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EU’s Copernicus Programme assists PH in emergency mapping for disasters

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By Roy Mabasa

Monitoring the Earth from outer space to make the world effectively understand and manage the environment, and allow people to be better prepared during calamities, are only some of the aspects of the European Union (EU)-funded Copernicus Programme that are vital for disaster-prone countries like the Philippines.

EU Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael de Bustamante (Facebook)

EU Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael de Bustamante (Facebook)

This was the gist of a high-level discussion at the 2nd National Conference on Space Programme Copernicus in Makati City on Thursday.

Copernicus is the EU’s Earth observation that aims to achieve a global, continuous, autonomous, high-quality, wide range, Earth observation capacity and provides accurate, timely, and easily accessible information to improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure civil security.

Shortly after the eruption of Taal Volcano last Jan. 12, acting EU Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael de Bustamante disclosed that the Copernicus Emergency Management Rapid Mapping module was activated by the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (DG ECHO) for mapping areas affected by ash fall close to the volcano.

A reference product was immediately produced that provided updated information on the settlements and transport infrastructure, to help users and the authorities in their crisis management tasks.

The Copernicus EMS was also utilized for Typhoon Mangkhut in September 2018. Emergency maps of 35 areas of interest were produced and used to support relief efforts on the ground.

In November 2013, less than six hours after Typhoon Haiyan (supertyphoon Yolanda) struck the country, the Copernicus Emergency Team was in action with 30 maps on hand. Damage assessment was promptly conducted in several towns and of individual buildings in Tacloban City through the acquisition of very-high-resolution optical imagery.

“Building on the foundations of deeply-rooted scientific knowledge and on decades of EU investment in research and technological development, the Copernicus Programme is a foundation of the European Union’s efforts to monitor the Earth’s from space, to ensure that institutions and citizens in Europe and across the globe become more effective in understanding our planet, sustainably manage the environment, and are better prepared and protected in the face of crises and natural disasters,” the EU official said.

Apart from disaster-related assessment data, the Copernicus data is also used by several organizations in the Philippines in areas like watershed management, agriculture, rice crop studies, community mapping, and others.

According to Bustamante, the EU’s Copernicus looks forward to sharing the benefits of and advancing cooperation in the Philippines on the use and application of Copernicus, considering the Philippines’ location being in the so-called “ring of fire” and regularly bracing against the strongest typhoons on the planet.

“Not only does the Philippines want to ensure its land and marine environment are healthy, but its citizens rightly demand resilience against the effects of climate change and natural disasters,” he said.

Apart from providing high-resolution global spatial coverage, the Copernicus Programme also promotes full, free, and open use of its information to all its users and the general public, tailored to the needs of specific groups of users, and covering a variety of economic and developmental activities from urban planning and marine protection to disaster reduction and management.

Among others, the data captured by orbiting satellites can be analyzed and processed in real-time to become weather forecasting, climatic, environmental, and geological monitoring information.

This functionality helps in determining upcoming rainfalls and temperature variations, as well as identifying land degradation, resource extraction, spread of insect borne-diseases, crop yields, or managing disasters, among other areas.

Since its operation in 2014, the EU has already invested Euro 9.6 billion in the Copernicus with an additional Euro 5.8 billion allocation proposed for 2021 to 2027.

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