Space agency assisting other government institutions in struggle against Covid-19

20th April 2020 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Space agency assisting other government institutions in struggle against Covid-19

Satellite image of Ha-Mphego village in Limpopo province, with the locations of the spaza shops added
Photo by: Sansa

To support government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, the South African National Space Agency (Sansa) was working with the National Disaster Management Centre, the National Department of Human Settlements and the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD). The aim was to provide these institutions with tools that could be used to verify data collected on the ground, allowing more rapid and effective decision-making to meet the challenges created by the disease and the lockdown intended to counter its spread.

“The Agency remains committed to providing Government and stakeholders with access to big data applications and tools to enable rapid and effective decision making to manage nation-wide interventions,” stressed Sansa CEO Dr Val Munsami. The provision of space-based tools and services to government, to assist with the development of evidence-based policies to address the country’s socioeconomic problems, was a primary reason for establishing Sansa.

An example of the work that was now being done was the overlaying of land cover maps with the locations of spaza (informal convenience) shops, for the DSBD. This allowed the department to ascertain, with one look, the number of such shops in a community. Add information on the population of that community, and the DSDB could calculate the amount of essential foods that these shops would need, where the closest wholesaler for these food items was, and how much they would cost.

Sansa was also monitoring human settlements, traffic movement and air quality. It was further supporting the Department of Science and Innovation with both its science capabilities and in coordinating the country’s Earth Observation (EO) sector, to provide further key support tools to government, to allow it to more effectively respond to Covid-19.

The threat posed by Covid-19 required the innovative use of technologies to restrict the spread of the disease, and protect the health and safety of the people. In this regard, Sansa had been holding discussions with South African EO companies. The intent was to ascertain what they were doing and to employ their capabilities to fill any gaps in the current response to the crisis.

Sansa sought to work with the local EO industry in two main ways. One was to partner with EO companies regarding their existing products. The other was to offer funding or other support to fast-track the development of products. In both cases, the aim was to provide usable support tools to government.