UNOSAT: assessing IDP camps in Somalia from space
June 2012, Mogadishu, Somalia - The humanitarian situation of thousands of IDP (internally displaced persons) in Somalia is among the gravest on the planet. The number and location of spontaneous camps changes frequently and the UN lacks both unrestricted access and updated data on these important numbers. As a result, planning, negotiating and implementing protection and relief operations is more difficult and sometimes impossible.
Since years UNOSAT develops its analytical skills to provide humanitarian agencies with vital information over areas with difficult or impossible access. This is done by acquiring time series of very-high resolution imagery that is screened by UNOSAT analysts to derive GIS and narrative reports. This type of monitoring, typical of UNOSAT’s ability to work at the junction between humanitarian relief and human security, enhances the knowledge capability of humanitarian agencies in particular situations that evolve rapidly on the ground.
In the case of Somalia, both OCHA and UNHCR have specific information needs. OCHA officials need updated information on the IDP situation in Mogadishu, where access is particularly dangerous and where multiple small IDP settlements change locations frequently. UNHCR teams need updated information on the IDP situation in the Afgooye Corridor, also a particularly difficult area to access via land. Because of the drought and the military activity involving several armed groups and the presence of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the IDP situation has changed over time. The humanitarian community needs to keep abreast of where IDP concentrate and how their distribution on the ground changes.
In both areas of interest UNOSAT has already performed several successful imagery analysis activations. Satellite imagery analysis has proven before to be a reliable source of timely and up to date geographic information on Somalia’s humanitarian situation.
For Mogadishu UNOSAT produced a situation update number 4 relating to the IDP situation in the urban area. This includes a map and statistics on IDP presence as of 2 May 2012 and changes since the previous update on 18 October 2011. In this case, statistics and figures derived by UNOSAT analysts are as important as the map itself, if not more.
For the Afgooye Corridor UNOSAT elaborated maps using pre-determined zones of IDP locations provided by UNHCR, showing how the situation has changed between July 2011 and April 2012 and, more recently, May 2012.
The results show that in Mogadishu there has been an increase of approximately 45% in IDP settlements inside the city, with a large increase in areas previously occupied by Al-Shabaab forces.In the Afgooye Corridor the analysis shows that IDP concentrations decreased between 25 July 2011 and 2 April 2012, but no further change was detected between April and 10 May 2012.
The added value of this type of monitoring appears clearly in the feedback sent by OCHA officials who used UNOSAT maps in the field: “The IDP overview has turned out to be a very useful instrument in our work. With this we can target our missions to areas where we previously haven't registered any IDP settlements. Especially in the northern part of the city, which until recently was inaccessible. We are further using the analyses for the planning of service delivery.”
Maps are used also to orient humanitarian work on the ground, as OCHA staff say: “The map has in many ways changed our focus to new areas and gives us a very strong starting point when meeting with local officials and can tell them where IDP settlements are within the city. Especially in situations like this where the security measures make it very difficult to conduct assessment missions with vehicles.”
Photos: Top: IDP in Somalia (courtesy of UN); Middle: a detail of one of the UNOSAT maps of Mogadishu IDP camps; Bottom: local humanitarian workers using UNOSAT geospatial analysis in Mogadischu in May 2012 (courtesy of OCHA).