Created in 1999 by CNES, ESA and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) and declared operational in 2000, the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters was originally an agreement between space agencies operating Earth-imaging satellites and a shared commitment to make them available free of charge. The charter today has 17 member space agencies that chair it on a rotating basis every six months.
The charter aims to respond to requests from emergency management agencies in affected nations, local authorities and civil security agencies and also the United Nations for rapid satellite imagery in the event of a natural or man-made disaster, for which it tasks satellites to acquire imagery of disaster zones and deliver it as quickly as possible to relief teams on the ground.
In 18 years the charter has been activated 590 times across more than half of the world’s nations, helping to make relief efforts more effective. Activated in response to natural disasters chiefly caused by severe weather, earthquake or volcano eruption events, it clearly illustrates the advantages afforded by space assets for managing these kinds of crises. The charter is also a good indicator of the consequences of global warming. The power of natural phenomena—winds and flooding, for example—is increasing and causing damage the extent of which has never been seen before. In 2017, it was activated 44 times, the maximum number for a single year being recorded in 2010 with 51 activations.
Since the charter’s inception, the number of satellites contributing to it has gone from five to almost 35 today. And thanks to new technologies, their resolution has also increased significantly, the most recent being capable of acquiring imagery at resolutions better than one metre.
CNES supplies imagery from the Pleiades satellites free of charge for the charter. Last year, 25% of the damage-assessment maps compiled from charter members’ satellites were generated using imagery from Pleiades, whose agility and responsiveness need no confirmation.
See more on the charter’s new website: https://disasterscharter.org/fr/web/guest/home