Monitoring the UN SDGs

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) are a collection of 17 global goals set by the UN General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030. They cover a broad base of social, economic and environmental dimensions to improve peoples’ lives and protect the planet for future generations. Around the world, governments, the private sector, non-government organisations and individuals are working towards achieving the goals, as well as monitoring national progress against them.

Traditionally, monitoring of global goals such as the SDGs is a complex process, requiring intensive ground level data collection, computation and many levels of aggregations. However, in recent years, many development projects have begun to explore the use of satellites to monitor progress against the in UN SDGs. Projects have been developed using satellites to monitor air and water pollution levels, to monitor the growth of refugee camps, population trends, urban development and more. In this way, satellite information can help us to easily, remotely and often cost-efficiently report on changes to UN SDG indicators over time.

However, new programmes, including the UKSA International Partnership Programme (IPP), are going beyond using space technology to monitor the status of UN SDG indicators, and use space technology as a core delivery instrument in sustainable development projects. For an overview of the early results and impacts of IPP see the UK Space Agency’s IPP 3 Year Review.

For example:

  • Monitoring tree-cover to predict likely areas of future illegal deforestation to enable authorities to halt deforestation before it happens.
  • Monitoring weather, pests and diseases to provide targeted agricultural advice to reduce agro-chemical inputs and improve crop yields.
  • Providing small fishers with satellite enabled vessel tracking to improve search and rescue efforts in emergency situations.
  • Monitoring and predicting the impacts of natural disasters to allow first responders to better prepare for and respond to emergencies.
  • Providing more accurate renewable energy scenario planning tools to enable governments to make the transition away from fossil fuels.
  • Monitoring ‘tailings dams’, dams that contain by-products of mining operations to detect abnormal movement and mitigate risk of dam failure.
  • Monitoring marine pollution and predicting the dispersal paths of oil spills to allow for more timely, efficient and accurate clean-up efforts.

These initiatives are less focused on passively monitoring the UN SDGs and more focused on proactively contributing towards achieving them. They provide actionable intelligence for stakeholders that enables them to make proactive decisions about resource management in real time.

IPP uses Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) to answer the question of to what extent a satellite-enabled project is contributing to the SDGs. Projects have an M&E framework that is guided by UN SDG indicators which allows them to report on their contribution to relevant sustainable development targets. Reporting is done through project specific logical frameworks (logframes) which combines information from multiple sources – including satellite enabled data, ground truthing, community surveys, and government statistics – to clearly and effectively communicate project impacts. In these projects, satellite has a mixed role in SDG monitoring.

For example, in agricultural projects, the process of reporting on the productivity of food producers (UN SDG Indicator 2.3.1) is relatively straight forward but doesn’t rely on satellite data to answer the question of how crop yields have changed over time. This indicator has an internationally agreed on computation methodology for data collection and can be collected directly from the farmers and food producers that projects work with.

On the other end of the spectrum, in forestry projects, there is also an agreed methodology for calculating forest area as a proportion of total land area (SDG Indicator 15.1.1), however in this case satellites images are crucial data sources for these calculations (although the challenge of attributing forest change to a particular project is more complicated).

Typically, the reporting of data on these indicators is led by nation states, but increasingly non-state actors such as companies are playing a role and becoming an important actor in SDG monitoring. However, while companies gathering data and reporting on progress of their own contribution is a useful piece of the puzzle, it alone is not enough. Companies still lack effective mechanisms to be able to feed into national and global reporting structures for the UN SDGs. There are initiatives trying to set standards and clear processes for companies to disclose on their sustainability progress like the Global Reporting Initiative and the UN Global Compact, but none include detailed guidance on disclosure for the SDGs. At present, the best practice is for companies to set quantitative targets related to specific SDGs and disclose their activities and results publically.

