UPDATES*: MapAction disaster mappers working with UN on response to floods in Libya

Key facts (September 25, 09:00 UTC)

  • More than 4,000 dead and 10,000 people missing in floods in eastern Libya caused by Storm Daniel, according to UN OCHA. Estimates of the number of deaths vary, according to different sources: they range from about 4,000 to double or triple that amount, according to the International Medical Corps
  • Two dams collapsed on Sunday September 10th due to torrential rains and flooded the city of Derna, 300 kilometres east of Benghazi
  • MapAction humanitarian mappers are working alongside UN teams in Cairo to support the response
  • MapAction’s Libya map repository outlines which roads are still in use, accumulated rainfall, and affected areas in the governorate of Derna, among other key data points
  • $19 billion is the estimated infrastructure damage caused by the floods in Derna
  • Read our Humanitarian Response Appeal here
  • UNICEF: 17,000 children displaced by the floods
  • SEE ALSO: Morocco earthquake response maps here
  • Read the latest MapAction newsletter or subscribe
  • *This blog is not updated regularly in the evenings or on weekends

September 25. 09:00 UTC: Nearly 20,000 children displaced by floods, UNICEF estimates

Of the 43,000 people displaced by the floods, UNICEF estimates that at least 17,000 may be children, states an update from UN OCHA from the weekend.

“WHO conducted a rapid assessment of 78 health facilities in affected areas, including Al-Marj district, Derna city and part of Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar. More than half of the facilities were reported either partially or totally non-functional due to shortage of medical supplies, medicines, equipment or staff, damaged buildings and limited accessibility,” states the same update.

September 22. 15:15: Aid is reaching Derna.

(The below is from a UN OCHA press release)

“UNICEF shipped 65 metric tons of life-saving medical supplies and water, sanitation and hygiene items, child protection supplies and delivered emergency medical kits to primary care services to support 15,000 people for three months and hygiene kits for almost 1,000 people and 500 clothing kits. Mobile psychosocial support teams are being set up with social welfare authorities and two NGO partners.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is distributing blankets, plastic tarpaulins and kitchen equipment to 6,200 displaced families in Derna and Benghazi.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed food rations to more than 9,000 people. This includes dry rations to cover their food needs for 15 days.

The World Health Organization (WHO) shipped 28 tons of medical supplies and donated ambulances and medical kits. In addition, a WHO team met with the health authorities in Derna today and agreed to prioritize mental health support to help people cope with the distress they experienced during this catastrophe.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has delivered non-food items to nearly 3,000 migrants and displaced persons. The agency also delivered medicines and supplies for 5,000 people in Derna and 4,000 families in Benghazi.”

September 22. 15:00 UTC: The focus of the MapAction Libya flood response team’s maps has shifted towards creating Assessment Area Units. These maps help decision-makers get a better picture of who is worst affected and where, and therefore how to prioritise the delivery of aid. It helps decision-makers get the granularity required for responding to those in need, rather than just providing a blanket response. Assessment needs to be localised enough to make sense.

“It’s similar to what you’d do during an aerial survey where you break up the area,” says MapAction team leader Chris Jarvis, recalling an aerial survey exercise in Mozambique during the response to Cyclone Idai in 2019 that led to this map. Learn more about that aerial survey in this ICRC video.

READ ALSO: MapAction supports Cyclone Idai response

September 22: 14:55 UTC. In case you missed the news, MapAction staff and volunteers were in the beautiful Italian town of Ispra for training with INFORM. INFORM is “a multi-stakeholder forum for developing shared, quantitative analysis relevant to humanitarian crises and disasters” that is “developing a suite of quantitative, analytical products to support decision-making on humanitarian crises and disasters.”

MapAction humanitarian mapping volunteer Chris Jarvis adds to the MapWall. Photo: Alice Goudie.

September 21. 12:10 UTC.

MapAction team leader Chris Jarvis discusses the latest maps with Roberto Colombo Llimona, Assessment and Analysis Cell Coordinator with UNDAC.

