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[ADDIS ABABA] The UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) have agreed to promote the use of scientific information obtained from space-based facilities to better manage disasters in Africa, during a three-day meeting in Addis Ababa last month (6–9 July).

The plan to reach out to policymakers and popularise the use of space technologies for disaster management in Africa could help curb disasters such as pest outbreaks and floods.

According to Makena Faye, the UN Officer in charge of e-Applications at UNECA, policymakers need to be made aware of the potential of space technologies to improve people's daily lives.

"Despite the importance of space science and technology in generating and applying knowledge, they have still not aroused political interest, and many African policymakers do not see this area in a long-term perspective required to enable investment in the needed infrastructure," Aida Opoku-Mensah, director of UNECA's ICT, Science and Technology Division told SciDev.Net.

"Some countries in Africa have already embarked on developing operational national space programmes," said Opoku-Mensah. "Among them are Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa."

"These countries have launched at least one earth observation satellite. Nigeria, for example, established the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) in 1998 and developed a 25-year roadmap for the Nigeria space programme," she said.

South Africa is developing its astronomy and space sector, and has established the South African Space Agency to co-ordinate its efforts in space science and technology. Others countries, like Morocco, are also developing a policy to launch a space programme.

But Opoku-Mensah said space technology was still not considered important among policymakers in many other parts of Africa.

The need for better coordination between the space science and disaster management communities in Africa was also highlighted in the meeting.

Juan Carlos Villagrán de León, programme officer at the UN Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response, said space-based informationcan play a role in emergency response in Africa, as it has done in many other countries in cases of floods, locust swarms, and drought.

"At present, countries like, Namibia, Burkina Faso, Togo, Mozambique and Kenya are making progress in the use of space technologies," he said.