Academic journal article Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations

Conflict-Related Displaced Population Camps Commonly Visible in High-Resolution Satellite Imagery

Academic journal article Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations

Conflict-Related Displaced Population Camps Commonly Visible in High-Resolution Satellite Imagery

Article excerpt

Conflict-Related Civilian Displacement: A Growing Problem

The increasing number of civilians displaced by conflict, which includes both refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), is a welldocumented trend. As of June 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 46.3 million persons were of concern to the agency.1 According to data from UNHCR, the trend occurs when comparing the 2014 figure to 33.9 million persons of concern as of the end of 2010.2 Humanitarian agencies, human rights groups, and voluntary technical organizations are increasingly using the analysis and interpretation of high-resolution satellite imagery to collect information relating to these populations displaced by conflict.

Current operational applications of satellite imagery analysis to support responses to mass civilian displacement can include: identifying and mapping the number and types of shelters, detecting displaced population camps, and providing environmental data to support site selection for planned camps. However, little accepted pedagogy exists related to how imagery analysis and interpretation can be used to understand conflictdisplaced populations. In particular, the literature makes little reference regarding how to employ remote sensing to detect and document different displaced populations based on the visual properties of the types of camps they may commonly settle within. Understanding how these camps may present within satellite imagery proves critical for operationally using this technology to locate and assist these populations.

To address this gap, this paper both utilizes and expands upon existing definitions of planned and self-settled camps in order to explore the visual characteristics of these camps and how they may appear in satellite imagery. The goal of this article is to further standardize the identification and interpretation of the observable properties associated with these repeating camp types. Further standardization of these phenomena may improve how populations displaced by conflict can be detected and documented through the use of high-resolution satellite imagery analysis by humanitarian agencies, researchers, and others.

State of the Art: Collecting Data About Displaced Populations

Responding agencies face the increasingly imperative task of collecting data about the location and status of displaced populations as the number of civilians displaced both during and after conflict continues to rise. Humanitarian organizations need accurate and timely data about the status, size, and location of these populations in order to adequately provide protection, shelter, and other vital services.

However, the accessibility of locations where conflict displaced IDPs and refugees often seek shelter may variably affect how their needs can be assessed and met. As an illustration of this dynamic, UNHCR states "the greater visibility of those living in a clearly defined location often provides easily quantifiable evidence of needs."3

Thus, humanitarian agencies may have less access to, or cannot obtain, information about populations who live outside of easily accessed, often planned, camps. Displaced populations that often are difficult to collect data about include those who seek shelter in areas where aid providers are not aware of or cannot access their location. Examples of these scenarios include both populations who seek shelter within host communities and those who have sought shelter in non-permissive areas that are either remote and/or insecure.

As a result, these populations may only receive initial assistance or none at all because of their physical dispositions and the surrounding security environment.4 In the case of these self-settled populations, the services supplied by humanitarian agencies may not be well coordinated, consistent, or comprehensive to fully meet their needs.5

New technologies and data collection methods continue to be employed to address the challenge of this "data gap," and collect information relating to displaced populations at both planned camps and self-settled camps. …

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