Here’s a piece I wrote for the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation on how satellites and space technology are helping, and might help, in the case of big medical emergencies, from earthquakes to Ebola. It’s a slightly different tack for me and perhaps not the usual fare for loose wire blog, but I thought I’d throw it in here anyway.
When former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was seen leaving a conference in Geneva in November 2005 clutching maps of the south Asia earthquake disaster, it was evidence that satellites – as a key weapon in humanitarian emergencies – had arrived.
In the hours and days after the October 8 quake struck killing more than 73 000 people and injuring some 150 000, experts from France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United Nations scrambled to gather and interpret images data from satellites to assist rescue workers on the ground from local authorities to nongovernmental organizations (NGO), like Télécoms Sans Frontières.
The Asian tsunami, and the quake near Nias, bring home how volatile the region is, particularly Indonesia. (Another quake this morning sent Nias residents fleeing into the hills in panic.) But I thought an interesting way of illustrating this volatility might be to do a sparkline of earthquakes and their magnitude around the world in the last week, highlighting those in Indonesia (most, but not only, around Sumatra) in orange:
That’s more than 140 quakes in a week, more than half of them in Indonesia. And each one is of a size not to sneeze at, obeying, I guess the power law that, according to John Gribbin in Deep Simplicity, determines there is no single trigger for a major earthquake: An earthquake of any size is governed by the same rules. (This implies that another tsunami is not necessarily a long way off, just because there was one recently.) But if nothing else the sea of orange indicates how many Indonesians live in a state of almost permanent shock.