From Space to Village: Satellite Data For Decisions in the Developing World
SERVIR—meaning “to serve” in Spanish—is a joint initiative that connects USAID’s expertise in international development and training with NASA’s portfolio of satellite observations. Its goal is to help decision makers in developing regions respond to global change. Over the past decade, SERVIR has worked closely with regional organizations in the developing world to provide analytical products and services that inform decisions about climate adaptation and mitigation, disaster risk reduction, water and natural resource management, land use planning, and infrastructure development. Most recently, in October 2014, SERVIR launched a new hub in Asia’s Lower Mekong region, which joins regional hubs in Himalaya, Africa, and Mesoamerica to make up a global network.
One of SERVIR’s latest efforts to support disaster preparedness focused on Bangladesh, where flooding affects millions of people every year. In the summer of 2014, unusually severe flooding displaced more than 275,000 people and destroyed more than 31,000 homes. An experimental flood forecasting system developed by the SERVIR Himalaya hub used altimeter data from the Jason-2 satellite to accurately predict the flooding eight days in advance— the longest lead time ever for a flood forecast in Bangladesh. Previously, forecasts and warnings were only available 3–5 days in advance because of reliance on conventional ground-based networks, which don’t extend into countries upstream from Bangladesh. The efficacy of the satellite-based flood forecasting approach led to a recent decision by Bangladeshi officials to expand it for nationwide operational use in 2015. The new Mekong hub will look to this and other SERVIR success stories to bring similar tools to bear in Southeast Asia.