September 21. 10:55 UTC. UPDATE FROM MAPACTION TEAM LEADER CHRIS JARVIS ON THE LIBYA FLOOD RESPONSE TEAM

Chris Jarvis, Libya flood response team leader for MapAction, explains how the response is moving out of the search and rescue phase and into the assessment phase. “This is where we try and get more information about what are the needs of the different people,” says Chris. Designing surveys and putting questions together for those affected is a key part of this information-gathering phase. Listen below to the full explanation.

September 21. 10:50 UTC: $19 billion estimated in infrastructure damage

Significant infrastructure damage estimated at $19 billion affected 2,217 buildings, including 284 educational and 128 health facilities in and around the city of Derna, according to an update from NGO Data Friendly Space published on Relief Web.

“Immediate needs are in health, food, water, shelter, with vulnerable groups such as children and displaced persons requiring specialised assistance,” adds the update.

September 20. 13:55 UTC: “So far, around 1,500 people in Derna and Benghazi have been assisted with core relief items including blankets, plastic tarpaulins, kitchen sets, hygiene kits and clothes,” reads a statement published yesterday from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). An airlift from UNHCR’s warehouse in Dubai was scheduled to arrive on 19th September in Benghazi with relief items to assist 10,000 people, adds the update on the UN’s Relief Web service.

September 20. 13:25 UTC: Partners from iMMAP, Atlas Logistique and the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) office, peruse the recently-established MapAction MapWall. MapAction mapping volunteer Alice Goudie offers a guided tour.

MapAction volunteer Alice Goudie talks partners through the MapWall. Photo: Chris Jarvis.

September 20. 13:15 UTC: Where MapAction humanitarian mappers go, a MapWall soon follows. Below is Chris Jarvis, team leader for the Libya response, setting one up at a UN emergency operations room in Cairo.

SEE ALSO: More from the MapAction Libya floods repository of maps

MapAction volunteeer Chris Jarvis sets up a MapWall. Photo: Alice Goudie.

September 20. 10:30 UTC: This map by MapAction’s team of Libya-focused humanitarian mapping volunteers working with the UN shows all the dams in eastern Libya, including the two collapsed dams that caused the major floods in the city of Derna. Those floods have killed at least 4,000 people.

September 20. 09:40 UTC: Chris Jarvis (below in the MapAction t-shirt), team leader at MapAction for the Libya response, tells us in the video below why MapAction’s work matters and how it makes a difference in such emergencies.

September 19. 16:15 UTC: MapAction’s work is not only about being on the frontlines of emergencies. Each mission is also supported by a remote team. In the image below, the remote support team for Libya, formed of Sam Gandhi (left) and Darren Connaghan, touch base with Alice Goudie and Chris Jarvis, who are in Cairo working alongside the UN.

September 19. 10.10 UTC: MapAction’s team of mappers are in Cairo working alongside UN personnel to map some of the key incoming data from Derna. This helps support the vital decision-making process in the temporary emergency operations room.

MapAction volunteer Alice Goudie works on maps at a UN emergency operations room in Cairo. Alice also volunteered during the Turkiye earthquake response. Alice works for Emu-Analytics. Photo: Chris Jarvis.

MapAction’s cohort of 70+ volunteers, all experts in GIS and data management, undergo extensive humanitarian training with MapAction all-year round before being deployed to any crisis or natural disaster. Every year, the majority of our volunteers, old and new, come together for a disaster simulation event too. This year’s was a simulation for a volcanic eruption, held on the Isle of Cumbrae in Scotland.

READ MORE: MapAction conducts simulated volcanic eruption response exercise on Isle of Cumbrae

READ ALSO (in The Herald Scotland): Isle of Cumbrae becomes training ground for disaster response

September 19. 09:15 UTC

September 18. 16:35 UTC: UNDAC Team Leader Nabil Chemil tours Derna and outlines some of the challenges: location of bodies, preventing disease outbreaks and provision of clean water are all priorities. MapAction teams have worked with Nabil before, including during the earthquake response in Turkiye, and will be supporting the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) office’s work in the continued response to the devastating floods in eastern Libya.

