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Wednesday, September 25 • 11:00am - 11:30am
Understanding a Rapidly Expanding Refugee Camp Using Convolutional Neural Networks and Satellite Imagery

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Susanne Benz (UC San Diego), Hogeun Park (UC San Diego), Jiaxin Li (UC San Diego), Daniel Crawl (UC San Diego), Jessica Block (UC San Diego), Mai Nguyen (UC San Diego), and Ilkay Altintas (UC San Diego)

In summer 2017, close to one million Rohingya, an ethnic minority group in Myanmar, have fled to Bangladesh due to the persecution of Muslims. This large influx of refugees has resided around existing refugee camps. Because of this dramatic expansion, the newly established Kutupalong-Balukhali expansion site lacked basic infrastructure and public service. While Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRCC) conducted a series of counting exercises to understand the demographics of refugees, our understanding of camp formation is still limited. Since the household type survey is time-consuming and does not entail geo-information, we propose to use a combination of high-resolution satellite imagery and machine learning (ML) techniques to assess the spatiotemporal dynamics of the refugee camp. Four Very-High Resolution (VHR) images (i.e., World View-2) are analyze to compare the camp pre- and post-influx. Using deep learning and unsupervised learning, we organized the satellite image tiles of a given region into geographically relevant categories. Specifically, we used a pre-trained convolutional neural network (CNN) to extract features from the image tiles, followed by cluster analysis to segment the extracted features into similar groups. Our results show that the size of the built-up area increased significantly from 0.4 km2 in January 2016 and 1.5 km2 in May 2017 to 8.9 km2 in December 2017 and 9.5 km2 in February 2018. Through the benefits of unsupervised machine learning, we further detected the densification of the refugee camp over time and were able to display its heterogeneous structure. The developed method is scalable and applicable to rapidly expanding settlements across various regions. And thus a useful tool to enhance our understanding of the structure of refugee camps, which enables us to allocate resources for humanitarian needs to the most vulnerable populations.


Susanne Benz

UC San Diego

Wednesday September 25, 2019 11:00am - 11:30am
Cockatoo Room