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Geospatial Technology Allows Observers to Keep Eyes on Nigeria

A new Web site by Amnesty International USA, created with technical assistance from AAAS, allows activists to see where human rights issues are occurring in Nigeria.

Eyes on Nigeria was launched on 18 March during Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary celebration. The Web site combines information gathered through on-the-ground reporting with innovative geospatial analysis.

This project arose in response to growing concerns over reports of human rights violations occurring in specific regions of Nigeria. To identify and determine the precise nature of what was occurring on the ground, Amnesty sought expertise from the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program’s Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project. Eyes on Nigeria uses high- and moderate-resolution satellite technology as well as traditional cartographic techniques and geolocated photography and video. As a result, the Web site offers a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground in Nigeria, according to Amnesty.

Eyes on Nigeria is the third Amnesty International monitoring project for which AAAS has provided technical support. Eyes on Darfur, the first project, was launched in 2007 and used high-resolution satellite imagery to document human rights abuses in the Darfur region of Sudan. In 2010, AAAS aided in the development of Eyes on Pakistan, an interactive spatial database of human rights incidents that can produce customized maps and identify trends for users.

Waterfront slums in the Njemanze neighborhood, an area of Port Harcourt where forced evictions took place in 2009. The image shows the waterfront in February 2008, before its demolition. | Image © 2010 DigitalGlobe Inc.
The Njemanze waterfront in February 2010. Most structures in this area have been removed or destroyed. Areas of white in the image outline where structures previously stood. | Image © 2010 DigitalGlobe, Inc.
The Niger Delta community of Okerenkoko in April 2009, before violent clashes between Nigerian government forces and militant groups in the oil-rich delta. | Image © 2010 GeoEye, Inc.
Okerenkoko in December 2009. Approximately 230 structures were destroyed in seven months, the vast majority of structures in the town. | Image © 2010 GeoEye, Inc.
A portion of Jos in June 2007, before four days of clashes between the Muslim and Christian communities in the central Nigerian city in January 2010. | Image © 2010 DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Evidence of burned, roofless structures and other damage in the Jos neighborhood after the January 2010 conflict. | Image © 2010 DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Multiple gas flares located near a village in the Niger Delta. Estimated air temperatures are approximately nine to twelve degrees Celsius above normal temperatures, and many agricultural fields are located near the flares. | Image © 2011 DigitalGlobe, Inc.

While previous projects pinpointed the locations of demolished homes and villages, air strikes, and insurgent violence, Eyes on Nigeria identifies locations where forced evictions, conflict in the Niger Delta, and communal conflict are taking place. It also identifies the locations of gas flares in the Niger Delta region, introducing an innovative use of geospatial technologies that estimates the impact of high temperatures, fumes, and elevated sound levels caused by the flares on the surrounding communities.

Gas flaring occurs when the natural gas associated with petroleum extraction is burnt off as waste, a process that is cheaper than alternatives including subterranean re-injection and storage for future sale, a AAAS technical report on the project explains. However, gas-flaring releases sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain, and greenhouse gases that are linked to climate change. Residents of the Niger Delta have complained for years that unchecked gas flares seriously damage their quality of life and pose health risks.

AAAS analyzed satellite data covering the Niger Delta from 2000 to 2010 to study the prevalence of gas flaring that is blamed for reducing crop yields, causing environmental damage, and disrupting life in communities near the flares.

While the Nigerian government imposed a moratorium on gas flaring in 2008, AAAS identified 41 active flares in 2010, said Susan Wolfinbarger, senior program associate with the AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project.

“We coupled published, on-the-ground measurements of a single flare in the region with the daily satellite sensor data for all flares in the region to determine the increased air temperatures affecting inhabitants and agricultural production within two kilometers of each flare,” Wolfinbarger said.

The research found that thousands of individuals currently inhabit areas where the estimated ambient temperatures are elevated as much as 12 degrees Celsius (22 degrees Fahrenheit) above the already considerable tropical heat. Moreover, flares burn 24 hours a day, forcing communities to deal with permanent light as well as noise pollution. Higher temperatures, such as those observed, also have been associated with reduced crop yields.

“The Eyes on Nigeria project is a comprehensive view of the most pressing human rights issues facing the people of Nigeria,” said Scott Edwards, director of the Amnesty International Science for Human Rights program. “We hope that people around the world will be inspired by what they learn through this new project to act in concert with the Nigerian people to demand basic human dignity.”

Susan Wolfinbarger, senior program associate with the AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, discusses her analysis of satellite imagery from Nigeria.


Susan Wolfinbarger, senior program associate with the AAAS Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, discusses her analysis of satellite imagery from Nigeria in a new AAAS video.

Watch a slideshow of satellite images from AAAS’s Eyes on Nigeria Technical Report.

Read a AAAS technical report analyzing geospatial data used to support the Eyes on Nigeria project.

Learn more about the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program.