Geographic Remote Sensing Technology Used to Identify Damage in Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Background:  In early June, ethnic rioting broke out in and around Osh, Kyrgyzstan.  To better understand the nature of the current violence, the roots of the violence, and the global implications, see our recent blog posts, Ethnic Violence Breaks Out In KyrgyzstanKyrgyzstan: Roots of Violence, and International Implications of Violence in Krygyzstan.

The Project:  Following recent reports of extensive violence, including looting and arson, between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) used satellite imagery to conduct a damage assessment of the area around Osh, Kyrgyzstan. AAAS conducted the study at the request of Amnesty International, USA, who wanted to corroborate that on-the-ground reporting was consistent with a bird’s eye view of the violence. 

The Findings:  The satellite images showed concentrated damage in areas surrounding Osh, including Furkat in the East, Kizil Kishtak in the West, and Dikan Kishtak in the South.

The images show that an estimated 1640 structures were damaged including 172 damaged structures in in Furkat, 297 in Cheremushki, 448 in Kizil Kishtak and 551 in Osh.  These are damage estimates, not exact counts, as it is difficult to count structures in dense urban areas using satellite imagery.

 Osh, Kyrgyzstan with areas of observed damage
 Image © 2010 DigitalGlobe – Analysis conducted by AAAS


The images also show that the letters “SOS” repeatedly on roads and athletic fields throughout the city of Osh.  Many of these messages are quite large and, given their configuration, would be difficult to read, except from above.  The total count of “SOS” messages within the study area is 116, which indicates a population hoping for outside intervention.


“SOS” Signs in Osh
 Several of the 116 identified “SOS” messages appear throughout the city, many painted on roads. These particular examples are painted across two lanes of roadway. Coordinates: 40.523, 72.788 
Image © 2010 DigitalGlobe – Analysis conducted by AAAS

The study concluded that on-the-ground reporting appeared to be
consistent with satellite images showing substantial damage in some
neighborhoods while adjacent ones remain unharmed.

The Importance of Geographers:  Although geographers may not always be
the ones at the negotiating table, on the front lines of
battle, or in the Oval Office, geographers are often the ones collecting
and analyzing data that becomes instrumental in aiding international
problem solving.  Geographers provide not only data analysis, but also a knowledge of the
cultural context so that problem-solving can be as effective and efficient as possible.
Technical Elements:  AAAs purchased the satellite imagery, which
showed conditions on June 18 (about 10 days after the violence broke
out), from DigitalGlobe.  AAAS also used Google Earth’s base map
imagery before processing the images using ERDAS Imagine and
ArcView–geographic tools for analyzing data.

To see more pictures and to get the full story, check out AAAS’s report.

Michelle Renn

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