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Ref: UN disaster management program based in space

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Recent launch of United Nations platform for Space-based information for Disaster Management, Emergency Response (SPIDER) hailed in Fourth Committee





GA/SPD/380

Sixty-second General Assembly
Fourth Committee
11th Meeting (PM)

Delegates Stress Benefits for Disaster-Prone States, Including Tsunami Early Warning, Potential to Enhance Global Coordination, But Call for More Resources

Meeting today to continue its general debate on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) commended the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs for progress made on the recently inaugurated United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (SPIDER), but suggested that efforts were still needed to coordinate its work and to regulate emerging uses of space.

India's representative said that, since Sputnik had been launched into orbit 50 years ago, the United Nations and its Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space had made significant contributions to strengthening international space cooperation and to maintaining the peaceful character of outer space. He urged the international community to redouble its efforts to ensure that a peaceful space remained the common heritage of mankind.

Touching specifically on SPIDER, several speakers emphasized the benefits that programme could provide to disaster-prone countries, particularly those in the developing world. Recalling the monstrous tsunami of 2004, the representative of Thailand, who spoke on behalf of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the kind of satellite technology made available through SPIDER was an essential component of the tsunami early warning project being developed in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia.

Stressing the need to capitalize on the momentum generated by SPIDER's creation, the speaker from Germany said her country believed the programme offered enormous potential to enhance global coordination efforts in disaster management and was financially supporting its Bonn office. Additional resources were needed, however, and she appealed to Committee members to support the efforts of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) to obtain additional resources.

The representative from Sudan, whose country would host a meeting on SPIDER in December, said his Government would exert maximum effort, cooperation, skills, experience and knowledge, in order to benefit from space technology and scientific achievements, and mitigate, actively control and manage disasters.

At the same time, however, he emphasized -- like many other speakers -- that SPIDER should operate with full transparency and, despite the big gap between developing and developed countries in space technologies, developing countries should be able to fully participate in accessing information and consultation.

Other delegates suggested that greater coordination in space law would be necessary in the future. Noting that space law was one of the newest branches of international law, the representative of the Russian Federation said that such a body of law should be developed in a rigorous manner that kept pace with the latest advances in space applications. In the long term, a comprehensive convention on space law under the aegis of the United Nations should be developed.

For its part, China had invoked a principle in the Outer Space Treaty, when Chinese courts had handled their first outer-space-related case. China's representative said that the courts had ruled against the Beijing Lunar Village Company, which had tried to sell land on the moon, thus reaffirming the Treaty's provision that bodies in outer space were not subjected to ownership claims.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Kazakhstan, Saint Lucia, Portugal (on behalf of the European Union), Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and Philippines.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 29 October, to conclude its discussion on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, and to begin its consideration of the effects of atomic radiation.

Background

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its debate on international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. The report before the Committee is summarized in yesterday's Press Release GA/SPD/379.

Statements

CHEN PEIJIE ( China) said the international community needed to think about where space activities were headed. Negotiating an international legal instrument to prevent the weaponization of, and an arms race in, outer space should be of prime importance.

She said that, at the annual session of the Conference on Disarmament in 2007, China and the Russian Federation informally circulated among some Member States a draft treaty on the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space and the threat or use of force against outer space objects. That treaty would oblige States not to place into orbit, around the Earth or other celestial bodies, any objects carrying weapons. States would also be obliged not to resort to the threat or use of force against outer space objects, and not to assist or encourage other States or international organizations to participate in activities prohibited by the treaty. Also by the draft treaty's provisions, States would be obliged to prevent such activities from taking place on their territories or in any other place under their jurisdiction. China had received positive feedback on the treaty, and looked forward to receiving the support of more States.

