How African Countries Used Space Technologies to Solve Developmental Challenges in 2020

Africa Space Technologies

African countries are continuously participating in a variety of important space technologies initiatives. As 2020 comes to close, Space in Africa has conducted a review of noteworthy development challenges that saw the continent employ space technology. Notably, Earth Observation and satellite communications were among those creating the most impact.

COVID-19 Medical Supplies 

In order to mitigate the spread of coronavirus pandemic in the country, the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology through its agency, the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) collaborated with the Federal Ministry of Health for the use of telemedicine facility for mobile testing of the virus.

The rise of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 called for an extra action to control the rate of infections and to provide adequate medical supplies to local clinics. In Ghana and Rwanda, Zipline, an American medical product delivery company, was at the forefront in enabling access to medical products. Due to poor roads and the lack of refrigerated vehicles, Zipline employed drones to support the delivery of medical supplies to doctors in local clinics. According to CNN Business, Zipline reported that the drones could make deliveries within a 50-mile range in thirty minutes. The drones could carry packages weighing almost 1.8 kgs and would drop the products to a designated area using simple paper parachutes. While working with the Ghanian government, Zipline delivered COVID 19 test samples from the hospitals in rural Ghana to laboratories in the cities of Kumasi and Accra. When available, vaccines and test kits will be added to Zipline’s inventory for delivery to different areas.

Satellite Imagery for the Locust Invasion Crisis in Eastern Africa

Amid the COVID-19 Crisis, the Eastern and Northern Africa region experienced locust invasion threatening food security across Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and eleven countries in North Africa. In a joint assessment report by the Ethiopian government and FAO, the desert outbreak in Ethiopia alone caused 356, 286 metric tonnes of cereal loss, along with the destruction of 197,000 ha of cropland, and 1.35 Million ha of pasturelands. As a result, 1 million Ethiopians were in need of food assistance. 

Climate change is a key driver to desert locust outbreak, and in 2020, it is reported that unusual weather conditions generated strong cyclones and heavy rains in the Arabian Peninsula, triggering higher than normal vegetation that created ideal conditions for locusts to feed on and surge in population.

Locust Invasion in East Africa

As a result, Kenyan based ICAPC had a busy year collaborating with WMO, and EUMETSAT to monitor the environment and manage the desert locust disaster which spread to the nations in proximity to the Peninsula. By presenting locust risk maps and information on locust movements and ground data to its stakeholders, ICAPC was able to provide an advanced warning early enough to make a difference. First, the climate agency identified the optimal conditions for locust surges, then followed up on the status of existing locust populations – breeding and feeding characteristics, and finally, evaluated the areas of greatest risk for locust breeding for immediate intervention. To monitor the ground, EUMETSAT provided ICAPC with geospatial data on vegetation indices and humidity values. Specifically, the Metop Meteorological satellite provided soil moisture data. The satellite serves the global atmosphere, oceans and continents, returning data every two hours. ICAPC also utilized data from Sentinel -3 (EC – Corpernicus), a low earth orbit satellite that provides vegetation indices. By comparing these values, prime locations that breed locusts were identified, and control measures employed. The World Bank rolled out various response packages to Yemen, USD 25 Million, Pakistan, USD 200 Million, and Somalia, USD 40 Million, while also allocating USD 13.7 Million to Kenya in an emergency fund to finance locust surveillance and control measures. 

Satellite Broadband to enable remote learning amid COVID-19

Over the last year, various stakeholders have gotten together to ensure continuity of learning amid the COVID pandemic. While satellite services for internet connectivity have been ongoing, especially in the last three years, providers have intensified internet service provision within the last year.

imlango, whose operations are spread across various counties in Kenya; Kilifi, Makueni, Uasin Gishu, and Kajiado, launched an e-learning platform and delivered ICT equipment to these areas to ensure continued learning.  For connectivity, iMlango uses Avanti’s satellite broadband networks to deliver connectivity through the HYLAS 2 Satellite. This new connectivity enables pupils to access the program’s dynamic internet learning platform at all times.

In South Africa, Khula Education is providing internet connectivity to schools in the remote areas of uMzinyathi district. As reported by Space in Africa, the satellite broadband came to be during the COVID 19 lockdown period and was sponsored by satellite services provider, Morclick in partnership with Yahclick. Though the lockdown has been lifted, the still are still connected to the broadband, at a cost of USD 49 per school.

In countries like Ghana and some parts of West Africa, Joy Learning Channel has been providing free educational content to TV viewers. The content can be accessed through standard decoders or through the inbuilt direct-to-home tuners. As reported by Space in Africa, the channel is hosted on the MultiTV platform, a privately owned free-to-air (FTA) satellite television based in Ghana. The educational channel is a collaboration between Multimedia Group (MGL) – owners of the Multi TV platform, Wolo TV – an e-learning platform, network service provider K-Net and SES – a satellite and terrestrial telecommunications network provider.  SES provides satellite capacity and broadcast services via its Astra-2F satellite. A similar arrangement had also been introduced by MultiChoice Africa early in the year, where DSTv provided customers with 600 free courses from Udemy, until the end of July.

IoT via Satellite for Africa’s Wildlife Tracking 

While parts of Africa have been using satellite data for the last 5 years to track wildlife, 2020 was the year that Africa started using advanced satellite IoT technology to track and monitor animals and support conservation efforts.

As of October, Africa Wildlife Tracking (AWT), was reported to be utilizing Orbcomm satellite modems to provide near-real-time GPS tracking and monitoring of large animals such as elephants, in remote and dense forests. One of the factors contributing to the uptake of the services was the added threat for poaching, created by the pandemic, and the subsequent need to supply local populations with food. 