September 18. 16:10 UTC: Many of the maps our remote team are publishing help paint a clearer picture of what humanitarian responders face to administer aid, create shelters or reach survivors. The map below outlines how the floods caused by Storm Daniel made many roads in the city of Derna unpassable.

September 18. 16:00 UTC: There has been some confusion regarding the total death toll caused by the floods in Libya, as reported by this article. The latest figures, from the UN’s Relief Web service, state that 3,958 people have been killed and 9000 are missing in the floods.

The same source suggests that, according to the latest data from IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix, more than 40,000 people have been displaced across northeastern Libya. UNICEF says 300,000 children exposed to Storm Daniel now face increased risk of diarrhoea and cholera, dehydration and malnutrition, as well as increased risks of violence and exploitation. Read more here.

September 15. 12:00 UTC: The floods in Libya caused two dams to burst, apparently sweeping away whole parts of the eastern Libyan city of Derna. The UN Resident Coordinator requested MapAction’s help; an alert then went out among MapAction’s deployable team of disaster mappers, to see who was immediately available. A team was placed on standby. Security assessments completed. Specialist insurance, visas and tickets acquired. MapAction expects to send disaster mapping personnel to Libya to work alongside the UN as soon as logistically possible. 

It has been a devastating week in North Africa. The fatal floods in Derna, Libya, caused by Storm Daniel, and the earthquake in Morocco, have seen MapAction publish more than a dozen maps of the affected disaster areas. More than 7,000 people have been confirmed dead in the Maghreb region of Africa due to both natural disasters in the last week.

As of Thursday a spokesperson for the Libyan Red Crescent placed the death toll at more than 11,300, reports the Associated Press. More than 10,000 people are also reported missing. Those figures have since been disputed and updated. (See above)

A remote team of MapAction mappers continues to work in support of Morocco, which was struck by a 6.8 magnitude earthquake on the night of Friday September 8th. According to the latest update (7pm, Wednesday September 13th) from the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior, that earthquake, the epicentre of which was in a hard-to-reach region between Agadir and Marrakech, has already claimed 2946 lives. MapAction alerted its volunteer cohort, began to publish maps for humanitarian responders and has a team on standby to deploy. 

Unexpected disasters like the ones in Libya and Morocco this week are the reason MapAction works all-year-round to build resilience to disasters locally. This summer alone we have held disaster preparedness and resilience-building events in Nepal, Senegal, Philippines, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Madagascar. 

READ ALSO: MapAction continues to strengthen global disaster preparedness in summer of 2023

It is also why we are working to make countries and regions vulnerable to such disasters more resilient, through better use of data. 


MapAction works on disaster preparedness 24/7, all-year-round. From the team that cancelled Christmas to rush to DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) in response to flooding, to those helping local communities to become better prepared for disasters, those delivering training, or advocating for better use of data for humanitarian response. We do the technical work that ultimately helps others save more lives. If you like the work we do and would like to support that work, or think you know somebody who would, please get in touch. MapAction doesn’t have the funds it needs, and the demands of responding to natural disasters are only getting greater. Read more in our appeal here.

MapAction responds to Morocco earthquake, deployment team on standby

A MapAction team of experienced humanitarian data volunteers is always on standby. Photo: MapAction.

MapAction teams began responding to the devastating 6,8 magnitude earthquake in Morocco as news began to break on the morning of Saturday September 9th. The latest bulletin from the Moroccan Ministry of the Interior puts the death toll at above 2800, with thousands more injured.

Every time a major natural disaster like this occurs, at MapAction we activate our internal emergency protocol and put out an alert among our cohort of 70+ expert data and geospatial volunteers. Based on availability, we build a team of ‘disaster landscape mappers’ on standby and ready to deploy to the field. 

We currently have a team on standby to travel to Morocco if and when necessary and we have received a request for support from the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination office (UNDAC). Our remote team of mappers have begun to carefully select data points and package them into a set of useful maps, which are being shared with UNDAC.

