20 February 2013, Bangkok, Thailand - A little less than two years into UNOSAT’s new regional initiative for South-East Asia and only two months after top level talks with ESCAP Executive-Secretary, UNITAR and The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) made a decisive step forward in their partnership by signing an agreement in Bangkok that brings UNOSAT mapping and training capacity closer to the countries in the region. The signing symbolically happened at the opening plenary session of the “Regional Workshop on Geo-referenced Disaster Risk Management Information System in South-East and East Asia, and Pacific”. Ms. Shamika Sirimanne, Director of Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Reduction Division at ESCAP, and Francesco Pisano, Director of Research Technology Applications and Knowledge Systems at UNITAR, exchanged copies of the agreement before delegates and experts from member states and various UN Agencies gathered at ESCAP for the Workshop.

The agreement is focused on the area of geospatial information, GIS and satellite derived analysis and mapping applied to DRR, preparedness, and emergency response, as a strategic platform to help ESCAP member states to increase their capacity. The move comes in the wake of several UN General Assembly and ESCAP resolutions and is in line with the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and the spirit of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015.

Francesco Pisano said, “This agreement is the clearest sign of our common intention to work together to make a difference in the way countries in the region can access and benefit from the operational experience accumulated at UNOSAT as well as its training programmes. Satellite applications is a technology-intensive domain but we at UNITAR like to work in this area with a people-cantered approach. We also count on the support of other UN agencies and programmes active in the region so that we can deliver as one in helping countries become more resilient in the face of natural hazards and vulnerability.”

Ms. Shamika Sirimanne added, “Together, ESCAP and UNITAR did some tremendous work during the Thai floods in 2011 to provide near real-time satellite images to Thailand. With this agreement today, we enter into a strategic partnership to provide such products and services on a more regular basis. And also to develop capacity in space applications among those countries in Asia and the Pacific that face high risks to natural hazards but have low capacity to handle disasters.”

The agreement was particularly welcomed by member states in the region who are working to gain better access to the benefits of geospatial information and satellite analysis. Ms. Lorna Paras Victoria of the Philippines said, "We have projects on-going since 2004 that require GIS, RS data, including LIDAR, that cover both metropolitan Manila and the whole of the Philippines, and we very much appreciate such collaboration between ESCAP and UNITAR because it will mean that we could potentially have greater and easier access to the data we need for the projects."

UNOSAT has been actively working in South East Asia since 2010 with the support of partners such as the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) and donor support from the Government of Norway. Capacity development programmes have so far targeted the region as such as well as individual countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar. Greater collaboration with other UN players active in the region will allow more outreach and better results in the coming years.