Using Earth Observation for Disaster Resilience Planning and Policymaking

Each year natural disasters negatively impact hundreds of thousands of lives and lead to economic losses averaging US$250-300 billion per annum. These losses are often disproportionately high in developing countries that experience high-rates of poverty and rapid urbanisation, which pushes the most vulnerable into increasingly hazard-prone areas. Furthermore, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are challenged by a lack of resources to effectively understand risk, implement mitigation measures, and respond to disasters.

The METEOR project, funded through the International Partnerships Programme (IPP), is using satellite imagery to provide disaster management agencies with an improved understanding of exposure, hazard and vulnerability in specific geographies so that they can better estimate future losses from natural hazards and therefore understand the potential benefits of mitigation. Gaining access to the outputs of the METEOR project could lead to any number of subsequent actions to be taken, including land-use decisions, and building code adoption or enforcement decisions that reduce the annual probability of direct building damage, indirect social disruption, and loss of life. In addition, early post-event estimates can be used to prioritize search and rescue and the distribution of resources.

The METEOR project started in February 2018 and is planned to last for 3 years. In July, the METEOR project consortium came together in Edinburgh for the first of their annual learning events. The consortium is led by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and includes the Global Earthquake Model (GEM) foundation, Image Cat, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), flooding experts Fathom and M&E partners Oxford Policy Management (OPM). The meeting also included representatives from the international project partners for the two focus countries – the Nepal National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) and the Tanzanian Disaster Management Department of the Prime Minister’s Office (DMD, who joined remotely). Members of the project’s Advisory Board also took time away from their regular day jobs at World Bank, UNISDR and DFID to hear more about the progress made on the project and to share their feedback and recommendations on next steps.

The project focuses on geological hazards of specific significance within the two focus countries of Nepal (earthquakes, flooding and landslides) and Tanzania (earthquakes, flooding and volcanoes). A dedicated web portal which is currently under construction will host a number of datasets and maps produced by the METEOR consortium partners as well as protocols that will enable government agencies to keep information up to date and relevant beyond the IPP grant period. The aim is for METEOR outputs to be disseminated through a number of existing platforms and portals that government agencies already use rather than to duplicate the number of available data sources. A working group has also been established with members of the insurance sector to understand how METEOR outputs could also have commercial use cases and be integrated into existing business workflows to price new insurance products.

Over the coming months, the team will continue to engage in-country partners and will broaden their network to include relevant governmental agencies in the run-up to the delivery of training on the use of the outputs next year. This will include producing a number of communications materials customised to a variety of user needs to better explain how METEOR outputs can be taken up by in-country stakeholders. Over the longer term, the more partners can access and use the datasets for planning and practice, the more likely there will be changes in behaviour and policy that can mitigate the effects of natural hazards.

The IPP programme has a number of projects working to support improved disaster resilience, response and management (more details can be found here Caribou Space, the UKSA’s M&E partner, have written a report on how space technology has a critical role to play in this sector – the report can be found here.

Key Definitions[1]

Hazard: A process, phenomenon or human activity that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation.

Exposure: The situation of people, infrastructure, housing, production capacities and other tangible human assets located in hazard-prone areas. These can be combined with the specific vulnerability and capacity of the exposed elements to any particular hazard to estimate the quantitative risks associated with that hazard in the area of interest. In terms of the METEOR project, exposure focuses on buildings.

Vulnerability: The conditions determined by physical, social, economic and environmental factors or processes which increase the susceptibility of an individual, a community, assets or systems to the impacts of hazards.

[1] Oxford Policy Management definitions (2019)

International Partnership Programme at UK Space Conference

The IPP team would like to highlight the upcoming UK Space Conference being held from the 24th to 26th September at the ICC in Wales.

The UK Space Conference is well established as the most important and influential event for space in the UK. For the fifth time, this biennial event will bring together the UK and international space community from across government, industry and academia to exchange ideas, share plans, develop relationships and seek inspiration to thrive in the new space age. 

The conference will again provide unrivalled networking opportunities and build on the success of Manchester 2017 where 1,200 representatives and over 100 exhibitors took part. 

