Delivering the National Development Plan – the vital role of Earth observation

SANSA is expanding the reach of its Earth Observation (EO) service to the most local level of government, with the placement of EO specialists in municipalities.

“Many municipalities are not yet fully exploiting the EO data which we can make available to them,” says Jane Olwoch an environmental scientist and MD of the Earth Observation Directorate at SANSA.

During 2014, EO staff will be embedded as EO champions and extension officers in Tshwane and Mangaung municipalities, with the task of building relationships and championing the use of EO.

“There is a lot of information which municipalities need and which SANSA already has. We just need to inform and educate people about the vast potential available through their national space agency.”

Rapid urbanisation and the growth of informal settlements is one of the major challenges facing municipalities. “The view from the top makes it much easier to count houses and to map and understand settlements and the pace of urbanisation, which makes it easier to plan and deliver services,” Olwoch says.

She points to recent studies which show housing estates and golf courses built on areas with the highest agricultural potential. “That is very dangerous. SA doesn’t have a lot of agricultural land and what little we have is often taken up for non-agricultural use, which has implications for food security, water flow, biodiversity and environmental processes.”

Olwoch says EO is also establishing a relationship with the National Planning Commission (NPC). “There are so many ways we can contribute to the work of the NPC,” she says. In addition to the use of satellite imagery for infrastructure monitoring and as a planning tool, the EO team also meets National Development Plan (NDP) ambitions for the creation of highly-skilled technology jobs in data systems and software engineering.

“Earth observation enables service delivery,” says Olwoch. “We are helping government to use images from space to deliver the NDP.”

Imraan Saloojee, who heads stakeholder relations and business development for SANSA, is the eyes and ears of SANSA on the global stage. One of the key international collaborations for the agency is the TIGER project, which looks at how EO products and services can be used for water management in Africa.

SANSA is the central agency through which international Earth observation data is acquired and distributed in SA. “We acquire the data and make it widely available in the national interest,” Saloojee says. Among EO data available through SANSA is imagery from the French SPOT (Satellite Pour l’Observation de la Terre) and the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) LandSAT satellites. The latter, responding to a global initiative through the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) to make more EO data available without any cost, saw a hundredfold increase in users globally once it was made available free of charge by the USGS.

A key SANSA product is the ‘mosaic’, a comprehensive EO map of the whole of SA, which provides a very valuable information source for all of government.

Vaneshree Maharaj