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'Pak forced aid agencies to remove images of quake-hit areas'

Source: PTI
October 19, 2005 16:36 IST
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Pakistan has forced aid agencies to remove high resolution satellite images of the areas devastated by the earthquake from their websites due to security concerns, a move aid workers say could hinder assistance to affected communities.

"Open-access satellite images are revolutionizing responses to disasters. Yet the Pakistan government has forced aid agencies to remove pictures of earthquake devastation," Nature online edition reported.

Three days after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake struck Pakistan occupied Kashmir and the North West Frontier Province, the Pakistan government appealed for high-resolution satellite images to help relief efforts.

But, apparently out of concern for national security, the government has since forced international agencies and relief organizations to remove these images from their websites, it said.

The International Charter on Space and Major Disasters put high-resolution images of the earthquake zone on its website last Friday, then pulled them off hours later.

The charter, a consortium of space agencies, was created in 2000 to supply satellite images and data to communities in need of relief following a disaster.

"We are no longer publicly disseminating pictures of the Pakistan earthquake. Publication of such images would compromise the ability of United Nations forces on the ground to deliver relief. We hope you understand the situation," Nature quoted an International Charter spokesperson as saying.

But the report quoted a senior official at the charter, who asked not to be named, as saying that the Pakistan government had demanded that no photos be made accessible to the public, because it feared the images could compromise security in PoK.

The UN and other aid agencies need Pakistan's cooperation on the ground, and had no choice but to comply, he added.

The UN, European Union and other international agencies, Nature said, have a general policy of making all such images publicly available.

But last week photos of the quake zone disappeared from sites such as the UN's Relief Web and satellite imaging site UNOSAT, and Reuters' AlertNet.

Images of the earthquake zone will now be distributed on a "need to know" basis to affiliated relief organizations, a senior EU official was quoted as saying.

Although the main organizations can still access the data, the pulling of the images is 'regrettable,' says the official, who asked not to be named.

The images are useful to other local aid organizations, and to professionals worldwide who help out using the internet, the official pointed out.

Citing an example, Nature said the Citizens Foundation, a well-respected Pakistan organization based in Karachi, is providing basic care packages to those affected.

But Ayaz Abdulla, a mechanical engineer from Karachi who coordinates Internet-based parts of the local relief effort, and others at the organisation, spent much of last week desperately e-mailing space agencies and commercial suppliers, to try to obtain images.

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