The maps each paint their own picture: affected regions, provinces and prefectures, population density or elevation. Others highlight the shake intensity in different areas. We will continue to offer remote support and create maps that we know decision-makers will benefit from, drawing on our experience from 12 previous earthquake responses in the last 20 years.

READ ALSO: MapAction working to build disaster resilience globally

MapAction works on disaster preparedness 24/7, all-year-round. From the team that cancelled Christmas to rush to DRC in response to flooding, to those helping local communities to become better prepared for disasters, those delivering training, or advocating for better use of data for humanitarian response. We do the technical work that ultimately helps others save more lives. If you like the work we do and would like to support that work, or think you know somebody who would, please get in touch. MapAction doesn’t have the funds it needs, and the demands of responding to natural disasters are only getting greater. Read more in our appeal here.

MapAction continues to strengthen global disaster preparedness in summer of 2023

With El Nino set to bring a particularly challenging period for humanitarians, MapAction members have been busy all summer working on disaster preparedness around the world. 

Participants at a MapAction-led GIS course in Senegal in August 2023. Photo: Ant Scott

If you missed our recent announcement, we are delighted to be able to introduce Colin Rogers, MapAction’s new CEO. Read more about Colin here and his decades of experience in the health and humanitarian sectors.

READ ALSO: MapAction excited to announce Colin Rogers as new chief executive

In June, a team from MapAction completed a series of workshops with national and regional disaster managers from Central Asia, with local partner the Centre for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR). 

“In total, from 2019 to 2023, the Center, together with MapAction, conducted 14 trainings on the use of GIS technologies, while more than 309 employees of the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Kyrgyz Republic and the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Uzbekistan were trained.” Read more in CESDRR’s own words here.

MapAction’s Lukasz Gorowiec with disaster response personnel during a workshop in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in June 2023 with the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR). Image: Alistair Wilkie.

In late July, another team from MapAction completed a QGIS workshop for national disaster managers in Nepal, with the Start Network. QGIS is an open source geographic information system. The Start Network comprises approximately 80 non-governmental organisations across five continents, ranging from large international organisations to local and national NGOs. Its mission is to “create a new era of humanitarian action that will save even more lives.” 

A group photo after a MapAction-led disaster preparedness event in Nepal in July 2023. Photo: Matt Sims.

Another event, this time for local NGOs in Bangladesh, again via the Start Network, explored early action and fast and effective response to disasters. 

“Geospatial data, data visualisation and information management are critical to anticipatory action and we are demonstrating and hosting training sessions on how they can be used to enhance the coordination of disaster risk nationally,” commented longtime member Anthony Giles. 

The disaster preparedness event in Bangladesh was kindly supported by the Insurance Development Forum, the Eco-Social Development Organization (ESDO) and the Start Network. 

MapAction member Fiona Hardie at a workshop with disaster preparedness stakeholders in Bangladesh. This event was also part of MapAction’s work with Start Network. Photo: MapAction.

Over the past 3 weeks, besides in Bangladesh, MapAction teams have also run introductory GIS courses in Madagascar and Senegal to around 60 delegates, Start Network members and staff. A further course will take place in the Philippines this month. Besides the courses, MapAction teams reviewed tools in use for tasks such as hazard management and vulnerability assessment at local and national disaster preparedness agencies, with a view to providing further technical assistance in the future.

MapAction’s Ant Scott conducts a GIS course in Senegal. Photo: MapAction.

In other news, MapAction’s Head of Programme Development, Alan Mills MBE flew to New York to speak as a panellist at the Thirteenth Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UNGGIM). 

Alan reiterated to member states the key role that geospatial services can play in humanitarian disaster reduction and mitigation.

“Given the increasing humanitarian demands around the globe, whether from meteorological events and climate change impacts, seismic shocks, food insecurity or displacement, the implementation of the UN-IGIF (United Nations Integrated Geospatial Information Framework/UN-IGIF) and application of the guidelines set out in the Strategic Framework of Disasters provides geospatial resource efficiencies in helping to build resilience and support the most vulnerable in our communities,” Alan told the session. Read Alan’s speech here

MapAction’s Alan Mills OBE at the UN. Image: Screenshot.

