Satellite image showing geo-information
May 27 2016

SOS Children's Villages and Z_GIS harness geo-information to improve humanitarian emergency response

SOS Children’s Villages International and the University of Salzburg are collaborating on a project that uses satellite imagery and geo-technology to enhance aid organisations’ abilities to respond to emergencies.

Geo-information, such as satellite images, can be greatly beneficial for humanitarian organisations working to reach people in conflicts and disasters, by providing key information, such as the locations of roads and water sources.

To benefit from this technology, SOS Children’s Villages International will partner with the Z_GIS department at the University of Salzburg, Austria, as part of its EO4HumEn+ project, which provides tailored information products based on Earth observation satellite images and geographic information to support humanitarian organisations.

The role of geo-information in supporting development and humanitarian needs was discussed during a side event at the World Humanitarian Summit, held from 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey.

The panel discussion, which included Andreas Papp, International Director of Emergency Response, as well as Professor Stefan Lang, representing Z_GIS, explored the topic of how geospatial information can effectively support humanitarian action in emergencies and protracted crises.

Andreas Papp and Stefan Lang take part in the panel discussion at the World Humanitarian Summit. Photo: SOS Archives.

For example, Z_GIS can identify characteristics of refugee camps, such as whether the camp has a high population density, or the direction in which the camp is growing. Z_GIS is already partnered with Médecins Sans Frontières to assess the needs of camps for refugees and internally displaced persons.

Professor Lang expressed the benefits of this partnership: ‘The better information humanitarian actors have, the better they can react. Z_GIS is pleased to partner with SOS Children’s Villages to provide data on risk assessments and emergency situations, meaning more children and families can be supported during crisis situations.’

As of 2015, there were 573 SOS Children’s Villages around the world. Many of these villages are positioned to provide support for effected communities following a disaster. With established local networks in the communities, and high quality facilities, the organisation is often asked to act as a hub for partner organisations during emergency situations.

The partnership with Z_GIS is an opportunity to prepare better before an emergency. For example, in an area vulnerable to drought, geo-information can show exactly where the nearest water sources are, how many people are living in the area, and whether they would be likely to go in the direction of the SOS Children’s Village in an emergency. With this information, SOS Children's Villages can better anticipate the needs of the local population in an emergency.

Andreas Papp, International Director of Emergency Response, is leading the project. ‘This partnership will allow us to assess the vulnerability of a region and prepare for a crisis. If the SOS Children’s Village is secure and has enough resources, we have a responsibility to help children and families in the local area. Through our work with Z_GIS, we can anticipate what we need and better support the local community in our emergency response work.’


Read more about SOS Children's Villages' response in humanitarian emergencies