Declan Butler's latest article in Nature about Pakistan disaster relief and the availability of satellite photography is up:
High-resolution satellite images of Kashmir, which was hit hard by a magnitude-7.6 earthquake on 8 October, have begun to reappear on public websites, much to the relief of aid workers.
The pictures were removed last week from all public-access websites belonging to the United Nations (UN) and its relief partners, including the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters (see 'Quake aid hampered by ban on web shots').
A senior official at the charter, who asked not to be named, told Nature that the UN decided to ban public dissemination of photos of the area after a meeting on 10 October. The official told Nature that the meeting discussed an official reminder from Pakistan about the political sensitivity of the area, which was issued after the earthquake. Pakistan and India have long fought over Kashmir, and there were concerns that pictures could compromise security in the region.
Tasnim Aslam, a spokeswoman for Pakistan's foreign ministry, told Associated Press in Islamabad yesterday that "No one in the Pakistan government has made a request that such maps be removed." Nature's sources emphasize that the UN decision was a precaution against a deterioration in relations with Pakistan.
After pressure from relief groups seeking wider access to the images, the UN met again on 17 October, and reversed its decision. It sent a memo to all involved parties on the morning of Tuesday 18 October advising them that the ban on photos had been lifted. . . .
The lifting of the ban is "wonderful news", says Anne Wright, a computer scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Wright was involved in mapping the damage done by Hurricane Katrina and knows how useful such images can be.
She is part of the Global Connection, a consortium made up of Google and scientists at Ames and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, which is now scrambling to access the public images. The group hopes to produce maps of the Pakistan earthquake zone that are more detailed than those currently available.
Such Internet responses to disasters by diverse groups will "make responses to similar events in the future easier and more efficient", says Wright.
Now the big job is to go through all the stuff that just went up to find the images that are both good enough and relevant. Some are going to be good: no clouds, good atmospheric conditions; some are going to relevant, i.e. pictures of the places that need to be seen. We hope for images that are both.
MEANWHILE, Nathan Newman reports on how Senator Diane Feinstein has "just introduced legislation to undermine what is known as the Alien Tort Claims Act, an old law dating back to the first years of the Republic that has been revived in recent years by human rights activists to hold corporations responsible for their actions in developing nations."