As for China's outer space initiatives, China and Russia had signed an agreement on the joint exploration of Mars in 2009, she said. It had also successfully launched a self-developed navigation satellite, BeiDou, which would provide navigation and positioning services to users in China and neighbouring regions by 2008. This year, it exported a civilian communications satellite to Nigeria, and also signed on to the international charter "Space and Major Disasters" at the European Space Agency headquarters. In addition, China and Brazil launched a satellite that would be used to produce remote sensing images to benefit agricultural development, environmental protection and monitoring, urban planning and land resource surveys.

She reported that the Convention of Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization had entered into force on 12 October 2006, with nine signatory States parties. Meanwhile, China was getting ready to establish a Beijing office of UN-SPIDER (United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response), and would continue to provide robust support to that Office. The Chinese courts had also handled their first outer space-related case, ruling against the Beijing Lunar Village Company, which had tried to sell land on the moon. The court had invoked a principle in the Outer Space Treaty (Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies), which said that bodies in outer space were not subjected to ownership claims, thus reaffirming that no State, individual or legal person had the right to claim ownership of the Moon.

BYRGANYM AITIMOVA ( Kazakhstan) noted that her country was home to Baikonur (Cosmodrome), the world-renowned space launching pad. Kazakhstan had also recently adopted a State programme that would lay the basis for the production of national spacecrafts. Last year, it put its first national geostationary communications and rebroadcasting satellite into orbit, and would launch a second one soon. Kazakhstan was also planning to build ground command and control infrastructure and facilities, where it would train and develop national cadres.

She added that Kazakhstan was engaged in several regional partnerships on space activities. It intended to build a space rocket complex, Baiterek, with regional partners, and was considering developing a second space complex, Ishim, to launch smaller spacecraft for civilian applications. In addition, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine had signed an agreement on the use of the Baikonur launching pad for peaceful purposes.

On the subject of environmental disasters, she said that Kazakhstan was currently faced with the drying of the Aral Sea. The ability to use space technology to monitor that body of water would become increasingly important as time went by. Recognizing the importance of international treaties and norms regarding the peaceful uses of outer space, Kazakhstan had ratified the Outer Space Treaty. It was also a party to the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, and the Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space. She commended the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for its contribution to the development of space law, adding that the Committee should retain its lead role in strengthening international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space.

MICHELLE JOSEPH ( Saint Lucia) said she was heartened by discussions on the possible establishment of an international body to coordinate the use of space-based services in disaster management. Such a service would be significant for small island States, as that could bolster their disaster preparedness, and help reduce injury and lead to fewer lives lost in hurricanes and cyclones.

She pressed the international community to avert a possible "orbital crisis" resulting from space debris smashing into spacecrafts. The science section of the The New York Times last February had highlighted the growing apprehension of many space experts, and many scientists had advised that the number of objects -- such as dead satellites, spent rocket stages and other items -- had surpassed critical mass. In that regard, she applauded the efforts of the working group on space debris in developing draft space debris mitigation guidelines.

She congratulated the Government of Ecuador for successfully convening the fifth space conference of the Americas, which had addressed a myriad of issues of relevance to Latin America and the Caribbean, including international space law, reduction and mitigation of natural disasters, protection of the environment, tele-health, space education and access to technology. A major recommendation emanating from the conference had been the invitation for regional States to establish national space entities as a precursor to a regional body for space cooperation. She applauded Colombia's initiative in assisting the pro tempore secretariat, and looked forward to further progress at the sixth space conference.

RAMESHWAR ORAON ( India) said that, since the Sputnik became the first man-made object to orbit the Earth 50 years ago, the United Nations and its Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space had made significant contributions to strengthening international space cooperation and to maintaining the peaceful character of outer space. India, which had participated at the Committee's fiftieth session, had been delighted that consensus had been reached in subcommittee on accepting the space debris mitigation guidelines document.

He said that the Indian space programme itself continued to prioritize the use of space technology for socio-economic development. In January, India launched four satellites, and its network of "Village Resource Centres" acted as delivery points for space-based products and services like tele-education, tele-medicine, and interactive advisories on agriculture, fisheries, land management, livestock and water resources management.

