Space for the African Citizen

CAAST-NET According to Jean-Pierre Ezin, the African Union (AU) commissioner of Human Resources, Science and Technology (HRST), African countries must utilise space in order to support sustainable development. Africa needs a space programme that addresses the management of natural resources and sustains its threatened biodiversity, the Bénin-born mathematician said.

Ezin was speaking at a high-level political meeting on the theme Space for the African Citizen, which took place on 16 September 2010 in Brussels, Belgium.

The meeting was jointly organised by the African Union Commission (AUC), the Belgian high representation for space policy and the European Commission (EC).

The meeting, chaired by the EC enterprise and industry vice president Antonio Tajani, an Italian politican, recognised African states’ need to develop space technology.

A joint statement highlighted the need for an African Space Agency, which could focus on using earth observation data from satellites to monitor weather patterns, environmental issues and climate change. Six successful pilot projects use earth observation data for non-meteorological purposes, monitoring coastal fish stocks off Kenya and Sénégal, and providing South Africa’s power grid industry with an early warning system for land fires, which are major causes of power outages and service disruptions.

A trust fund set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) enabled South Africa, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia to participate in the project, with the help of a number of European countries, including the UK, Belgium and France. It was funded by the European Union (EU).

53 African nations are already linked to the latest in satellite technology via the Preparation for Use of Meteosat Second Generation in Africa (PUMA) project, funded under the EU development fund. PUMA has connected 53 African national meteorological services and five regional centres to daily satellite information and images, thus improving weather and seasonal forecasting and providing better management of scare water resources and helping farmers manage the agricultural sector.

The African Monitoring of the Environment for Sustainable Development (AMESD) programme has upgraded the 53 PUMA stations and installed 57 new national stations for environmental monitoring. Satellites can monitor extreme weather events, improve disaster management and forestall drought, starvation and other life-threatening events, thus saving lives and property.

The meeting also focused on progress made on African involvement in the Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) and Africa programme, operated by the SWIFT (Supporting aWareness and Information dissemination activities for GMES Fast Track Services) project and funded by the EU’s seventh Framework Programme.

Danish-born Lars Prahm, director general of the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT), also participated in the discussions.

Prahm then attended EUMETSAT’s ninth user forum in Africa in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, which examined the practical aspects of the work discussed at the high-level event.

On the eve of the EUMETSAT user forum in Africa, participants signed the Ouagadougou Declaration in support of the GMES and Africa initiative, due to start in 2012.

Close to 180 participants from 60 countries, many of them in Africa, attended the Ougadougou event, which focused on using satellite to monitor the weather, the health of the oceans, and climate change. A focus at both events was on the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), meant to link the producers of environmental data with decision makers and end users in order to better cope with trans-boundary issues such as global warming. GEOSS is currently being designed under the leadership of French physicist José Achache in a ten year-plan due to end in 2015.

The EUMETSAT forum, which ran from 27 September to 1 October 2010, is held every two years. It was organised in cooperation with the Burkina Faso Meteorological Service.

The outcome of the meeting on Space for the African Citizen will be submitted to the Africa-Europe summit to be held in November 2010 in Tripoli, Libya, for consideration.

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