Project Title EO4HumEn: EO-based services to support humanitarian operations: monitoring population and natural resources in refugee/IDP camps

Project partners:

  • Paris-Lodron University of Salzburg, Interfaculty Department of Geoinformatics – Z_GIS, Salzburg, Austria [Project leader]
  • Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Austria, Programme Department
  • Paris-Lodron University of Salzburg, Department of Geography and Geology, Salzburg, Austria
  • University Tübingen, Department of Geography, Germany [Subcontractor]

Funding: Austrian Research Promotion Agency (German: Österreichische Forschungsförderungsgesellschaft or FFG) under the Austrian Space Applications Programme (ASAP 9, Nr. 840081)

Duration: October 2013 – March 2016

Budget: 475,000 €

Project objectives:

The overall objective of the EO4HumEn project is to develop operational, EO-based services and products in support to humanitarian action and relief support.

The products will be developed in line with user requirements, which are being assessed and defined within the project.

From a technical point of view robust, automated methods of image analysis routines should be developed for population estimation, identification of potential groundwater extraction sites and monitoring the environmental impact of refugee/IDP camps. The derived products will be technically validated and provided via a web-portal for visualization.

Overall concept of the EO4HumEn project:

With respect to the need for (geo-)information, humanitarian relief activities can be divided into three phases: (1) emergency relief, (2) care and maintenance (monitoring) and (3) repatriation/resettlement (rehabilitation). These phases come along with different needs: (1) short-term needs (0-6 months) during the emergency relief phase, (2) mid-term needs (0.5 to 5 years) during the care and maintenance phase and (3) long-term needs (> 5 years) during the care and maintenance as well as the repatriation or resettlement phase.

The EO4HumEn project aims at addressing such short- and mid-term needs.

When taking on a humanitarian mission the relief community often has only very limited knowledge of the area, the number of people involved, their distribution, and condition, etc. As a result, in the emergency phase, information about the population in need (i.e. population numbers, densities, camp size) and potential (ground) water resources in the vicinity are urgently required (short-term needs).

Rapid population expansion within an area and an increase in refugee/IDP activities such as firewood collection, use of water sources, agricultural activities, etc. often lead to overexploitation of natural resources and put enormous pressure on the environment. Particularly in areas where livelihoods and food security depend on the availability of natural resources, changes in land use / land cover (LULC) may lead to conflicts over resources, especially if the resource base is already overexploited. Therefore, during the care and maintenance phase, it is crucial to assess the impact of refugee or IDP camps on the surrounding environment (mid-term need).

Most camps are highly dynamic in nature. Camp populations increase or decrease within short time frames, and people tend to resettle within the camp. The specific dynamics of such camps require adaptive monitoring capacities which provide updated information concerning the structure of the camp, population characteristics as well as environmental changes in the vicinity of the camp.

Stefan Lang
in Team Z_GIS

Stefan Lang, PhD, is Geographer, GIS and Remote Sensing specialist by training and currently Associate Professor at the Interfaculty Department of Geoinformatics (Z_GIS) at the University of Salzburg in Austria. He is heading the Z_GIS Division Integrated Spatial Analysis (ISA). Active in the fields of advanced geo-spatial image analysis, EO-based monitoring and spatial indicator integration, he works on cutting-edge research fields on both conceptual and applied level. His research interests include: object-based (image) analysis (OBIA), systemic and hierarchical scale concepts, multi-source data integration, multi-dimensional indicator development, multi-scale regionalization and generalization, validation and accuracy.

Stefan has initiated the long-lasting collaboration between Z_GIS and MSF Austria and is coordinating the EO4HumEn project.

Petra Füreder
in Team Z_GIS

Petra Füreder has been providing EO-based information products of refugee and IDP camps to MSF since 2011 and is responsible for coordinating the operational requests from MSF.

She is holding a Master’s degree in Applied Geoinformatics and is working as researcher at the Department of Geoinformatics – Z_GIS, Salzburg University since 2008. She has been involved in a range of national and EU funded research projects in the field of humanitarian operations, environmental monitoring and emergency response. Her research interests include development of automated image classification methods using object-based image analysis (OBIA), cartography and visualization.

Within the EO4HumEn project Petra is supporting the project management and coordinating the work related to population estimation.

Lorenz Wendt
in Team Z_GIS

Lorenz Wendt, PhD, is geologist and remote sensing specialist. He worked as a subsoil investigator for large infrastructure projects, and later received a Master’s degree in GIS and remote sensing and worked on the geological interpretation of hyperspectral remote sensing data of planet Mars during his doctorate studies. His research interests are the application and development of remote sensing to address geological and environmental topics. He works at University of Salzburg’s Department of Geoinformatics (Z_GIS), and acts as the link between the worlds of geological science and GIS for the exploration of potential groundwater extraction sites around refugee and IDP camps. He is also involved in environmental impact assessments and coordinates the systematic preprocessing of remote sensing data.