In addition to opportunities throughout to engage with organisations involved in IPP projects, two sessions dedicated to international development are scheduled: a ‘Space 101’ on IPP on Tuesday 24 September (0900-0930) and a parallel session on ‘How space is enabling international development’ on Thursday 26 September (1350-1430). 

See the programme here:

The conference will be well represented by individuals and organisations involved with the International Partnership Programme. We hope to showcase the successes of our programme and highlight the potential which space technology can offer to the development sector.

We look forward to seeing many of you there.

D-MOSS – Dengue MOdel forecasting Satellite-based System

D-MOSS is a dengue fever early warning system for Vietnam being developed by a consortium led by HR Wallingford and sponsored by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme. It will give beneficiaries several months advance warning of likely outbreaks of dengue fever. The system will also include a water assessment module that will provide the additional benefit of improving water management in Vietnam’s transboundary river basins.

D-MOSS will be the first fully integrated dengue fever forecasting system incorporating Earth Observation (EO) data and seasonal climate forecasts to issue dengue warnings on a routine basis.

The challenge : Before 1970 only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics. Today the disease is endemic in 141 countries, affecting 390 million people and with a global annual cost estimated at almost US$9 billion. Since 2000, there has been an increase of over 100% in the number of cases of dengue fever in Vietnam, and there is currently no system for forecasting future dengue outbreaks.

Our objective: Our objective is to develop a suite of innovative tools that will allow beneficiaries to: issue alerts for dengue and provide assessments of vector-borne disease risk under future climate and land‑use change scenarios. This will allow local communities to mobilise to eliminate mosquito-breeding sites thus reducing incidents of dengue. In combination with better outbreak response, we expect the project to contribute towards a reduction in dengue incidence over the project lifetime.

Our approach: The D-MOSS project is developing a forecasting system in which Earth Observation datasets are combined with weather forecasts and a hydrological model to predict the likelihood of future dengue epidemics up to eight months in advance. The D-MOSS system relies on open and non-proprietary software, where possible, and on a component-based flexible deployment into a set of platforms including cloud-based virtual storage. The D-MOSS project started in February 2018 and will end in February 2021. At the end of June 2019 we will be delivering D-MOSS version 1.0 to the Vietnamese stakeholders.

Project consortium : D-MOSS is funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme and led by HR Wallingford, working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the UK Met Office and Oxford Policy Management in the UK, and with the following international partners: the United Nations Development Programme, the World Health Organisation, the Vietnamese Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Climate Change, the Pasteur Institute Ho Chi Minh City, and the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Vietnam.

For a more detailed description of the project see here:

Speaking at the D-MOSS launch event that took place in Hanoi on the 19th March 2019, Mr Kamal Malhotra, United Nations Resident Coordinator said “Given the significant correlation between weather factors and dengue incidence, a combination of water availability forecasting and dengue outbreak prediction enabled by satellite technology is a great innovation. The project we are launching today is exciting in that it leverages global and local expertise from across disciplines and continents to harness data and experience to create early-warning systems and analytic tools that can help Viet Nam’s health systems roll-back dengue’s impacts both today and in the future.

The UK is an innovation powerhouse. Space technology is one of our strongest sectors and I am very pleased to see the UK Space Agency and partners introduce a novel and innovative tool to help Viet Nam to predict and respond to dengue outbreaks more confidently and efficiently. This project is evidence of the strong and continued commitment of the UK to support Viet Nam to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals”, highlighted by Mr Gareth Ward, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam.

Darren Lumbroso, D-MOSS Project Director from HR Wallingford, said: “We are delighted to be leading this ground-breaking project where, for the first time, an Earth Observation-based forecasting system will allow decision makers to identify areas of high risk for disease epidemics before an outbreak occurs, in order to target resources so as to reduce an epidemic spreading and to increase disease control“.

Attending the launching workshop, Ms H ‘Yim Kdoh, Vice Chairman of Dak Lak Provincial People’s Committee said, “The development of an early warning system for dengue will help the province to plan and prepare resources to be ready for better respond to the disease. This is also the expectation of the health sector, the Steering Committee for Disease Prevention and the Provincial People’s Committee“.

