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Earth observation tools enhance planning, climate-proofing in Mandalay

September 2017

Rapid development of cities does not always go hand to hand with development of public services and critical infrastructure. 


In Myanmar, ADB is investing in improving critical infrastructure and increasing affordable access as part of its country partnership strategy to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth. This supports government objectives to reduce poverty and achieve national reconciliation.

One such investment is the Mandalay Urban Services Improvement Project (MUSIP), which contributes to a better urban environment and public health in the city of Mandalay through improved access to sustainable urban services, including water supply system improvements, enhanced drainage and flood protection, and improved wastewater management. The project is expected to help Mandalay increase its development potential as a regional economic growth center.

Earth observation (EO) technologies, through the European Space Agency (ESA) and Gisat, provided valuable information from satellite imagery to support the efficient planning and execution of the project. In particular, the use of EO tools helped ensure climate resilience considerations can be effectively integrated into the project design. According to Eri Honda, ADB principal urban development specialist and MUSIP project officer, “These water supply and wastewater facilities have to be protected from floods.” 

Myanmar is classified as having an “acute” overall climate change vulnerability factor up to 2030, based on the 2015 Global Climate Risk Index. 

ESA and Gisat contributed detailed urban and periurban land use and land cover mapping, as well as maximum water extent mask for the last decade, modelled water extents for predefined recurrent frequency intervals, flood occurrence probabilities, and regional land use or land cover changes in a wider area along the Irrawaddy River.

These were derived from an analysis of multi-resolution optical and radar satellite data, depending on the required scale and information content. Geometric and thematic accuracy were assessed in an initial validation by using ancillary data obtained from the users or by pseudo-ground truth visual interpretation in addition to the very high-resolution satellite imagery.  These service outputs were provided both as GIS-ready geospatial layers and in the form of print-ready high-resolution maps. An analytical web-based data exploration tool was also made available during the capacity building workshop, with an offline and online version.

I found it relevant to involve [ESA and Gisat] in the Mandalay project as not only the products, but also the capacity development training were very useful. The project teamed up with Mandalay Technological University and they really appreciated the training delivered. I am interested in continuing the work to integrate this technology into urban planning activities together with the recently established department for urban and land management at the Mandalay City Development Committee.

Eri Honda

ADB Principal Urban Development Specialist

More than just maps, a value addition 

The use of spatial data to understand urban growth in the region, raise awareness within the cities, and prepare for future involvements is common in ADB operations. However, these practices are based mostly on local mapping and in-field investigation. Most of the time, though, especially in developing Asia, maps are unavailable. 

Honda initially wanted to get free maps from ESA. But the service provider specialized in bringing the whole package—delivering standard, harmonized information complete with analysis, retrospectively and to date. Hence, their scope was broadened to include disaster risk assessment. For instance, they provided optical imagery capturing the situation during peak monsoon flood inundation periods for the years 2003 and 2006–2010. Flood frequency (using 10/50/100-year period) was also analyzed using the resulting flood inundation classification and the flood risk for potentially affected built-up areas was reviewed.

They also introduced some new analytical scope (land use accounting), standards (topology, attribution), and monitoring capacity (retrospective archived data and up-to-date, especially in light of the recently launched Sentinel satellite missions). These techniques were generally not known to local stakeholders. In addition, they facilitated capacity development, which proved to be highly useful for the government and other partners in Mandalay. 


Mapping can be done to a very detailed degree, such as the city block level, to identify specific infrastructure and changes

Regional land use and accounting for changes 

There are two causes of flooding in Mandalay, Honda explains. First, there is water coming down from the mountains to the city; and second, the Irrawaddy river overflows during heavy rainfall. The maps and geographic information system (GIS) data help to understand the changes around the river, such as differences during wet and dry seasons. 

Similarly, a look back at the urban growth of Mandalay over the last decade is crucial for planning future land use. “Because the city area is being expanded, we need to avoid having people live in vulnerable areas, flooding areas.” 

“We also need to maintain some green areas so that water flowing from the mountains can be captured here,” she adds, explaining how this can prevent direct impact on the city.


A temporal assessment or a comparison of maps over time can show how the city has developed and even present risk-prone areas 

Capacity building on GIS information and usage

Stakeholders in Mandalay greatly appreciated the training provided by ESA, according to Honda. The capacity building event was conducted at the Department of Remote Sensing of Mandalay Technical University (MTU) in late 2015. The workshop, which included participants from the Mandalay City Development Committee (MCDC) and the Department of Agricultural Land Management and Statistics (DALMS), aimed at supporting officials and other local stakeholders in understanding and utilizing the products delivered by the project. Some technical sessions aimed at capacity building in EO data analysis techniques.

​ESA usually does not conduct field visits, but ADB requested the agency to check the local situation and also to provide training programs on how to use GIS maps and layer the information. Many participants found these topics completely new yet relevant. Honda adds how there is usually no capacity development of this kind in other cities, so this was highly useful, and as a result, the government wants to continue working with ESA.

A capacity building workshop was conducted with the Mandalay Technical University on 24–25 September 2015.

Impact and benefits

EO-based products and services provided a structured information base to better understand urban development in Mandalay. Although the project impact is not always easily measurable, it can be seen as twofold: (i) in the short-term, the improved geospatial information base should benefit MUSIP implementation and improve the analytical capacity of the principal local contractor; (ii) in the long-term, the delivered capacity building should raise awareness among local stakeholders, specifically with MCDC. MTU also became the counterpart of ESA in the city, and from this collaboration knowledge can be shared with other cities. This will help support and facilitate future activities of ADB in Mandalay and Myanmar.

For future uptake and operations, poor internet connection and GIS infrastructure in Myanmar have to be addressed. Support is also needed to improve access to EO data and the technical infrastructure capacity of key local stakeholders.

*This project story is based on the original article in the publication, Earth Observation for a Transforming Asia and Pacific.

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Paolo Manunta
Infrastructure Specialist
European Space Agency Secondee
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