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Can satellite map analysis help UN efforts to keep the peace? ODI Chief Executive briefs UN Security Council

Press Release

ODI’s Chief Executive Sara Pantuliano addressed members of the United Nations Security Council at an informal briefing on Friday, 8 April, on the use of data and technology for conflict prevention and response. She spoke along with Tim Sweijs, Director of Research at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, at the invitation of HE Dame Barbara Woodward, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations, and current President of the UN Security Council.

Sara Pantuliano said:

“Data and technology – including geospatial technology and satellite imagery – clearly have the potential to improve global peacebuilding and peacekeeping efforts.

“For example, analysing satellite imagery can help identify both threats to peace and potential pathways out of conflict, as ODI’s work in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province demonstrates.

“But using data-driven technology is not a magic solution for conflict prevention. It can’t keep the peace on its own.

Three challenges need to be addressed to realise of potential contribution of data and tech:

  • “Geospatial and data capture technologies generate a huge amount of information. It could be tempting, where there is a lot of data, to rely on automated systems to manage the data flood – but this should be avoided. The right ‘human’ analysis of the data is much more sophisticated.
  • “Data is always partial, even when there is a huge amount of it – so inaccuracies, proxy data and omissions/gaps in what the data cover need to be kept in mind. Peacekeepers need to be cognisant of what might be missed when we rely on data in certain forms, no matter how granular they appear.
  • “We must also be ready to think and act differently, which is not always easy in times of crisis and can provoke opposition from those who are invested in the status quo. Capitalising on new technology and data may involve disrupting established methods, re-thinking more conventional sources of information or received wisdom, and changing funding priorities.”

All these considerations are central to making data-driven technology a successful tool for peacebuilding.

Notes to editors

Associated research:

  • ODI’s work in Nimroz province, Afghanistan, was published shortly before the fall of the Republic. It showed how the Taliban’s capture of Nimroz, and other key border points and trade routes, would destabilise the political bargains that were helping to hold the Afghan government together. The full report can be found here.
  • ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group explored the impact and challenges of relying on data driven technology in humanitarian action, including digital mapping. Findings can be found here.

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