10 November 2013, Geneva, Switzerland - International experts agree that Cyclone Haiyan that hit the Philippines on 9 November was "probably the most intense and strongest storm of this type to make landfall". While cyclones of this intensity have occurred before, they usually lose part of their strength by the time they reach shore. Not Haiyan, which swept through six central Philippine islands packing winds of up to 270 Km/h and causing immense damage and probably unprecedented loss of life.
Official estimates by the Philippines government speak of over 600,000 people displace by the disaster while there is still uncertainty regarding the number of casualties. The head of the Philippine Red Cross was quoted by the BBC saying: "There's an awful lot of casualties, a lot of people dead all over the place, a lot of destruction". The province of Leyte and its capital Tacloban, seem to have been affected the most, including by a massive storm surge.
UNOSAT rapid mapping was activated by OCHA already on Thursday 8 November, as the disaster occurred. UNOSAT also triggered the International Space Charter. Satellite images are a strong vantage point in this type of large disasters. They allow an overall view of events and provide an objective background for accurate damage assessment and to help agencies work together and act in coordination. Considering the expected large impact of this disaster, UNOSAT contacted several partners and it is acting as the hub for satellite analysis.
UNOSAT Manager Einar Bjorgo confirms: “We have triggered various mechanisms for imagery, foremost the Space Charter, and are waiting for the first satellite imagery to come in. Once we get it, we will do a detailed infrastructure damage assessment. Meanwhile, the US Government has done some over-flights and shared initial results with us. We are also coordinating with ECHO, who are mapping flood extents. All this information is included in our LIVE-map of the event available on the web. This map is also reachable from the UNDAC Virtual OSOCC site”.
UNOSAT responds to humanitarian agencies’ request an average of 35 to 40 times a year and is equipped with an analysis team capable of operating around the clock during major events like this one, which may happen once a year or less. In 2011 UNOSAT improved its mapping capability to be able to operate more rapidly and produce on-line “LIVE-maps” using web-supported solutions capable of integrating input form partners and in-field teams and to involve citizens who can send they live geo-tagged photos and footage from the affected areas using a dedicated crowdsourcing application known as UN-ASIGN.
Images: Above, Cyclone Haiyan seen from space (credit EUMETSAT). Below: UNOSAT Humanitarian Rapid Mapping is incresingly requested by the humanitarian community.