Space Weather

In 2020, a number of Africa n nations geared up activities in Space Weather. In Kenya, The Kenya Space Agency (KSA) awarded Kshs. 5,000,000 (USD 5,000) to the Universities of Eldoret, Dedan Kimathi and Taita Taveta for research geared towards space weather. The funding will be vital in monitoring and developing proactive measures to consequences of geomagnetic storms

During the year, a network of antennas was also set up to provide real-time data on how solar storms distort the ionosphere, the charged outer layer of Earth’s atmosphere. The sensors will provide insight into the destruction that storms of charged particles from the sun cause on satellite and radio communications. As reported by Scientific American, Zambia set up its first such sensor in March 2020, which forms part of eight multi-frequency receivers being installed across the continent, in addition to four already operating in South Africa. Kenya and Nigeria were expected to install their receivers by the end of the year. The new network will give Africa its first access to 24/7 local details on how the sun’s behaviour is affecting the atmosphere overhead, according to Scientific American.

Polio Eradication by eHealth Africa in Nigeria

 In August 2020, Nigeria was declared free of the last remaining strain of wild poliovirus.  The virus had ailed the country for decades due to lack of data and reluctance of citizens to accept the polio vaccines. The most affected areas were the remote communities in Northern Nigeria and South-West Nigeria which left 40% of populations unimmunized. Reportedly, eHealth leveraged space technology and analytics through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and mapped eleven states in Nigeria.

eHealth // Pleiades Satellite Imagery for Polio Management

As reported, the mapping was conducted through a combination of remote sensing, satellite imagery, primary data collection, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Using the derived map as a foundation, eHealth alongside its partners planned and tracked immunization activities across 140,000 settlements. To build on this success, eHealth is currently mapping 25 states through the Geo-Referenced Infrastructure & Demographic Data for Development (GRID3) project. The project is part of the GRID3  program, a partnership between the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), WorldPop at the University of Southampton and Flowminder Foundation. The project is aimed at collecting accurate geo-referenced data in order to assist state governments in making data-driven decisions. The project will also strengthen human resources by training selected data collectors on the use of ODK/GeoODK.

The use of Geospatial Data in the management of COVID 19 in Sierra Leone

Following the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, Sierra Leone’s National COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre collaborated with a coalition of international organizations to produce crucial geospatial datasets, analyses, and tools under an open, non-commercial license to support the response efforts in the country. As reported by Space in Africa, the most granular geospatial data in Sierra Leone’s history centres around rapid population estimates based on the country’s last census. These estimates were used to predict how many people, as well as their age and sex, live within any given hectare area across the entire country. The data was used to help identify those most at risk, determine the implementation of the most efficient support and anti-COVID-19 strategies, including partial or total lockdowns, and resulting community needs. The geospatial datasets also included information about sex and age, and shed light on various risk factors for COVID-19 infection and socio-economic vulnerability, highlighting areas and populations that had limited resources to cope with health and economic shocks.

GRID3 produced rapid population estimates, settlement extents, and provided technical support; Maxar released high-resolution imagery of Freetown, Bo, Kenema, and Makeni; Fraym developed rapid risk layers for Exposure to COVID-19 and Socioeconomic vulnerability at 1km resolution; and through the Disaster Response Program, Esri provided technical assistance and deployed a COVID-19 hub and platform for data hosting and analysis, enabling the Government to rapidly update and share data on active COVID-19 cases, create maps, dashboards, and applications to track the status of recovery of their citizens. The partnership was supported by ‘COVID-19: Data for a resilient Africa’ an initiative led by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. 

Assessment of Forest Fires using Satellite imagery in Algeria

Algeria has been using the Alg-Sat 1B to monitor the impact of forest fires in the country. The satellite was launched in 2016 for agriculture and disaster monitoring purposes. After Forest fires that affected the municipalities of Ouled Rabah and Boussif Ouled Askeur of the wilaya of Jijel, and the municipalities of Amira Arres and Tessala Lemtai belonging to the wilaya of Mila in July 2020, data captured from the satellite was studied.

Algeria Forest Fires

The analysis produced an assessed impact of 144.559 ha; 116.8 ha for the Wilaya of Jijel, and 27.75 ha for the wilaya of Mila. Similarly, another forest fire outbreak that occurred in Tassadane Haddada and El Ayadi Barbes (Wilaya de Mila) during the same month, was analyzed to produce an assessed impact of 434.16 Ha. According to Arab News, the country’s forestry agency recorded 1,216 fires between June 1 and August 1, destroying 8,778 Ha. The fires, which peaked in July, saw the country’s prime minister set up a monitoring unit to track forest fires and efforts to prevent and control them.

GMES & Africa Programs

In 2020, GMES & Africa collaborated with Africa’s Centre for Space, Science and Technology Education (CSSTE) to create the Multi-Scale Flood Monitoring & Assessment Services for West Africa (MiFMASS); a flood monitoring and forecasting system, for the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). The member states included; Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Cote D’Ivoire.

In its marine and coastal areas mandate, GMES & Africa also launched a platform which offers ocean condition forecasts in Ghana. In collaboration with the University of Ghana’s Regional Marine Centre, the consortia are now providing operational services including monitoring & forecasting oceanographic variables, provision of potential fishing zone charts overlaid with vessel traffic, generation of coastal vulnerability indices, and the mapping of coastal and ecosystem/habitats. Based on earlier reports, the forecast of ocean conditions began disseminated through SMS alerts as “Four days forecast of ocean conditions” with the first country being Ghana.


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