Suffering, from space

The following images are annotated screenshots of Sentinel-2 L1C imagery collected as part of the European Copernicus programme. The upper two images show image data collected in November 2016, whilst the lower two images show the same area in January 2018. The images on the lefthand side are false colour composites constructed using near infrared wavelengths of light, whilst those on the right show the true colour image (as if you were floating in space looking down on the scene). No advanced processing has been applied to the imagery – they are ‘as supplied’.

The area these images depict is on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, and demonstrate (to some degree) the effect of the mass migration as the #Rohingya population flees persecution. The area in the lower images that has been circled shows the Kutapalong refugee camp, from where the BBC broadcast some harrowing reports on the Today programme on 15th Jan 2018.

The false colour images show vegetation in red colours, and bare ground in shades of light blue. For the true colour images, vegetation is green and bare ground ranges from brown to white.  To give a sense of scale, the disturbed area that makes up the camp measures roughly 7km by 2.5km.

The original spatial resolution of the satellite data is 10m, and although this isn’t fine enough to be able to pick out individual tents and features within the camps, it provides a useful way to monitor changes in the environment over a regional scale. These data are also provided free of charge and usage restriction, which makes them a critical part of the analysis and monitoring workflow. Combining these open data with high spatial resolution mapping and information collected on the ground results in an effective way of keeping humanitarian organisations informed of the geospatial extent of the crisis.