MapAction works on disaster preparedness 24/7, all-year-round. From the team that cancelled Christmas to rush to DRC in response to flooding, to those helping local communities to become better prepared for disasters, those delivering training, or advocating for better use of data for humanitarian response. We do the technical work that ultimately helps others save more lives. If you like the work we do and would like to support that work, or think you know somebody who would, please get in touch. MapAction doesn’t have the funds it needs, and the demands of climate change are only getting greater. Read more in our appeal here or donate here.

“Adds value to humanitarian response”

Volunteer Ant Scott talks to the GeoMob podcast about volunteering at MapAction.

Ant Scott (centre) at MapAction’s emergency response simulation event on the Isle of Cumbrae in May 2023. Photo: MapAction.

Below is an edited excerpt of a podcast produced by GeoMob and featuring long-time MapAction volunteer Ant Scott talking about MapAction’s work. Listen to the full podcast here.

Why we must address the gender gap in humanitarian data

Without a consistent approach to sex-and-age-disaggregated-data (SADD) in local, national and international data collection, the specific needs of women and girls – as well as men and boys – will continue to be misunderstood or overlooked by international development agents and disaster relief operators. The same is true for understanding the needs of the LGBT community in a disaster.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Women and children, and in some cases men and boys, should not be more likely to die or be injured in a natural disaster. Yet a brief review of the literature on the disproportionate effects disasters place on different genders reveals that boys, girls, men and women can all be overlooked in humanitarian response for different reasons.

Previous studies have shown that key challenges in health, provision of shelter, food security and women’s safety – to mention but a few examples – cannot be solved with a one-profile-fits-all approach to data collection and analysis. Otherwise certain groups remain marginalised and the support they need does not reach them. 

Needs differ, even in a disaster

MapAction, a humanitarian mapping charity that maps disaster landscapes, needs the right data to make the right maps to support decision-makers. Decisions based on SADD can be critical, yet hard to source. To get a better understanding of the need for more SADD in humanitarian response, MapAction interviewed representatives from 10 stakeholder organisations and reviewed dozens of specialist academic reviews on SADD in humanitarian data collection and response. 

The knowhow MapAction has accumulated from 140+ emergency responses feeds into the long-term innovation and MEAL strategy.

The process revealed that sometimes something as simple as stigma can be the key factor in misunderstanding gender-specific needs in a disaster. During the cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2011, for example, SADD revealed that more men were dying and fewer men were attending clinics than women. This led to the discovery that men needed more education on the symptoms and highlighted where men had been hiding their symptoms because they confused them with HIV, which had associated stigma, notes a case study in the EU’s Gender-Age Toolkit

Another report by UN Women also found that people who identify as LGBT suffer more before and after a disaster. “The authors found that the discrimination, violence and isolation LGBT people face before, during and after emergencies weakens their ability to live resilient and dignified lives, survive and recover. And humanitarian and disaster response organizations do not appear to be systematically dealing with the problem, they say,” states UN Women in a summary of the report The Only Way Up that looked at cases in Myanmar, the Philippines and Vanuatu.

An interesting case study from Eritrea showed that adolescent demobilised male fighters were experiencing severe malnutrition because they did not know how to cook and had nobody to cook for them. While cases such as these highlight male margination, it is women and girls who continue to experience the most disproportionate impact because of unresolved gender parity issues, especially in societies with stronger patriarchal attitudes. “Gender equality is growing more distant. UN Women puts it 300 years away,” António Guterres, secretary general of the UN, told the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March 2023.  

Women most affected

In Pakistan, for example, a 2009 review of World Food Programme (WFP) food ration recipients identified 95% of registered men were collecting rations, but only 55% of women. This triggered further investigation that led to understanding the access constraints affecting women, states a multi-stakeholder report from 2011. 

