23 July 2013, Geneva, Switzerland - The 2013 session of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is being held in Geneva, where ECOSOC meets every other year.  UNITAR took part in the Innovation Fair of the Annual Ministerial Review, which this year put a spotlight on the role of science, technology and innovation, and the potential of culture in promoting sustainable development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Some examples of ground-breaking applications developed by UNOSAT and its partners were on display. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened officially the Innovation Fair and underlined that “this ECOSOC is about innovation and that is what we have all around us. Our world is moving to a more open and collaborative model of innovation thanks in large part to new technologies. They hold enormous potential as tools and enablers to promote sustainable development. We rely on innovators like you to unleash that potential.”

The Secretary-General stopped at the UNITAR booth to congratulate the UNOSAT Team. UNOSAT Manager Einar Bjorgo, who discussed with Mr. Ban Ki-moon, said “It is the second time this year that UNOSAT has the honour of receiving the visit of the Secretary-General. His genuine interest in what we do for the rest of the UN family is an encouragement for the entire team”.   

UNITAR showcased two examples of UNOSAT technology based solutions: water resources mapping using satellite remote sensing and the use of crowd sourcing and collaborative mapping in emergency response and disaster reduction.
Since 2012 UNOSAT and the Swiss Development Cooperation are engaged in implementing an innovative water management and capacity development activity in Chad with the ambitious aim of combining technology and learning to strengthen the national capacity in the area of water resources discovery, mapping and management. The project uses extensive radar and optical satellite technology to map water reserves that are not visible on the surface and contributes to mapping the entire water resources of the country for more efficient water management. Part of the project is designed to transfer the knowledge and techniques to national experts and also help the local University to develop academic curricula that include this innovative approach.

UNOSAT produces satellite derived mapping used by UN agencies for humanitarian relief, human rights and development planning. A set of highly innovative tools and solutions have been developed to allow citizen participation in these activities. In one example, citizens are collaborating with UN experts in the identification of deforestation in Brazil via a project called ForestWatchers. In another example, the ASIGN crowd-source app, developed by UNOSAT and AnsuR Technologies of Norway together with other partners, allows citizens worldwide to automatically upload and share geo-referenced pictures, videos, voice and other data. The application works on Android and iOS operating systems and has been tested by UNOSAT in operational contexts during natural disaster response in Haiti, Thailand, Pakistan, Nigeria and other countries, in combination with UNOSAT rapid mapping. The ASIGN solution won the 2012 ESA App Challenge for the best application idea for the use of mobile phones.

Photos (UNITAR): Above, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon discusses with the Manager of UNOSAT at ECOSOC. Below: UNOSAT experts in Geneva reach out to volunteers worldwide through web-based crowdsourcing.