Planet satellites capture refugee camp growth at UNMISS Protected Site in ‘always cloudy’ Wau, South Sudan. Planetscope images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

Tracking Evidence of Human Rights Violations During the Rainy Season

White refugee tents north of UNMISS Protected Site — Wau, South Sudan. Planetscope images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

As an imagery analyst, there are areas of the world that cause an automatic sigh when asked if there is any coverage. Satellite imagery is powerful in the ability to provide a window into some of the most remote areas of the world, but clouds still put up a fight and thanks to atmospheric circulation patterns, places like Colombia, Gabon, the Amazon Rainforest or Indonesia rarely show their true colors in a satellite image. Not only is it difficult to get a hint of land showing through a mass of clouds in an image, many times the high resolution satellites will not even make an attempt because the probability of a cloud-free image is so low.

45-day increase in refugee tents north of UNMISS Protected Site — Wau, South Sudan. Planetscope images ©2016 Planet Labs, Inc. cc-by-sa 4.0

The same is true for countries that have major rainy seasons such as South Sudan, where between May and November, cloud-free imagery is rare, along with the attempt to capture imagery. So you can imagine my excitement when I found that Planet had an image over Wau, South Sudan from 17 July 2016 that resulted in a beautiful 3.1 m resolution view of the town and more important to me, the UNMISS Protected Area.

This was a recent area of interest to me since the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released a report on June 30th on the fresh fighting in Wau county, South Sudan resulting in thousands of people fleeing their homes. At these times, places of worship and UN protected areas tend to attract those seeking safety and security and it is clear, looking at the Planet image from 17 July 2016, that many new tents have popped up on the northern edge of the UNMISS area in Wau.

Even though this one image of a bunch of white dots could add value to research on the situation, it is probably not going to cause any immediate impacts on human rights policies in South Sudan. But as the Planet’s flock of satellites continues to grow, and the entire Earth is imaged every day, maybe we will be able to better predict the potential dissolution of a fragile peace accord in the world’s youngest country. This becomes even more important as the overall human rights situation in South Sudan continues to deteriorate.