Another example showed that female victims of natural disasters in Pakistan refused to be transported by male helicopter pilots because of potential stigma and fear of repercussions from male relatives. Stakeholders from major INGOs interviewed by MapAction for this study also cited striking other examples of gender imbalance in aid provision from Tanzania, Somalia and Sri Lanka. Understanding the role gender plays in each territory and context is vital. 

Globally natural disasters kill more women than men and often at a younger age, observed a World Health Organization (WHO) study. Gender and age both matter in terms of who dies, who is injured and whose lives are impacted in what ways during and after the crisis, note Mazurana and Proctor in the The Routledge Companion to Humanitarian Action

Data challenge

That is why sex-and-age-disaggregated data (SADD) is key. SADD highlights how people are affected differently depending on their age and gender, notes a 2021 report by the office of the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR). Disaggregated data is key for example when modelling differences in development, mortality and disease risk, allowing for more targeting of specific at risk groups, states an earlier study on gender, data and international crisis response. Disaggregated data is also vital for understanding vulnerabilities, needs and barriers to access during a humanitarian response.

Number of people trained in disaster management by MapAction over the course of two decades.

Culture and politics play a role

Yet often SADD is sadly not available. “It is commonly argued that ‘paying attention to gender issues may not be timely or practical on the ground,’ i.e. the so-called ‘tyranny of the urgent,’” notes a study by the Swedish development agency Sida, while emphasising the role that SADD can play for “effective relief and lifesaving assistance.”

Beyond the will to collect such data, there are logistical and technical challenges. SADD can be complex to interpret and better formatting and presentation are needed to improve adoption for programming decisions. Others have noted that where SADD is collected, there are reports of inconsistent collection, inconsistent data management and inconsistent analysis and use. There are also challenges associated with data sharing, with a lack of coordination and data quality concerns.  Data collected locally are also sometimes not shared or aggregated at a national level in a way that loses the SADD which was collected.

More SADD, please!

We believe the brief and non-exhaustive list of recommendations and resources below will help strengthen our own and our partners’ role in pushing for the availability and mainstreaming of more SADD for humanitarian response.  

  • The more people who are asking how gender is being considered during assessments, or requesting SADD, the more likely it is to begin to be more systematically considered. This should include sharing of knowledge and best practices with partners and in the humanitarian ecosystem;
  • Identify community groups and agencies that may be key to helping inform and include a gender perspective;
  • Training and awareness raising. It is not just after a disaster occurs that SADD matters, it is also important in anticipatory action. Integrating protection, gender and inclusion considerations into anticipatory action interventions is a crucial step in tackling the intersecting vulnerabilities that affect the delivery of humanitarian assistance. It also helps to ensure that any assistance provided does not exacerbate these vulnerabilities. 

USEFUL RESOURCES

The Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action, Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IACS)

Gender in Emergencies, Care Emergency Toolkit

Oxfam Minimum Standards for Gender in Emergencies, Oxfam

A Little Gender Handbook for Emergencies, Oxfam

READ ALSO: CoP 27 : Good use of data is key to mitigating the climate emergency

MapAction’s mapping of floods in Peru produced “quality visualisations of the issues”

In early April 2023, a MapAction team led by Luis F. P. Velasquez deployed to Lima, the capital of Peru, to help map the response to deadly floods at the request of the local office of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC), a longtime MapAction partner.

MapAction volunteer Andy Kervell discusses a MapAction MapWall with a UN OCHA officer in Lima, Peru. Photo: MapAction.

The government of Peru had declared a state of emergency in three northern coastal states and across 54% of the country, following heavy rains since December last year. 

As roads and key transport hubs were blocked, schools forced to close and vulnerable people left stranded in large swathes of northern Peru, humanitarian respondents had to find ways to navigate the emergency and plan humanitarian support operations in an environment with limited data.

The MapAction team was supported remotely by Tom Huger, with volunteers Becky Kervell and Andy Kervell joining the mission a week later to support UNDAC’s efforts to map the aid response.

“There’s no way we could have produced such quality visualisation of the issues without MapAction’s team”, said a member of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a key user of MapAction’s map products in Peru. “We would have had to rely on very simplified versions of maps, with a very limited update capacity,” added OCHA’s Peru flood response team member.

