August 6, 2020


The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters, typically activated for natural disasters, was called into action in the afternoon of Wednesday 5 August by France’s Interministerial Crisis Management Operations Centre (COGIC), in respect of the historic ties between France and Lebanon. At the same time, France chartered military and civilian aircraft to deliver medical supplies and medical personnel from its civil defence agency to support local emergency responders on the ground. At CNES’s request, the SERTIT regional image processing and remote sensing service provided the COGIC with a map of the affected areas. This map was derived from imagery captured by the Pleiades satellites within a very short timeframe (six hours after charter activation). This fast response meant the COGIC had this information as soon as the French emergency teams and equipment arrived in Beirut. View the map at:

In this kind of situation, space technology provides valuable help for the affected populations and first responders at the scene. For a 10-day period, CNES will now acquire satellite imagery at very high spatial resolution in order to identify and track spontaneous gatherings of people and the setting up of emergency camps. This daily monitoring will enable response teams on the ground to deliver supplies to where they are needed (300,000 people have been left homeless after the explosion). Space technology will also be used to support efforts to rebuild the affected areas.

Images Pleiades - Beyrouth activation de la Charte 08/2020 Credits: CNES, distributed by Airbus DS

Created in 1999 by CNES, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and declared operational in 2000, the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters uses satellite technology to support emergency responders in the aftermath of natural or technological disasters. A unique example of successful international cooperation, it combines and coordinates the Earth observation resources and expertise of 17 space agencies today. It responds to requests from crisis management organizations in disaster-hit countries, local authorities, civil defence agencies and the United Nations by priority tasking a constellation of over 40 satellites to capture data over the affected areas and making this data available free of charge to provide timely support for first responders and relief organizations on the ground.

Since it came into operation in November 2000, the charter has been activated hundreds of times around the world. About half of activations have been in response to floods or submersion of coastal areas, the other half in the aftermath of storms, cyclones, earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, landslides, oil spills and even air accidents.

France’s SPOT and Pleiades satellites are the spearhead of this initiative, with their proven responsiveness and agility. After the explosion in Beirut, around 20 satellites in the charter constellation have been activated, most notably Pleiades because the imagery it acquires is perfectly aligned with the requirements of the requesting organizations and data users. At CNES’s request, SERTIT, France’s rapid mapping service, is providing maps identifying the affected areas. It is processing satellite data to produce maps that can be directly used by the requesting organizations.

Pascale Bresson     Press Officer     Tel: +33 (0)1 44 76 75 39
Raphaël Sart    Press Officer    Tel: +33 (0)1 44 76 74 51