GEO Contributes to UN Resolution on Geospatial Information and Services for Disasters

Earth observations data to support UN-Habitat on sustainable urban development


Based on the GEOSS Open Principles, the GEO partners provide open access to data and related activities range from monitoring human settlements to air pollution and the role of wetlands in cities. As well as enabling global, free resources for researchers and policy makers, GEO is also contributing to policy with respect to SDG 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities and the New Urban Agenda, for example assessing land use change against population growth.

Supporting sustainable urbanization requires up-to-date and accurate data to support informed actions. To promote transformative change in cities and human settlements, Earth observation and geospatial information and knowledge can help provide a clear understanding of human settlement systems (and needs) in diverse contexts.  

Over the last 5 years, UN-Habitat has been collaborating with different GEO Work Programme activities, particularly EO4SDG, GEO Human Planet Initiative (HPI) and Global Urban Observation and Information (GUOI). These collaborations range from methodological developments to production of global baseline datasets and building capacities of countries to adopt emerging EO & GI technologies and adopt them in urban monitoring processes.

 “Earth observation data and information are key to understanding the changing trends in human settlements, especially in urban areas, where majority of the world population lives today.… We welcome engagement with the GEO community, which will provide relevant and near real-time geospatial and EO data and help us appreciate changes in more than 10,0000 urban settlements globally. This data and information will significantly shape our understanding and actions in support of sustainable urbanization, and also help countries to make informed development decisions.” Dennis Mwaniki, Spatial Data Expert, Global Urban Observatory / Data and Statistics Unit, UN-Habitat.

GEO Human Planet Initiative: Spatial Modelling of Impact, Exposure and Access to Resources

Image by Alex Stuart
Image by Alex Stuart

The GEO Human Planet Initiative is developing a new generation of measurements and information products that provide new scientific evidence and a comprehensive understanding of humanity’s effects around the globe. This data is supporting global policy processes with agreed, actionable and goal-driven metrics. The Initiative relies on a core set of partners committed in coordinating the production of the global settlement spatial baseline data. 

The core partnership involved in the global baseline data production are the European Commission, Directorate General Joint Research Center (DG JRC), Global Human Settlement Layer project (GHSL), the University of Southampton WorldPop project, and the Columbia University, Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). The extended partnership involves more than 150 individual scientists and policy makers belonging to 85 different organizations including UN-Habitat, academies, international stakeholders, governmental bodies and commercial sector organisations.

The initiative promotes cooperation in producing and harmonizing high quality data products and services needed by a range of scientific and applied users. It works to improve data access, timeliness, consistency, and utility; support data use and interpretation; identify and address pressing user needs; reduce duplication and user confusion; and encourage innovation and cross-disciplinary use. The Human Planet Initiative brings expertise and perspectives from diverse natural, social, health, and engineering science disciplines and sectors.

 For more information click here 


Global Human Settlement Layer: an open and free tool for assessing the human presence on our planet

Image by NASA

The Global Human Settlement (GHSL) produces global spatial information about the human presence on the planet over time. This in the form of built-up area maps, population density maps and settlement maps. This information is generated with evidence-based analytics and knowledge using new spatial data mining technologies. The GHSL data and tools are applied to the monitoring the implementation of international frameworks and for sustaining scientific research requiring consistent and open planetary data.

In 2017, GHSL was applied to the Global Definition of Cities and Settlements. The GHSL is the common baseline data used for testing alternative use of urban vs. rural definitions, contributing to a global, people-based concept that has been under discussion with the UN statistical commission.

In 2018, Spatiotemporal activity and population mapping in Europe (ENACT) used GHSL tools applied to European data. It demonstrated the capacity to produce monthly and nightly/daily maps of population density and how such maps can be used for crisis management.

The framework uses numerous different data sources including global archives of fine-scale satellite imagery, census data, and citizen generated data. The data is processed fully automatically, analytics are generated and knowledge reporting is objectively and systematically carried out relating to the presence of population and built-up infrastructures.

The initiative is producing new global spatial information, evidence-based analytics and knowledge describing the human presence on the planet. It operates under an open, free data and methods access policy, relying on open input, open methods and open output. Supported by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the DG for Regional Development (DG REGIO) of the European Commission, together with the international partnership,  the GEO Human Planet Initiative, this data is freely available to assist researchers and policy makers with their online tools and data.

Image by Ishan @seefromthesky
Image by Alex Wigan
Image by Ishan @seefromthesky
Image by Ishan @seefromthesky
Image by Ishan @seefromthesky

POPGRID provides population, settlement and infrastructure data to support SDG 11 Smart Cities


Spatially accurate and up-to-date population and settlement data are widely used in planning and decision making in both the public and private sectors to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of decisions, monitor impacts, and identify those who might otherwise be left behind.


The POPGRID Data Collaborative brings together the international community of data providers, users, and sponsors concerned with georeferenced data on population, human settlements and infrastructure.

POPGRID is currently supported by Columbia University Earth Institute's Cross-Cutting Initiatives and by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is an element of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Human Planet Initiative (HPI) and is coordinated by CIESIN, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data  (GPSDD) and UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (SDSN TReNDS).

The current work stream includes:

  • Improving accessibility and documentation of data sets and data services

  • Comparing and contrasting methods and implications of different data sources

  • Convening technical experts from the geospatial and demographic communities at events and conferences worldwide

  • Developing an comparison report and tool that clarify how different data sets fit different needs for statisticians, policymakers, development practitioners, and other applied users

Understanding where people live and work, and the type and condition of their housing and other infrastructure, is critical in times of disaster, enabling emergency responders to reach those most in need more quickly with appropriate assistance. Such data is helping to improve access to public and private services, increase the sustainability of natural resources, and facilitate progress towards meeting the internationally accepted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

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Use of Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 imagery to analyse security issues affecting Rohingya refugees

Image by NASA
Image by NASA

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic group from Myanmar that, since 2017, have been forced to look for asylum in the neighbouring country of Bangladesh. Bangladesh policy makers started construction of refugee camps in several remote islands, one of them known as Char Piya. An analysis of the area using satellite imagery was considered a key tool to have a clear view of the situation as satellite imagery provides data for analysing the impact of refugee movements to the islands.

SatCen started analysing the area making use of Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 images acquired between 2017 and 2018; in particular automatic change detection algorithms were applied on Sentinel-1 images. This made it possible to clearly see the situation in the island over time and detect the changes due to human activity. In particular it was possible to observe, the development timeline during which the camp was reconstructed.

Initially this was possible due to the first clearing of the vegetation and the increase of boat traffic from mainland. The activities continued with digging to construct a flood protection wall and also roofs of the completed houses in the refugee camp became visible. Sentinel-1 images were very useful during the monsoon period where clouds covered the entire areas, as the SAR observations allowed to define the flooded areas of the island.

The analysis on Char Piya supported the EU Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP), the organised and agreed foreign policy of the EU for security and defence diplomacy. CFSP preserves peace and strengthens international security, in accordance with the UN charter principles.

This study falls within the SatCen activities for the Space and Security Community Activity, using Earth observation satellite data to address security issues aiming at protecting citizens’ safety. The analysis exercise was done in line with the GEO vision, using open data and fostering an open knowledge approach.