India's space activity had an important international component, he said. In January, it had held a workshop on tele-medicine's role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, as well as the International Astronautical Congress at Hyderabad, in September. India had also been sharing its expertise in space technology through the Asia and Pacific Centre for Space Science and Technology Education, affiliated with the United Nations, which had hosted as many as 708 scholars at its workshops.

He urged the international community to redouble its efforts to ensure that space remained the common heritage of mankind for peaceful uses, and to avoid its weaponization. It was also important that guidelines be developed to regulate the availability of high-resolution imagery of sensitive areas on the Internet, since they could be misused by irresponsible actors.

JORGE DE LEMOS GODINHO (Portugal), on behalf of the European Union, said the peaceful use of outer space and the use of space applications were critical, and could be a great benefit to all humankind in a number of areas, including the Millennium Development Goals in terms of environmental protection and poverty eradication, as well as the goals of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, through earth observation and telecommunication. The Unionwas conscious of the international community's growing involvement in outer space activities for development and progress, and States' increasing dependence on space for economic and scientific development and security. All States bore the responsibility to ensure that space activities were realized in ways that maintained peace and security, and prevented an outer space arms race.

He noted that the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space had made progress in a number of important areas. The steps undertaken to put the SPIDER programme in place had been welcome. Two areas of particular importance to the European Union were commercialization and pollution of outer space. Commercial activities should be dealt with through appropriate international and national legal frameworks. The risk posed by space debris to all space activities was of considerable concern to both space-faring and non-space-faring nations, and the Unionwelcomed the outer space Committee's recent endorsement of the space debris mitigation guidelines.

The European Union believed that continued cooperation in space science and space technology was essential, he continued. Thus, it had adopted a European space policy aimed at increasing coordination among its member States and relevant bodies. Its strategic mission would be based on peaceful space exploration. Two examples of its involvement in international cooperation were the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), which aimed to achieve a common way of harmonizing Earth observation information, and Galileo, a global satellite navigation system.

Recognizing the growing convergence of views on strengthening transparency, confidence and security in the peaceful use of space, the Union had voted unanimously on several General Assembly resolutions that would increase transparency and prevent an outer space arms race, he noted. It had also proposed a comprehensive code of conduct on space objects and space activities, which would, in a single instrument, strengthen existing agreements and codify best practices. It also attached great importance to consideration in the Conference on Disarmament of the prevention of an outer space arms race. The complementarity between the work of the Conference and the outer space Committeemade communication between them essential to ensuring coherence and avoiding duplication of efforts.

KANYARAT BHANTHUMNAVIN (Thailand), on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that, as the international community celebrated 50 years of man's achievement in space this year, it must not forget that space technology and its spin-off benefits should be used for peaceful purposes. The Association was pleased with the General Assembly agreement to promote regional and interregional cooperation in the use of space science and technology, and followed enthusiastically the progress made during 2007 to establish regional bodies in Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific. It was also pleased to see that UN-SPIDER had been successfully established, and that offices had been set up in Vienna, Beijing and Bonn, as well as a liaison office in Geneva.

Recalling the monstrous tsunami of 2004, she reported that ASEAN would continue to support the multi-donor voluntary trust fund on tsunami early warning arrangements in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia. Satellite technology was an essential component of that project. She thanked the Governments of India, Japan and China, with whom ASEAN had collaborated in the areas of disaster management and earth observation. The bloc had its own subcommittee on space technology and applications, through which it would continue to gather geoinformatics data in partnership with the international community, and to promote space science education in Asia and the Pacific.

Speaking in her national capacity, she said Thailand's King had worked tirelessly to set up the Klai Kangwon School in 1995, which specialized in transmitting lessons through satellite. The lessons were conducted by teachers in the sciences and the arts, and beamed to children in remote areas, so that they could receive the type of education usually available only to a privileged few. That long-distance learning network had expanded to cover 3,000 schools and was available to anyone with access to computers. Thailand was also planning to launch an earth observation satellite by the end of 2007, to be used in exploring and monitoring natural resources.

