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Vienna, July 1999. The idea was to create a charter through which participants would commit to provide free access to spatial data to countries hit by major disasters, be they man-made or natural. The International Charter “Space and Major Disasters” was born. The two founding members, CNES and ESA, were quickly joined by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and then by 14 organisations from countries around the world: India, China, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, Germany, etc. This unusual coalition transcends the usual political and economic interests. The Charter is open to space agencies and national or international space systems operators. Civil defence and security agencies as well as rescue organisations in one of the participants’ countries automatically become authorised users of the Charter’s services.
In order to provide timely assistance to affected populations and rescue teams in the field, Charter members ensure permanent vigilance: once the relevance and validity of the request is verified, the objective is to schedule specific imaging operations and transmit the data to relevant personnel and services as quickly as possible.
This initiative was created independently from the usual national or international political institutions and aims to prevent loss of life, maintain vigilance, and provide assistance to rescue teams in the spirit of humanitarian aid. As such, this Charter is a unique and remarkable example of an efficient alliance between knowledge and action, taking special circumstances into account in a shared spirit of good will and efficiency.
Ever since the Charter took effect in November 2000, it has been activated in hundreds of responses throughout the world, half of which were for flooding alerts. Such numbers often shock the public; they are surprised by these space agencies’ ability to share costly equipment and sensitive data and by the sheer number of “major disasters” hitting human populations every year. No continent has been spared, and many countries have already requested the Charter’s assistance.