Portrait of an emergency

MapAction’s maps paint a clearer picture of the emergency for key managers and agencies involved in decision-making in any crisis. Besides the actual mapping, MapAction’s knowhow from over 140 emergency responses worldwide in the last 20 years acts as a radar for the most relevant data to map in a crisis scenario. 

Feedback from partners suggests that MapAction’s intervention in Peru was timely and effective. “It would have been difficult to select the best, most relevant data that should be best presented in a map format,” without MapAction, added OCHA’s team member.

SEE ALSO: MapAction Peru floods maps

MapAction volunteer Andy Kervell, who also deployed, was happy to be able to visit old colleagues in Lima having previously worked on reconstruction efforts remotely as part of his day job with Arup* following previous floods in Peru. 

A pack of MapAction maps related to the floods rest on a table before a team meeting with humanitarian partners at UN and government agencies.

“It really was about the opportunity to contribute to the response for communities affected by this event which I have previous involvement with from my day job with Arup,” said Andy Kervell, who spent two weeks mapping for UNDAC together with fellow geospatial humanitarian mapper, and partner, MapAction volunteer Becky Kervell.

“Clear way to identify most impacted areas”

Maps help everyone in an emergency response scenario get a better sense of a given humanitarian priority and co-produce the best possible relief decisions, whether it be in terms of shelter, resource allocation or getting aid to where it is most needed. 

“It [MapAction’s maps] provided a clear way to identify most impacted areas – areas where there would be more people with humanitarian needs – in order to organise the response. This would have been done in people’s heads otherwise and not as effectively,” said a UN OCHA officer who worked on the flood response. 

Volunteer Andy Kervell, one of circa 80 volunteers at MapAction, highlights how a map can also help decision-makers assess a specific crisis challenge with a given data set. This map of shelters in Piura, for example, highlighted that there was quite a difference in the number of people in shelters compared to those affected. This suggested that it was likely that families were staying within the community. Emergency responses require such key insights.

READ ALSO: MapAction conducts simulated volcanic eruption response exercise on Isle of Cumbrae

“Shaping of a clear situational picture”

“MapAction’s work helped increase the understanding of the humanitarian situation using the limited data available, as well as contributing together with other partners through other information products, in the shaping of a common and clear situational picture,”  Antonio E. Miranda Melgar, information management officer at UN OCHA and a member of the Peru flood response in 2023, told MapAction. 

The impact was tangible, adds Melgar: “This has helped the effective delivery of humanitarian aid by several humanitarian actors and decision makers.”

Team Leader Luis F. P. Velasquez added that MapAction’s presence helped to shape the humanitarian response. “MapAction’s work played an important role in advocacy, as well as helping in the effective delivery of humanitarian aid by strengthening decision-making processes through the use of data,” said Velasquez. 

READ MORE: How maps can save lives when disasters strike

Want to support MapAction? Find out more about our work and current appeal here. We’re also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

*Andy Kervell’s time in Lima for MapAction was kindly part covered by the Arup Community Engagement Fund.  

PHOTO ESSAY: MapAction conducts simulated volcanic eruption response exercise on Isle of Cumbrae

An emergency ‘map wall’. MapAction’s maps help inform specific decisions about allocation of key resources in humanitarian situations.

Every year, MapAction brings together its staff, its cohort of volunteers, partners and other stakeholders to hold a three-day exercise to simulate an emergency response to a given disaster. The objective is to strengthen the whole organisation’s disaster preparedness; to ensure MapAction is as ready as it can be for the next emergency response.

This year’s scenario envisaged a volcanic eruption on the fictional island of Ranas in the fictional country of Scotia. The exercise actually took place on the Isle of Cumbrae, 45 minutes southwest of Glasgow.

Cloud of ash over the horizon? A view of Cumbrae, also known after the name of its main town Millport, in cloudy weather.