ALEXANDER NANTA LINGGI ( Malaysia) highlighted his country's pride at sending one of its citizens to space, despite its status as a developing country. That achievement was proof that a dream could be turned into reality through commitment and hard work. It also proved that space exploration was not limited only to a certain group of countries. During the eight days Malaysia's astronaut, Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, had spent on the international space station, he had collaborated on a number of medical experiments.

He said his country would continue to develop the required infrastructure to enhance its development of space technology, and it would continue to contribute to regional initiatives for using space cooperatively for sustainable development. Malaysia was also willing to share its experience and knowledge, and it was looking to cooperate with suitable partners interested in technology transfer, science missions and training programmes. Its commitment to international cooperation in the peaceful use of space stemmed from the belief that using space frontiers for the good of humankind was a shared responsibility.

Space technology could benefit everyone, particularly developing countries, in many areas, including sustainable development, telecommunications, disaster management, management of natural resources and protection of the environment, he said. Malaysia had been involved in several cooperative, regional efforts, and it considered the United Nations to be the focal point for promoting international and peaceful space exploration and use.

Aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of ASEAN, he called for a focus on the following: the issue of space debris, which could create problems and have serious repercussions; and on the weaponization of space, which would undermine efforts to ensure the continued peaceful use of space. Greater efforts should be made to prevent weaponizing space. In particular, an international legal agreement to prevent an arms race should be elaborated that prohibited the deployment of weapons in space. The international community should use space technology for disaster management efficiently. Malaysia would soon launch its second earth observation satellite, which could be beneficial for environment-monitoring applications.

ANNA A. LYUBALINA ( Russian Federation) said her Government had long supported international cooperation for the peaceful uses of outer space, based on a multilateral framework overseen by the United Nations and its Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. The Russian Federation also supported the expansion of that Committee into a major universal organ that would govern the legal, scientific and technical aspects of outer space activities. The committee's establishment of the SPIDER programme and its role in developing the space debris guidelines were highly commendable.

She said the presence of weapons in outer space could have adverse effects on its peaceful uses. The international community, therefore, should focus its attention on a draft treaty that would prevent the deployment of such weapons. Also, space law -- one of the newest branches of international law -- should be developed in a rigorous manner and keep pace with the latest advances in space applications. In the long term, work on space law should lead to the development of a comprehensive convention on space law, under the aegis of the United Nations. She expressed gratitude to the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space for the work carried out thus far in that regard.

NORIYUKI NAKANO ( Japan) said his country had launched eight rockets, four of them in a single year. Such efforts would help refine Japan's launch vehicles. Meanwhile, several Japanese satellites already in space had continued to transmit solid data from space, attracting praise worldwide. Japan had also launched a satellite that would make mobile satellite communications possible through hand-held devices. The prompt delivery of information through that technology could well be useful in the event of a disaster and in areas where switching centres could not be built, such as mountains or oceans.

He said Japan would soon engage in lunar exploration, using the satellite Kayuga, which would be one of the largest missions to explore the moon since the Apollo programme. It was also working on a "wideband internetworking engineering test and demonstration satellite", which would benefit Internet users in the Asia-Pacific with its high-speed communications capability. Furthermore, as part of the international space station programme, Japan would send an "experiment module", Kibo, to space on board a United States space shuttle flight next year. Three Japanese astronauts were expected to participate in various space shuttle flights.

Japan would continue to promote the Sentinel Asia project, which supported disaster management efforts by sharing images taken by earth observation satellites in areas where natural disasters had occurred, he said. Since that project had begun, Japan had carried out emergency observations of the mudslide at the Mayon volcano in the Philippines, the flood in Jakarta and other disasters in Asia. The Asia-Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum, which had initiated the Sentinel Asia project, would hold its fourteenth session in November, under the theme "Space for Human Empowerment"; Member States were invited to attend.