D-Moss Consortium Meeting in Vietnam

Monitoring Tailing Dams at Mines using Earth Observation

Members of the International Partnership Programme travelled to Peru recently to visit one of their IPP projects which is looking at how satellite technology can be used to monitor Tailings Dams in the highlands of Peru.

But what are tailings dams?

Tailings are the residual material leftover from the mining process and are often toxic and a major pollution threat. This material is stored behind a tailings damuntil the mining process is over and the land can be terraformed. The problem is that these dams are often unstable and prone to leaking pollutants and potential collapse. This risk was realised in the January 2019 when a tailings dam in Brazil collapsed leading to the tragic death of nearly 250 people.

Liz Cox (Head of International in IPP) at the project site where the ground sensors shown will detect potential movement in the dam

The UK Space Agency was in Peru to visit the DAMSAT project led by HR Wallingford. This project is using satellite radar and optical data with ground Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) sensors to monitor movements in these dams. Their intention is to create a tool which will give advance warning to the authorities, allowing them to take pre-emptive action when required. Further details can be seen on this video recently produced by HR Wallingford.

A key objective of this visit was to meet with all the project partners and the key stakeholders in Peru. The IPP team were also involved with a press conference in the Cajamarca region of Peru were the work is working. Mining is a significant part of the economy in Cajamarca and the IPP team were glad to see enthusiasm and engagement from our in-country partners. There is clearly a need for the project’s objectives and potential for positive impacts.

The project has issued a first release of its system which is being reviews by the project partners and stakeholders. By the end of the project in March of 2021 they intend on having be a fully operational system, able to monitor industrial tailings dams remotely and alert the relevant authorities to heighted risk and the areas of potential impact.

This project is one of three projects in Peru, with IPP having a total of 33 projects working in 37 countries, working on a range of issues. See our website for more details on these projects around the world.

Earth and Sea Observation System (EASOS)

At the outset of the EASOS project, the Satellite Applications Catapult, with a consortium of companies from both the UK and Malaysia, set out to provide an informed and coordinated decision-making capability to the Malaysian Government.  The information that EASOS would provide covered three focus areas:

  1. the reduction of degradation to the mangrove coastline by reducing marine pollution in the Malacca Straits,
  2. the reduction of the impact of illegal logging,
  3. and the reduction of the economic and social cost of flood events.

As the project closes, EASOS has developed a highly automated, replicable system that works across these three domains and can be scaled across multiple countries. The Marine Watch, Forest Watch and Flood Watch domains are tested, live and being used to support government decision making in these three vital areas.

It has already enjoyed success in many real-life situations including earlier this year, when EASOS Marine Watch automatically detected two separate oil slicks off the coast of Malaysia’s Johor district.  The detections helped to speed up the clean-up response of the marine authorities, and whilst work continues to estimate the likely financial and environmental benefit from just one of these averted environmental disasters, early estimates based on impact to fisheries, tourism, the marine ecosystem and clean-up along 13km of coastline could have exceeded RM 8m/£1.5m.

Oil Slick Detection in EASOS Marine Watch

EASOS Flood Watch also provided support to operational management of flooding events during the 2017-18 monsoon season, and EASOS services have been delivered daily by the Satellite Applications Catapult directly to the Malaysian authorities and have aided decisions to evacuate people from their homes on four separate occasions as a result of accurate alerts generated by EASOS.

EASOS has also significantly impacted UK organisations, enabling them to develop new products and services, and is set to grow the economy further due to investments made by the Catapult in exploring increasing geographic scope outside of the initial areas of interest in Malaysia, opening up EASOS to other new potential suppliers and providing an access to new international distributors.

