Humanitarian aid is often required in situations requiring rapid decision making during complex or confusing emergencies, whether they are caused by major natural disasters, civil war, or gradually emerging processes. Those who are affected and unable themselves to cope with the catastrophe or crisis are always at the center of attention. Geoinformation obtained from satellite data can contribute in various ways to assessing and dealing with humanitarian issues and tasks which focus on the people who are the afflicted parties, or providing assistance, or responsible for the problem.
Supplying the population with food, water and shelter is always of prime importance, especially when people require special protection because they are refugees or internally displaced groups. Damage estimates and planning data are also important components of targeted humanitarian aid after warfare and in the context of reconstruction activities.
Satellite data can be used to find appropriate locations for refugee camps, or in general to support the logistics of relief efforts. Satellites can sometimes help to locate groups of people or refugee flows. And they can also be consulted when planning and monitoring reconstruction activities.
The team’s research concentrates on developing improved algorithms for automatic and semiautomatic image analysis and information extraction. An important aspect of this work is being in continuous dialog with actors and experts in the humanitarian aid sector, for example in workshops and training sessions in which the possibilities and limitations of earth observation in this area can also be discussed and demonstrated.
Complex global cause-and-effect chains, high density economic and population centers, and potential conflicts of interest between people, resources, the environment, socioeconomics, and ethnic groups, etc., lead time and again to local, regional and global security problems. Climate change, resource scarcity, population growth, and a widening of the gap between wealth and poverty are among the triggers and underlying causes for conflicts and crisis situations.
Among the issues involved are analyzing the causes of complex crisis situations in emerging economies and developing countries, and early identification of conflict situations in which geofactors play a role. Critical shortages of resources (water, agricultural yields, fossil energy raw materials, etc.) are particularly relevant.
Besides the geopolitical issues, monitoring and managing highly complex transportation systems and sensitive or critical infrastructure, police matters, confirming adherence to international agreements, and even the observance of human rights, are also aspects to be considered.
Challenges are, for example, situation awareness and representation, recording, visualizing and analyzing changes on the land surface at various spatial and temporal scales, detecting spatial patterns and relationships, deriving crisis indicators, identifying and monitoring specific critical infrastructure, population centers or other relevant geographic areas.
In order to analyze satellite data, the team develops methodologies and algorithms which in some cases involve the automatic processing of earth observation data. Special methods of change analysis and the GIS- and map-supported combining of remote sensing data with socioeconomic and other reference information to improve the assessment of complex crisis situations are developed. Improving the mapping of satellite information and visualization methodologies for crisis management (prevention, early detection and aftercare) are supplementary activities.