Finally, he expressed a firm commitment to the United Nations space debris mitigation guidelines, adopted by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space at its last session. Japan had contributed to their formulation and was developing its own space debris standards. In that connection, he expressed concern over the "intentional satellite destruction experiment" that had taken place in January, and strongly requested all parties to continue to honour the principle that outer space should only be used for peaceful purposes. For its part, Japan had contributed equipment to developing countries as part of its official development assistance (ODA), and would host a workshop on basic space science as part of the 2007 International Heliophysical Year.

ABEL MOSES MAJOK ( Sudan) said space technology had become important to developing countries, which did not have resources for even simple basic needs. Like other countries, his looked forward to benefiting from such technologies, and hoped to direct those benefits towards sustainable development, disaster management and emergency response. It welcomed the upcoming SPIDER meeting, which would be held in Khartoum in December 2007. His country was prepared to exert maximum effort, cooperation, skills, experience and knowledge in order to benefit from space technology and scientific achievements, and mitigate, actively control and manage disasters to decrease their destruction. The SPIDER programme should operate with full transparency and build capacity with concerned organizations in disaster management at the national and regional levels.

Noting the big gap between developing and developed countries in space technologies, he said developing countries should be able to fully participate in accessing information and consultation. Sudan supported the recommendations of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and hoped that body would work towards transparency in space activities. His country rejected the spread of weapons in space, as that would trigger an arms race and worsen the relationships between countries. He called for the prevention of an outer space arms race and expressed continued support for finding a permanent solution to the problem of space debris through voluntary measures.

CORNELIA RIESS ( Germany), head of International Cooperation at the German Aerospace Centre, said her country believed in SPIDER and was convinced that it would become a key initiative for applied space technologies serving developing countries and other end-users in their sustainable development efforts. SPIDER offered enormous potential to enhance global coordination efforts and would become a valuable contribution to the efforts of different international initiatives aimed at utilizing space-based disaster information like GEOSS (Global Earth Observation System of Systems), the International Charter "Space and Major Disasters" and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

She said her country was providing financial support to the United Nations SPIDER office in Bonn, which would be inaugurated 29 October. That office would undertake the important task of providing a systematic compilation of relevant information with respect to disasters, and make it accessible to all end-users, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It would be the very heart of SPIDER. While Germany welcomed the increasing number of countries that had offered support for SPIDER in terms of financing, experts and infrastructure, additional resources were needed. She appealed to all Fourth Committee members to support the efforts of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs in the Fifth Committee, in order to obtain additional resources for SPIDER.

HILARIO G. DAVIDE, JR. (Philippines), aligning himself with the statement made on behalf of ASEAN, noted that the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space had gone a long way since its inception as an ad hoc committee following the launch of the first artificial satellite into orbit 50 years ago. The Committee played a lead role in promoting the development of beneficial space technologies and in creating the conditions necessary for non-space-faring countries like the Philippines to share in the benefits. Also, 2007 marked the thirtieth anniversary of Philippines' membership in the Committee. His country also welcomed the Committee's contribution to the work of the Commission on Sustainable Development. Hopefully, the Committee would continue to focus on the use of space solutions to address rural development, desertification and other priorities of the Commission.

He said the United Nations Programme on Space Applications, which oversaw the Organization's space-related activities, had been helpful in enabling the Philippines to send Government scientists and other experts to take part in workshops on remote sensing, global navigation satellite systems and other subjects. He acknowledged the critical role played by Sentinel Asia and UN-SPIDER in facilitating access to data used in disaster management, which was highly useful for a disaster-prone country such as his own. Appeals were made to donor countries to provide cash and in-kind contributions to SPIDER for 2007. International cooperation was also important in helping developing countries establish their own space technology programmes, a point he underscored.

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