For more information on the ongoing work of the EASOS project, visit

UK Space Agency IPP – Vivid Economics in Côte d’Ivoire

At the current rate of deforestation, Côte d’Ivoire could lose its entire forest cover by 2034. Despite forests becoming rare, deforestation rates remain high, and the remaining 3-4 million hectares of forest are mainly threatened by the allocation of more land to agriculture. The country is the world’s largest supplier of cocoa, with most production coming from smallholder, low productivity farmers, particularly in the southwest region, home to much of the country’s remaining forest resources.

As part of the International Partnership Programme (IPP), UKSA have funded a project with Vivid Economics which seeks to increase rural economic growth; increase the sustainability of, and producer participation in global supply chains; and enable maximum-impact reforestation in Côte d’Ivoire through the use of satellite-based information.

The aim is to drive two outcomes: improved monitoring and enforcement efforts that prevent forest loss and prioritise afforestation and better-targeted support to local economic development and sustainable supply chains through payment for ecosystem services (PES) schemes.

These two outcomes will be achieved with three foundational tools (called IMAGES) developed by Vivid Economics: a land use inventory, a natural capital valuation framework, and an early warning system that can monitor and anticipate deforestation. All three tools represent substantial improvements upon what is currently available, but the real benefit of the project lies in their combination and close integration into policy and regulatory activity. 

The project started in January 2017 and in November 2018 the operational system was officially adopted by and handed over to the Côte d’Ivoire Ministry of Development and Planning at a ceremony in Abidjan. 

During the visit the UKSA and Vivid teams also travelled to the Cavally forest area in the South East of the country and saw the forest rangers from SODEFOR using the IMAGES system to identify areas of illegal cocoa planting that they wouldn’t have found without using the alerts from the system, demonstrating the operational effectiveness of the tool.

The next steps in the project are that the system will hopefully be rolled out to cover the whole country and will be adopted by other Ministries to help them with their planning.

The IPP programme has a number of projects working to make an impact on deforestation (more details can be found here and Caribou Space, the UKSA’s M&E partner, have written a report on how space technology has a critical role to play in addressing major challenges within forestry in emerging and developing economies (forestry report here).

UK Space Agency IPP – Advanced Coffee Crop Optimisation for Rural Development (ACCORD)

Coffee farms and washing station, Rulindo region, Rwanda

ACCORD, led by Earth-i and co-funded from the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme (IPP), uses satellite-enabled data to improve the livelihoods and incomes of smallholder coffee farmers. In November 2018, the IPP team travelled to Rwanda to meet with the international partners who help deliver the project’s impacts.

Coffee is a crucial global commodity. With sales of coffee increasing around the world, the income of many of farmers is tied to the quality, as well as the quantity of the coffee they produce. Earth-i’s ACCORD project uses earth observation data to help farmers make timely, important decisions about crops with greater certainty than traditional methods. This supports the sustainability of coffee as a cash crop for smallholder farmers, and therefore their livelihoods, by enabling them to deliver a more reliable harvest of higher quality coffee.

November’s visit was an opportunity for the IPP team to meet with the project’s consortium partners to review the progress of the project so far, hear input from all the partners and discuss the next steps for the project.

During our visit, we met with three coffee companies who are actively involved in ACCORD; Kinini, Coffee management Service (CMS) and San Francisco Bay Coffee Company (SFBC). Their expertise and local knowledge ensure the project delivers real and positive impacts to the smallholder farmers using the technology.

Rwanda is a small country and 84% of it is covered with farming plots.  More than three-fifths of families working as farmers each cultivate less than 0.7 hectares. The ACCORD project has reached over 20,000 plots in both Rwanda and Kenya, with the intention to reach 50,000 small farming plots by the end of the project.

ACCORD is just one of many IPP projects using space-enabled data to support agriculture in developing countries.  This report by Caribou Space outlines why and how the space technology has a critical role to play in addressing major challenges within agriculture in emerging and developing economies.

A small coffee plot being mapped as part of the ACCORD project in Cyangugu region
Coffee drying beds and washing station in Cyangugu region

UK Space Agency IPP – A property database in Dakar City, Senegal

UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme has 33 IPP projects across 33 countries, with 122 private sector, academic and NGO organisations consortiums members and 112 international partners. See more details on the IPP projects here.

