Followingthe earthquake and tsunami that devastated Indian Ocean coasts on 26 December 2004, GRID-Europe has been acting as the cartographic, GIS and remote sensing centre for the UNEP Task Force in charge of responding to the disaster.
UNEP Executive Director, asked GRID-Europe to support UNEP, OCHA and all UN colleagues within the United Nations Development Group (UNDG). GRID-Europe coordinated satellite imagery interpretation with UNOSAT, to avoid duplication of on-going efforts. A close collaboration between the two centres was achieved by exchange of imagery and other files.
In order to provide efficient support, the cartographic and other products developed have been posted to the GRID website. Anyone in charge of assessments in South Asia has access to general maps, GIS files and output products generated by GRID-Europe. Thus far, three assessments have been finalised: "Model of potential impacts from both eartquakes and tsunami in Sumatra", "Impacts as detected by satellite imagery over Banda Aceh (Sumatra)" and "Impacts as detected by satellite imagery over Nicobar Islands (India)". Moreover, Landsat satellite imagery has been downloaded for the region, for time periods from before and after the catastrophe.
At the request of the UNEP South Asian Tsunami Task Force, UNEP/DEWA/GRID-Europe undertook a statistical and spatial analysis to assess what is the potential protecting role of Environmental features (such as Mangroves, coral reefs, sea grass,...). The method and the result of this study is provided in in the following report entitled: "Analysis on the Role of Bathymetry and other Environmental Parameters in the Impacts from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami". This was held to the UNEP task force in June 2005.
The main threats to the environment are distinguished in two categories: threats from damage to coastal technological infrastructures and facilities (nuclear power plant, harbours and industrial areas), and threats to ecosystems (reefs, vegetation, shores) from which many people depend for their livelihood (fishing and tourism). The assessment of the second type of impacts came in a later phase of the process, as the main direct threat was from local pollution. A first verification was on the identification of the nuclear power plant located in the area. Apparently, according to information received from local focal points and authorities, very few industrial facilities have been affected to the point of causing environmental concern in the area. All nuclear facilities are reported as safe. Minor oil leaks from vessels have been reported in harbours, which have immediately been brought under control (Madras in India, and Lhokseumawe in Indonesia).
After the emergency phase, different types of support were provided to the Task Force: provision by GRID-Europe of 600 Gb of data to governments of countries affected as well as scientific research undertaken to better understand the role of natural defences (coral reefs, mangroves) in the reduction of impacts. Regarding this role of natural defences, Geographical Information System technologies and statistics are being used to identify potential links between impacts and presence/absence of mangroves and coral reefs. The level of impacts are measured either on site (through different studies) or via satellite image analysis. GRID-Europe benefited from the support of UNOSAT and USGS, who provided free access to numerous images for this project.
For more information, please contact:
Head of Early Warning Unit
Phone: (+41 22) 917 82 37