The Challenge of Meeting Human Security Needs

A New Partnership between Imaging Notes and Secure World Foundation

For years we have been told that investments in Earth science and observations were not important enough, but now with the clear links we see between human security, national and global security, and climate change, we must work to maximize the capabilities of Earth observations.

In 2007, a few years after I became editor of Imaging Notes, I took on the exciting and daunting task of leading the Secure World Foundation (SWF), a Colorado-based operating foundation focused on building more effective international governance of space activities. One of SWF's key efforts centers on strengthening or developing the policies and institutions that improve the utility of space technologies in support of human and environmental security needs. Recognizing that Imaging Notes could assist in this effort, publisher/owner Myrna James Yoo and I agreed to form a partnership to further the coverage of these issues.

Imaging Notes, with the tagline, "Earth Remote Sensing for Security, Energy and the Environment," will focus more on topics that can loosely be grouped under the heading of human and environmental security. Long-time readers of the magazine will recognize that this editorial course is not an entirely new direction. Imaging Notes covered an International Polar Year project in Spring 2008. It has previously covered such topics as the use of Google Earth to highlight the environmental and human health hazards of mountaintop removal by coal interests in West Virginia and to reveal efforts by the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Google to help people view and understand the genocide in Darfur (Summer 2007).


The magazine has also broken stories on direct imagery evidence of concentration camps in North Korea (Summer 2005), on first images of the Chinese nuclear submarine (Winter 2005-06), and on the destruction of the Gaza Strip in Palestine (Fall 2004). Also, it has highlighted the efforts of SPOT Image, Inc. and its partners in Planet Action to use its significant data archive to support projects on the study of global environmental change around the planet (Summer 2007).

We will continue to solicit informative articles on the "what, wherefore, and how to" of meeting human and environmental security needs, and we will be adding the dimensions of international policy—legal and institutional mechanisms needed for ensuring that the benefits of space activities reach people effectively and efficiently.

Human security is a concept that was developed out of the experiences of the Cold War in which major power politics very often rode roughshod over the needs of individuals, communities, and small states. Proponents of the human security approach assert that in tackling security, rather than focusing effort and wealth on territorial security, development efforts should instead focus on people. As articulated in a major 1994 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report, the concept involves seven aspects of human existence: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, community security, personal security and political security. None of these loosely-defined concepts is independent of the others. Indeed, each depends upon the others in complex, sometimes surprising ways.

Earth observing systems, telecommunications systems, and satellite position, navigation, and timing (PNT) systems (e.g., the U.S. Global Positioning System) all have a role in improving human security throughout the world. These space systems are essential in supporting all seven of these security aspects.

The increased global transparency provided by high resolution optical space systems like GeoEye-1, Worldview-1, Cartosat, and Spot 5 now makes it possible to assess environmental conditions following natural disasters and to monitor humanitarian disasters on a nearly daily basis. Moderate resolution systems like Landsat, CBERS (see Fall 2008 article), and the Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC) provide the needed moderate resolution data to follow long-term trends over large regions. With moderately high spatial resolution and high time resolution capabilities, the new RapidEye constellation fills a critical gap in transparency by covering nearly any region once a day. Radarsats 1 & 2 and TerraSAR provide high resolution radar coverage at night and through clouds.

Mission: Secure World Foundation promotes the development of cooperative and effective use of space systems for the protection of the Earth’s environment and human security.

Now as never before the world community operates sufficient numbers and varieties of satellite systems to make an enormous positive difference in the lives of billions of people around the world. The benefits to society worldwide are potentially very great. Yet in order to deliver these benefits efficiently and effectively, space systems operators will have to be better organized, and they will have to develop the appropriate tools to turn data into useful information and appropriate services. They will also have to collaborate more deeply and effectively with satellite and ground systems operators around the world.

The European program of Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) is a major step toward creating unified applications that integrate the output of space systems with more traditional, detailed local-scale data and information. This program is a major collaborative effort by the European Union and the European Space Agency. In the coming year, in addition to data collected from ground-based sensors and contributing satellites, GMES will include four "sentinel satellites" providing data for some 18 specific applications designed to support Europe's needs for accurate information about the planet.

In 2003, the United States led an effort to create a global organization that would do very much the same thing on a global scale, initiating the Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS). Some 74 State members and 51 Participating Organizations now contribute data and information to GEOSS, an effort that is coordinated by a secretariat located in Geneva. We urge the Obama Administration to assert strong leadership in this organization and help it fulfill its enormous potential in assisting development and reducing human suffering around the globe.

As one of the world's leaders in satellite Earth observations, the U.S. faces a moral imperative to focus more on applying the power of these systems to real world problems than it has in the past. Links between NASA and National Science Foundation and the applications agencies like NOAA and USGS are often broken or very weak. Repairing the weaknesses in the U.S. system will require greater investment and a greater effort by the applications agencies. U.S. AID could play a critical role in bringing U.S. technologies to the world by applying the power of space systems to human security needs in the poorest countries.

For years we have been told that investments in Earth science and observations were not important enough, but now with the clear links we see between human security, national and global security, and climate change, we must work to maximize the capabilities of Earth observations. The new U.S. administration appears to be committed to putting greater energy into the scientific study of global change and into efforts to slow its worsening effects.

With its partnership with Secure World Foundation, this magazine is devoted to assisting that effort with timely, insightful applications articles on solutions to human security needs. Future issues will cover the roles of satellite observations and geospatial technologies in understanding and responding to global change, in natural disaster mitigation and response, and in preventing the sorts of manmade disasters that directly harm human security.



By Ray Williamson, PhD, Editor


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