Satellite Data for the People: USAID Supports Launch of New Forest Watch Tool

Dr. Raj Shah voices USAID's support for innovative new technology working to dramatically reduce tropical deforestation
Dr. Raj Shah voices USAID's support for innovative new technology working to dramatically reduce tropical deforestation
Ralph Alswang
From the Impact Blog

For Immediate Release

Friday, February 21, 2014

This post originally appeared on USAID's Impact Blog

How is the latest U.S. satellite and mobile technology helping 350 million of the world's poorest people – including 60 million indigenous people – safeguard their homes and livelihoods?

More than 300 development experts heard the answer at today's launch of the new high-tech Global Forest Watch tropical forest monitoring tool, developed by World Resources Institute with support from USAID, Google, Norway and other partners.

“Global Forest Watch is democratizing information,” USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah told a full house at the Newseum's Knight Conference Center in Washington DC. Juan Carlos Jintiach, a leader of Ecuador's Shuar Nation of peoples, agreed. “Global Forest Watch is a way to share our voices and histories,” he told the crowd.

But Global Forest Watch does much more than share stories. This powerful new tool combines satellite imagery and overlay maps with the latest open data and crowd-sourcing technologies to open up near-real-time information about the state of tropical forests to anyone with an internet connection. Currently, tropical forests are being destroyed at a rate of about 50 field soccer fields per minute.

The loss of tropical forests is a big problem for the earth's climate, causing up to a fifth of the carbon pollution linked to climate change. It's also an immediate threat to the health and well-being of an estimated 1 billion people around the world, who depend on forests for food or livelihood activities.

Worse still, for more than 350 million of the world's very poorest people – those who use forests intensively for subsistence and survival – forest destruction can mean life or death. This number includes some 60 million indigenous people, among them a small number of tribes in the deepest reaches of forest who have yet to be contacted by modern civilization.

Global Forest Watch unites more than 40 government, business and civil society partners to curb forest destruction by putting free and transparent information in the hands of people who care most about forests. Anyone with an internet connection can visit the GFW website and upload information about what is happening in their section of forest. And any government can visit the GFW website and find near-real-time information about what is happening in their forest territory, in near real time, on the ground.

“Now governments and people will have access to the same information [as private companies],” said Felipe Calderon, Mexico's former president, who spoke at the February 20 GFW launch.

GFW partners and supporters include many of the same partners of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, a private-public partnership kicked off by the United States and the Consumer Goods Forum network of more than 400 global businesses in 2012. USAID contributed $5.5 million to GFW, in the process helping to mobilize more than $30 million.

Last updated: October 01, 2014

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