Dakar has a population estimated at 1.2 million with a rapid growth rate of 4%. The city is built on a peninsula with very little remaining land for urban development and so a lot of development is upwards. Due to lack of records and poor tax base identification only about 15% of the potential tax is currently collected. The challenge, therefore, is to support the city to generate the municipal revenue required to fund further urban services and infrastructure.

Figure 1: Dakar on a peninsula

The solution provided compares very high-resolution stereo imagery from the Pléiades satellites acquired on different dates. The imagery consists of an optical image as well as a height component (Digital Surface Model) to enable change detection of building growth (both horizontally and vertically). Therefore, for each land parcel, indicators of change identified in the satellite imagery will assist in the city’s land administration process and in particular to enable the Operational Maintenance of a Property Database to support property tax revenues.

Figure 2: 3D visualisation of building growth in Dakar

Airbus was successful in proving that the solution could map areas of property change in Dakar with a potential for generating around €73 million annual tax revenue for Dakar. Airbus is continuing discussions with the national government for funding an expansion of the service in Dakar and other Senegalese cities. Airbus has identified interest from other African cities including Accra, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Abidjan and Kampala.

In October 2018 the UK Space Agency and Caribou Space visited Dakar with Airbus. A multi-stakeholder workshop was hosted with a range of government organisations, including representatives from: the Ministry of Economics, Finance and Planning (including the principal stakeholders: the Cadastre Unit of the General Directorate of Taxes and Lands (DGID)); the Ministry of Higher Education and Research; the Municipal Development Agency; the National Mapping Directorate, which is part of the Agency for Spatial Planning; the State Informatics Agency; and, the Executive Council of Urban Transport in Dakar. A separate ministerial briefing with the Ministry of Higher Education and Research was supported by the British Ambassador to Senegal and, finally, a wrap-up was held with senior staff from DGID.

UK Space Agency IPP – HR Wallingford Tailings Dams Peru

UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme has 33 IPP projects across 33 countries, with 122 private sector, academic and NGO organisations consortiums members and 112 international partners. See more details on the IPP projects here.

A project with HR Wallingford is working to resolve is the issue of unstable and unsafe tailings dams in Peru. Tailings dams are earth embankments used to store toxic mine waste and effluent which can be more than 100m high. They are often constructed with steep slopes using the residual tailings to save on costs.

Their rate of failure is high, owing to inadequate design regulations and less rigorous construction methods than for normal water retaining dams. This can threaten populations downstream and adversely affect sensible environments. The rate of tailings dam failures is seen to be increasing, with 49% of serious tailings dam failures in the last 70 years occurring between 1990 and 2010 (Bowker and Chambers, 2015). Tailings dams often contain hazardous substances that can contaminate food chains and drinking water.

Funded by the UK Space Agency, HR Wallingford are working with a consortium from across the UK and Peru. The solution combines satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) interferometry and real-time Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) with a goal of achieving a high level of automation for dam monitoring. This technique will be less expensive and require less expertise to employ than existing monitoring. This tool will give government agencies the ability to monitor larger numbers of dams across remote regions and allow them to take proactive action and intervene.

During a recent visit to the UK from our Peruvian partners, the UK Space Agency was happy to host a meeting with representatives from Universidad Nacional de Cajamarca: Escuela de Ingeniería Hidráulica, Facultad de Ingeniería (National University of Cajamarca, School ofHydraulic Engineering and Faculty of Engineering), Fundación Nacional de Ingeniería Hidráulica (National Foundation for Hydraulic Engineering) and CIEMAM.

The UK Space Agency highly values the input of our international partners in our projects. Working with our Peruvian counterparts is essential for understanding the local context and the nature of the challenge. We value their expertise and commitment to the project.

More details on this project can be seen at –

References: Bowker, L.N.  and Chambers, D.M. (2015) The risk, public liability, and economics of tailings storage facility failures