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Geospatial Technology Allows to Keep Eyes on Nigeria

Published: April 5, 2011.
Released by American Association for the Advancement of Science  

A new Web site by Amnesty International USA, created with technical assistance from AAAS, allows activists to see where human rights issues are occurring in Nigeria.

Eyes on Nigeria was launched on 18 March during Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary celebration. The Web site combines information gathered through on-the-ground reporting with innovative geospatial analysis.

This project arose in response to growing concerns over reports of human rights violations occurring in specific regions of Nigeria. To identify and determine the precise nature of what was occurring on the ground, Amnesty sought expertise from the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program’s Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project. Eyes on Nigeria uses high- and moderate-resolution satellite technology as well as traditional cartographic techniques and geolocated photography and video. As a result, the Web site offers a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground in Nigeria, according to Amnesty.

Eyes on Nigeria is the third Amnesty International monitoring project for which AAAS has provided technical support. Eyes on Darfur, the first project, was launched in 2007 and used high-resolution satellite imagery to document human rights abuses in the Darfur region of Sudan. In 2010, AAAS aided in the development of Eyes on Pakistan, an interactive spatial database of human rights incidents that can produce customized maps and identify trends for users.

While previous projects pinpointed the locations of demolished homes and villages, air strikes, and insurgent violence, Eyes on Nigeria identifies locations where forced evictions, conflict in the Niger Delta, and communal conflict are taking place. It also identifies the locations of gas flares in the Niger Delta region, introducing an innovative use of geospatial technologies that estimates the impact of high temperatures, fumes, and elevated sound levels caused by the flares on the surrounding communities.

Gas flaring occurs when the natural gas associated with petroleum extraction is burnt off as waste, a process that is cheaper than alternatives including subterranean re-injection and storage for future sale, a AAAS technical report on the project explains. However, gas-flaring releases sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, and greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change. Residents of the Niger Delta have complained for years that unchecked gas flares seriously damage their quality of life and pose health risks.

AAAS analyzed satellite data covering the Niger Delta from 2000 to 2010 to study the prevalence of gas flaring that is blamed for reducing crop yields, causing environmental damage, and disrupting life in communities near the flares.

While the Nigerian government imposed a moratorium on gas flaring in 2008, AAAS identified 41 active flares in 2010, said Susan Wolfinbarger, senior program associate with the AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project.

“We coupled published, on-the-ground measurements of a single flare in the region with the daily satellite sensor data for all flares in the region to determine the increased air temperatures affecting inhabitants and agricultural production within two kilometers of each flare,” Wolfinbarger said.

The research found that thousands of individuals currently inhabit areas where the estimated ambient temperatures are elevated as much as 12 degrees Celsius (22 degrees Fahrenheit) above the already considerable tropical heat. Moreover, flares burn 24 hours a day, forcing communities to deal with permanent light as well as noise pollution. Higher temperatures, such as those observed, also have been associated with reduced crop yields.

“The Eyes on Nigeria project is a comprehensive view of the most pressing human rights issues facing the people of Nigeria,” said Scott Edwards, director of the Amnesty International Science for Human Rights program. “We hope that people around the world will be inspired by what they learn through this new project to act in concert with the Nigerian people to demand basic human dignity.”

The above story is based on materials provided by American Association for the Advancement of Science.

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