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Eye in sky enables scientists to gauge global poverty - Daily News Egypt

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Eye in sky enables scientists to gauge global poverty

Researchers from Arhus University monitored implementing UN SDGs through satellite images


Over 93 countries worldwide committed to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that we are committed to nationally and internationally.

It can be difficult to assess global poverty and poor economic conditions, but with an ‘eye in the sky’, researchers are able to give us a very good hint of the living conditions of populations in the world’s impoverished countries, according to a new research.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, and was published on Monday in the American Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), taking about two years to be conducted.

The UN’s development agenda was adopted by the world’s heads of state and governments at a UN Summit in New York in 2015. The goals came into force on 1 January 2016, and will continue to set a course for further sustainable development to benefit both people and the planet that we live on until 2030.

Findings of the study reveal that in order to track the living conditions in poor nations around the world where the forthcoming population growth is highest, this will help us to achieve the UN SDGs-which 93 member countries have committed themselves to.

Researchers of the study have discovered that high resolution satellite data can be used to map economic living conditions down to a household level. Based on high resolution satellite images, they were enabled to assess the poverty status at dwelling degree in rural areas in developing countries.

Professor Jens-Christian Svenning from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, informed Daily News Egypt that in order to effectively work toward socio-ecological sustainability as aimed for with the UN’s SDGs, they have to be able to monitor progress toward them.

“Here, satellite-based remote sensing offers increasingly rich data for doing exactly that. In the present study, we wanted to test if high-resolution satellite imagery can be used to monitor socioeconomic wealth at the household level in rural landscapes in the developing world,” he said.

Svenning added that he and his team tested the approach on a landscape in Kenya for which they have rich ground-collected data on the socioeconomic conditions of households.

“We found that it is indeed possible to get a good indication of household wealth from satellite imagery, suggesting that this source of increasingly rich and increasingly free data offers major possibilities to monitor progress in combating poverty and socioeconomic development in general,” said Svenning who heads the research group in Aarhus.

Among other things, it revealed the size of buildings and areas of uncultivated soil, and the length of the growing season on a number of family-run farms in an agricultural area in Kenya.

The images uncovered how people use the landscape around their homes and the degree to which this changes over time. The study showed thorough analysis of satellite images that 62% of the variation in the economic conditions of individual households could be explained through the images.

“The approach in this study was relatively expensive as it was a proof of a concept approach. However, we are now working on new approaches that would considerably reduce the costs and allow us to upscale the approach to regional and national levels. This involves looking at new ways of analysing the satellite data and merging different satellite data types together,” said Gary Watmough, lead author of the study, and interdisciplinary lecturer in Land Use and Socioecological Systems at the School of Geosciences, the University of Edinburgh, the UK.

Watmough informed Daily News Egypt that “traditionally, monitoring poverty and development in low- and middle-income countries such as Kenya, has depended on data collected from household surveys.” He added that these surveys are expensive to carry out and infrequent. In comparison, high resolution satellite imagery is relatively cheap and frequently collected. Satellite imagery can provide information about a landscape and the way that land is being used and how this is changing over time.

The paper examines how the information seen in high resolution satellite imagery could, in the future, be used to improve how poverty and development can be monitored in rural areas of Kenya. According to the lead author of the study, the findings of the paper should be seen as a proof of concept that it is possible to use high resolution imagery to estimate aspects of rural wellbeing. It is also important to recognise that an approach that considers how people use the land in their region results in better predictions of wellbeing.

The data available from satellites is improving, and increasing all of the time, so in future it is possible that satellite images will form a key part of monitoring socioeconomic conditions and supporting the existing data from household surveys. “We know that the approach described in this study will have to be adaptable though as it will need to reflect the local conditions, and how people are using the land,” Watmough concluded.  

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