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UNOSAT Rapid Mapping Service Activity Report 2012

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UNOSAT 2012 mapping report shows more relief agencies rely on satellite analysis

24 April 2013, Geneva, Switzerland - UNOSAT released its annual Activity Report on its renown Humanitarian Rapid Mapping service. The report focuses on data and performance in the year 2012. Last year saw an increase in requests and delivery of UNOSAT Rapid Mapping services. A total of 35 humanitarian crisis interventions were supported by UNOSAT, primarily on requests received from UN OCHA, UNHCR, UNICEF and The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR.


The increase of 25% from 2011 indicates both the high demand for UNOSAT services as well as the full integration of this type of knowledge in decision‐making processes in humanitarian and human security players.

Natural disasters continue to represent a significant portion of emergency support activities at UNOSAT, in particular flood events, which often require monitoring and several mapping updates. In parallel, 2012 showed also a sharp increase in UN requests sent to UNOSAT to cover complex emergencies and refugee crises. This type of emergency typically requires monitoring a situation over time and more detailed analysis using very-high resolution imagery.

UNOSAT specialises in advanced satellite analysis and geospatial information systems. The Programme helps UN agencies, member states, the Red Cross family, international organizations, and NGOs with maps, analytical reports, and GIS-ready data in a range of critical areas for the international community: humanitarian relief, human rights, development planning, and monitoring.

Since 2003 UNOSAT operates a Humanitarian Rapid Mapping service that has been deployed in almost 300 emergencies worldwide. Typical users of this service include UN OCHA, UNICEF, WHO, UNHCR, WFP, UNDP, IFRC, and ICRC, as well as numerous international NGOs and dozens of national NGOs in affected countries. The service is supported mostly by Nordic countries, with in-kind support from the United States and Switzerland.

“The difference between traditional geographic information and satellite analysis is that the latter adds fresh objective information to maps and visualisation tools, allowing for faster, better decisions” says UNOSAT Manager Einar Bjorgo. “It is rewarding to see donors and UN agencies alike understanding the power of applying 21st Century technology to processes that impact the life of hundreds of thousands of people affected by disasters and conflict each year. Many times a year we are told that what we do enables humanitarians to do a better job.”

The salient feature of the year 2012 has been the emerging of human rights as a focus of satellite mapping applications. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is increasingly present among the UN agencies that UNOSAT supports regularly.


UNOSAT Rapid Mapping is today a mature and reliable service, widely recognized and praised by UN Member States, UN Agencies, and the UN Secretary-General himself. Its impact extends beyond the immediate satisfaction of users requests.

Firstly, UNOSAT has an impact on the technology level of the UN system, because it provides an essential technology link to connect the UN and its humanitarian agencies to fast-paced technology advancement outside the UN family.

Secondly, UNOSAT has generated a positive and consistent trend of increased awareness of the central role of state-of-the-art geospatial information in humanitarian aid and in other vital areas of the UN mandate. This has an impact on the quality of decision making and coordination of in-field aid delivery, for example.

Thirdly, UNOSAT applied research has an impact on methodology itself: 10 years after its first “activation,” UNOSAT humanitarian rapid mapping is a leading standard not only in the UN but also in the competitive circles of GIS.

Download the 2012 Rapid Mapping activity report.