Dirk Tiede
in Team Z_GIS

Dirk Tiede PhD, is Geographer, specialized in GIS and Remote Sensing. As a senior researcher at the Interfaculty Department of Geoinformatics (Z_GIS), University of Salzburg, Austria he is coordinating the working group OBIA. He is involved in a range of national and EU-funded research projects in the field of environmental and humanitarian applications, specialized in image analysis using EO data and OBIA, GIS application development and GIS modelling. Dirk is teaching at university level and is lecturing distance-learning modules within the UNIGIS network. His personal research focuses on object-based information extraction, especially in support of humanitarian operations, for which he received the Christian-Doppler-Award of the Federal State of Salzburg in 2014.
Within the EO4HumEn project Dirk is supporting the methodological developments of EO data pre-processing and object-based feature extraction.

Edith Rogenhofer
in Team MSF

Edith Rogenhofer started to work in the humanitarian field in 1991 and is working since 1998 with MSF. She has mainly worked in projects in Africa, with a few stints in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The majority of the projects have been projects in complex emergencies, focusing on water supply and sanitation in camp settings and rural areas. She is holding an MSc in Water management as well as diploma in drilling.
She is contracted since 2011 by MSF-Austria as WatSan consultant in the Delegate and Programme Department with the specific task to develop and integrate GIS applications in MSFs work and to liaise with the projects.
Within the EO4HumEn project Edith is coordinating the work related to user requirements and user validation.

Jörg Robl
in Team Department of Geography & Geology, University Salzburg

Jörg Robl, PhD, Assistant Professor at Department of Geography & Geology at the University of Salzburg, Austria has a strong focus on the analysis of spatial data and time series with GI-systems, numerical modeling of geological surface and subsurface processes in different spatial and temporal scales and their feedbacks, code development of models for long term erosion, rock-fall, debris flows, avalanches and a series of hydrological tools, mapping of geological, hydrological und geomorphological inventory as well as on visualization of spatial structured and unstructured 2D and 3D data and time series.

Within the EO4HumEn project Jörg is supporting the work related to groundwater exploration.

Sylke Hilberg
in Team Department of Geography & Geology, University Salzburg

Sylke Hilberg PhD, Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography & Geology at the University of Salzburg, Austria has a strong focus on geological and hydrogeological mapping, hydrogeology of porous groundwater bodies and fractured hard rock aquifers, hydrogeological modeling, hydrochemistry and hydrochemical modeling as well as on environmental assessment studies for infrastructural projects.

Within the EO4HumEn project Sylke is coordinating the work related to groundwater exploration.

Volker Hochschild
in Team University Tübingen

Volker Hochschild is Professor of Geoinformatics at the Geographical Institute of Tuebingen University since 2004. His major research subjects are multisensoral remote sensing, web-based spatial data bases, qualitative compilation of environmental risks and vulnerabilities using integrative assessment methods and indices as well as GIS-based management recommendations for natural resources. He has published 35 refereed papers (> 160 in total) and headed several national and international research projects (DFG, BMBF, BMWi, EU, State of Baden-Wuerttemberg).

Andreas Braun
in Team University Tübingen

Andreas Braun is a PhD student at the Department for Geography at University of Tübingen, Germany. He studied Geoinformatics and Landscape System Sciences (M.Sc.) and participated in various international research projects on Global Change, ecosystems and natural resources. His research interests include radar remote sensing, agent-based modeling and geographical information systems as well as their application on landscape ecology and biodiversity.
Within the EO4HumEn project Andreas is working on SAR data of TerraSAR-X, ALOS PALSAR and Sentinel-1 in order to support environmental impact assessments and groundwater exploration.

A key methodology used in the EO4HumEn project is object based image analysis (OBIA), which aims at automating image analysis and developing transferable classification routines.

Over the last decade, new EO techniques and concepts from GIScience have led to the emerging field of OBIA. The main purpose of OBIA in the context of
remote sensing applications is to provide adequate and automated methods for the analysis of HR and VHR imagery by describing the imaged reality using spectral, textural, spatial and topological characteristics. OBIA offers a methodological framework for machine-based interpretation of complex classes taking into account multiple properties of image objects. In many application domains, OBIA was pushed by the advent of fine resolution image data providing a high resolution situation, where the pixel size is significantly smaller than the average size of the object of interest. In this case, segmentation as a means of regionalization is an efficient means of aggregating the high level of detail and producing usable objects. Spatial properties like size, form, neighbourhood, context, scale and hierarchy are utilized for better exploiting imagery and other image-like continuous data. Advances in sensor technology and new processing methods (e.g. grid computing) have strongly supported the maturing of OBIA. Today, driven by international programmes and initiatives like GEO (Group on Earth Observation) or GMES/Copernicus, the provision of imagery should no longer be a bottle-neck per se (leaving aside specific requirements such as real time provision, particular detail or atmospheric conditions). The bigger challenge, instead, is information extraction and the provision of added-value products with constant quality, reliability, high transferability and re-usability of algorithms and rule sets as well as a clear validation concept.

Within the EO4HumEn project OBIA methods are being developed tested and applied for automated extraction of dwelling structures, land use/land cover (LULC) classifications as well as for change analysis. Potential locations for groundwater extraction will be identified based on Earth observation data and auxiliary data. In this context the EO4HumEn project aims at integrating different data sources and developing (semi-automated) methods for identifying relevant geological structures (i.e. lineaments).

The accuracy of the results will be assessed by the producers taking into account ground reference data provided by the user.

The developed products are being provided as maps, online web services, reports and will be fully validated by the user in terms of their relevance and usability.