensing, geographical information
systems (GIS), and natural resource information management should be used to
develop such a system. Scientists and technicians in natural resource centers
should be the targets for proposed technology transfers. Properly trained, they
can work with local personnel to develop sustainable systems for monitoring,
forecasting, and managing disasters and issuing early warnings.
Remote sensing technology, geographical information systems, and
methods of information dissemination may all need to be transferred. Training
should be provided in acquisition and storage of remotely sensed data, in
planning and implementing aerial surveys, in processing and analyzing the data
visually and digitally, and in disseminating information.
Do not give me a fish, says the old Chinese proverb,
but teach me how to fish. Simply supplying a country with machinery
does not constitute technology transfer. The mastery of technology cannot
be bought; it must be learned (World Bank 1988c). One does not so much
transfer technology as transplant it, and one must recognize the complexity of
integrating a technological approach in a new