Images saving lives

Story by: Jose Olcese / UNDP Peru

Space technology and inter-institutional cooperation to reduce risks

Piura flooded in 2017. The rains and overflows caused by the El Niño Coastal Phenomenon (Coastal FEN), affected more than 420 thousand people and 87 thousand homes. The Coastal FEN not only took houses, but also the livelihoods of the population, the production and the effort of the affected communities to move forward.

The reconstruction remains long and difficult; But men and women of Piura do not lower their heads and continue to recover, rebuild and improve what they lost during the 2017 disaster.

Two years after the emergency, is Piura ready for the next phenomenon?


In 2016, the first earth observation satellite of the Peruvian State, Peru SAT-1, was launched into space.

This satellite, which is programmed and monitored by the Peruvian Space Agency — CONIDA, is the most advanced in the region of its kind; It has a spatial resolution of 70 centimeters.

This powerful technological tool takes images of any part of the world, which are provided free of charge to all State Entities, to be used in applications of agriculture, defense, monitoring of glaciers, logging and illegal mining, among others.

One of the most important aspects to work on, is Disaster Risk Management. With the images delivered, once processed, mosaics can be formed from different areas of the country, obtaining updated information for timely decision making.

Through the advice and support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the DIPECHO Project with the financing of the European Commission (ECHO), UNDP articulated and promoted teamwork with the different institutions to unify the effort and encourage informed decision-making by connecting the agency with more than 15 institutions, allowing studies and information essential for the execution of the project to be shared.

Science, technology and teamwork contribute to saving lives and recovering from a disaster. The articulated effort of specialists from CONIDA and the Earth Science and Climate Research Group of the Faculty of Physical Sciences of the National University of San Marcos will allow us to know the territory in a new way.

“This mosaic will generate a first baseline of satellite images, with which we can identify the most vulnerable areas. Which must be updated and improved over time, in this way it will allow us to monitor the variations of the territory”, says Wilder Caballero, Researcher and Project Manager of the Geomatics Direction of CONIDA.

Accuracy is key. A meter more or a meter less could be a crucial point in decision making. For this reason, the specialists are in Piura.

Through the GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) team, specialists have access to the signals of the satellites that orbit the planet, allowing them to take exact coordinates of the previously identified points in the mosaic, to link them precisely and reducing their distortion as much as possible.


“Since i was little, I was curious about how nature worked,” says Allison Paz. “Why does the sky have that color? Or why does the rainbow come out after rainy days?”

She is the only woman who participates in the team in the field and tells us that, upon entering the Faculty of Physical Sciences, there were only 4 women of a little more than 50 people, less than 10%. In Peru, approximately 25% of students enrolled in careers related to Science and Technology are women.

Allison Paz and Jorge Nole participate in the project contributing their knowledge to develop this work. They are thesists from the National University of San Marcos, members of the Earth and Climate Sciences Research Group, who while working on this initiative continue to take relevant information for their thesis.

They collect spectral signatures from various surfaces (types of soil, crops, bodies of water) that will allow their rapid identification in the mosaic of satellite images.

“A spectral signature is like the fingerprint. The cotton plant, for example, has a unique spectral signature, we take it, process it and with that we can know how many cotton crops there are in Piura through satellite images,” explains Jorge Nole.

For Allison, this experience brings her closer to her dream of specializing in the analysis of agricultural surfaces through spectral signatures and satellite images.

“Being here today shows that both, men and women have the same abilities to develop professionally,” adds Allison. “A prejudice cannot knock down your dream.”

The baseline created with the satellite image mosaic is complemented by the library of spectral signatures, which allows identifying and quantifying information about the territory.

When the next El Niño Phenomenon comes, the mosaic will be updated and not only will the physical changes be observed, but we will be able to know, for example, how many hectares of rice crops have been affected, how many populated centers require help to take the right decisions and provide the appropriate actions having identified the work areas. All this information will be required with information from the National Statistics Institution population and housing census, specific evaluations that are made after the event and other official socio-economic sources.


To build resilient communities, it is necessary to put the emphasis on risk reduction. This means promoting a culture of prevention and coordination between local and regional authorities in a participatory manner with community groups. Resilience is a key factor in achieving sustainable development. Reducing the risks that communities face and empowering them is the way to ensure their full development. UNDP works from a resilience and risk management approach in a transversal way in all its interventions to achieve the 2030 Agenda.



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