The UNOSAT Emergency Mapping Service (UNOSAT-EMS) is a 24/7 service that provides satellite imagery analysis support following rapid on-set disasters, complex emergencies, and crises. The Service is free of charge for the emergency phase of the response. The UNOSAT-EMS was established in 2003 funded in the last three project cycles by Norway through Norad (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The current phase of the project receives funding from the latter.

The interface of UNOSAT with the UN emergency response system (UN system focused on crisis response for natural disasters, complex emergencies, human rights, and other humanitarian needs) varies in methodologies and practices with differences in information sharing, activation requests, acquisition of satellite imagery, and UN policies concerned between the natural disaster and the peace, security and human rights work of UNOSAT.

The evaluation purpose was to assess the relevance, coherence, efficiency, effectiveness, likelihood of impact and likelihood of sustainability of the project, together with cross-cutting issues including gender and human rights; to identify good practices and any challenges the project encountered; to identify lessons to be learned; and to formulate recommendations, to inform future phases of the project. The evaluation built upon an independent evaluation of an earlier phase of the project, published in 2018.

The evaluation followed a mixed-methods and participatory approach, drawing in the following methods: comprehensive desk review, stakeholder analysis, after-action review, key informant interviews, an online survey, and case studies. The evaluation anticipated mitigation strategies for the limitations encountered by the previous independent evaluation, with the only remaining challenge being the access to stakeholders from the peace, justice and human rights workstream, which was mitigated by gathering qualitative data from this group.

Key evaluation findings and conclusions

Relevance. The UNOSAT-EMS is helping UNITAR to support Member States to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular SDGs 1, 11,13, 16 & 17. It provides highly relevant, high quality and timely products to its users. It is also relevant to almost all of UNITAR’s strategic objectives.

The project is also relevant to countries in special situations and supporting the population affected by emergencies, including groups made vulnerable. The UNOSAT-EMS could, however, strengthen its gender approach to emergency assistance. The project has unintentionally followed environmental principles, such as Blue Marble evaluations.

Coherence. The UNOSAT-EMS provides valuable support to UNOSAT and UNITAR by enhancing their reputation and bringing in funding by serving a broad range of UN and non-UN humanitarian agencies. It aligns with Norway's humanitarian strategy of protecting civilians.

The UNOSAT-EMS is highly valued by others in the UN emergency response system and would be difficult to hard to replicate. UNOSAT has formal partnerships (MOUs) with 14 organizations, about half being disaster response partners.

Effectiveness. The UNOSAT-EMS not only is on track to achieve its output and outcome targets, but it has surpassed its performance milestones. However, the project faces three threats to its future: funding, analyst retention in the work area of peace, security and human rights, and demand outpacing supply.

Co-location of the UNOSAT team at CERN, UNOCC and ESCAP has proven beneficial. It also benefits the work of its users and partners.

Given the potential of new technology, including AI based applications, the project could benefit from a more ambitious R&D strategy.

The evaluation found recommendations from the previous evaluation had been addressed adequately by the project. The current M&E system is sufficient despite not adopting UN-ASIGN for real-time impact assessment, as recommended in the previous independent evaluation.

Efficiency. The UNOSAT-EMS is cost-effective, but staff workload needs to be managed carefully to avoid being overloaded. The project is using its human and financial resources as planned. The UNOSAT-EMS’ cost per request has remained relatively stable, and it is likely to be much less expensive than the Copernicus EMS. The project is attracting some additional funding, which will help it to address staffing needs and maintain its cost-effectiveness.

Likelihood of impact. The UNOSAT-EMS’ contribute to short-term (immediate) impacts, especially in the immediate aftermath of emergencies. Its products inform time-critical decisions before quickly becoming obsolete. Considering this, the UNOSAT-EMS has contributed to strengthening emergency response systems at UN and national levels and potentially to capacity development of the organizations. Other likely contribution in the long-term is related to technology development (training AI models).

Likelihood of sustainability. The UNOSAT-EMS has made a significant contribution to its partners' work in emergency response and assistance by providing timely and relevant situational awareness and analysis to help partners prioritize response efforts and allocate resources effectively.

Despite the UNOSAT-EMS products’ high quality and relevance, the UNOSAT-EMS is not as well known or visible as it should be, in particular with potential donors and requestors of UNOSAT-EMS products. There is a concern that too much awareness could lead to too many requests and overloading the UNOSAT-EMS, compromising its quality and timeliness.

The project’s funding comes largely from Norway and has proven to be very consistent. Nevertheless, the UNOSAT-EMS is looking to broaden its funding base to better secure its long-term sustainability, and with it the sustainability of the broader UN emergency response system, for whom it provides a ‘public good’.


The evaluation provided a set of six recommendations, listed below.

  1. Improve project visibility and relevance. The UNOSAT-EMS management team should agree with users to better reference EMS products. This should also apply to users from side projects, co-funded projects and spin-offs. UNOSAT-EMS should consider reviving an internal UN-wide GIS publishing platform to share non-public analyses for user access and reporting. The UNOSAT M&E function should request to be part of inter-agency humanitarian evaluations of responses to emergencies, to collect more information on the impact of the UNOSAT-EMS.
  2. Broaden the UNOSAT-EMS’ funding base. Develop a strategy to ensure sustainable funding for the UNOSAT-EMS.
  3. Develop a research and development strategy that makes full use of its MOUs with R&D-related organizations such as CERN, NVIDIA and Google.
  4. Although it is impossible to see gender from space, UNOSAT-EMS should provide guidelines about further disaggregation of satellite imagery-derived products that could be reproduced by its users. While the UNOSAT-EMS does not have an explicit gender strategy, it could strengthen its approach to gender-sensitive humanitarian assistance and support by undertaking and learning from impact stories with focus on women and groups made vulnerable.
  5. The UNOSAT-EMS should define a partnership strategy and map partners according to the joint interest and areas of work to increase awareness of active MoU and partnership opportunities.
  6. The UNOSAT-EMS should consider capacity development as an unintended outcome and seek to capture unintended results even if the project is not funded to build capacity of other institutions.

Lessons learned

Six lessons learned were generated through the evaluation.

  1. Short-term and long-term impacts resulting from emergency response. Realise and account for the difference between short-term and long-term impacts resulting from emergency response is important. Short-term impacts should be recognized as being generated from a different theory of change than the default development programme theory of change. Short-term emergency response impacts should be recognized as an end in themselves.
  2. Complementarity and niche. Identifying a unique niche or service that complements and adds value to the work of partners and stakeholders is key.
  3. Partnerships, relationships and one UN. Cultivating strong partnerships and relationships with key stakeholders and user organizations is important.
  4. Capacity building. While not a primary focus, projects can indirectly contribute to capacity building and knowledge transfer over time through repeated engagement and "learning by doing".
  5. Visibility and awareness. Continuously work on raising awareness and visibility among potential donors, partners, and users can help to ensure sustained funding and effective utilization of services.
  6. Funding diversification. Overdependence on a single donor can threaten long-term sustainability. Actively seek to diversify funding sources to mitigate risks.

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