The scenario, partly designed around the local geography, accessibility and geological features, imagined that the local disaster relief network has requested MapAction’s presence, five days after the eruption, to map the disaster landscape and to help inform the decision-making process – to help save lives.

An infographic produced by a team and based on the fictional volcanic eruption.

Read more about the scenario and the exercise in The Herald Scotland: https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/23535626.isle-cumbrae-becomes-training-ground-disaster-response/

Volunteers play themselves in the simulation but several MapAction staff members assume roles for the exercise, such as the governor of the affected region, an environmental officer, a hostile journalist etc.

MapAction volunteers meet with the governor (centre, role-played by MapAction’s Alan Mills) of the fictional province affected to understand more about how their humanitarian mapping skills can support the emergency response.

Senior staff members even go into costume to make roles more convincing.

MapAction CEO Liz Hughes (centre) and Head of Programmes Hellen Chabunya (left), both playing stakeholders in the hypothetical country and scenario, throw some curveballs at a volunteer from Team Bravo during the exercise. Photo: Alistair Wilkie.

The volunteers, many of whom work for leading GIS, AI, humanitarian or tech companies, have been split into five teams (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo), each with their own tasks and deadlines.

Team Charlie review their map wall on Saturday May 20th, Day 2 of the exercise. First mapping tasks focused on data related to population, context, logistics and shelter.

Volunteers are only given the basic context and details of the scenario the day they arrive to ensure the simulation feels as real as possible. In many emergency responses, a MapAction team will arrive in a rapidly unfolding and fluid situation in the affected country and will have to set-up and adapt fast to needs.

Members of Team Bravo discuss the minutiae of their map wall.

The simulation, dubbed Gilded Unicorn internally, is also an opportunity for partners to get a closer look at MapAction’s work and to share synergies.

Alex Pycroft, from the British Red Cross, attends a meeting in the simulated emergency operations centre.

The event was hosted by the Field Studies Council on the Isle of Cumbrae, off the west coast of Scotland.

MapAction staff, volunteers, partners and guests gather for a team photo at the disaster simulation exercise.
The Field Studies Council site in Millport. The Field Studies Council has 24 sites across the UK which support its work to “help people learn about the environment so they can make informed choices about how best to protect it.”
The volunteers sleep in tents yet many sleep very little and map well into the early hours of the night on Day 1 to get their map products finalized. Deployments are often the same, say many volunteers, with bursts of intense mapping to meet a specific requirement from a partner agency or an urgent task deadline.
The event was made possible with funding from USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs (BHA).
BBC Scotland journalist Oliver Wright interviews MapAction volunteer Lavern Ryan from Montserrat.
Team leaders meeting.
Renée Babb, Global Information Systems (GIS) Specialist at the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), is a guest at the exercise. CDEMA is a long-time MapAction partner.
A volunteer from Team Delta reviews details on the team’s map wall.
Ekosuehi Iyahan, secretary general of the Insurance Development Forum, addressed MapAction’s staff and volunteers on the challenges of triggering early financing based on data for anticipatory action in the struggle against climate change.
Renée Babb, GIS Specialist at the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), talks to MapAction humanitarian mappers about the 19-state pan-Caribbean disaster management agency.
A close up of maps focused on the population displaced by the eruption on a map wall.
It’s getting busy in the emergency operations room where teams Charlie, Delta and Echo are tirelessly working away to get the final maps produced.
Next door, Team Alpha aren’t resting either.
MapAction Chair of Trustees Nick Moody and CEO Liz Hughes in conversation at the FSC.

The tech team brought more than 400 kilograms of tech equipment in over 20 metal boxes to the event. Each ‘Deployment Kit’ contains a pre-prepped laptop and the gear necessary to set-up a temporary office at the site of any emergency response.

A map perches on top of a deployment kit.
A simulated meeting with the governor of the affected region and other members of the fictional Albia Disaster Emergency Network.
MapAction CEO Liz Hughes reviews a local map of the territory. Photo: Alistair Wilkie.
Nick McWilliam from MapAction and Alex Pycroft from the British Red Cross talking by a map wall. Photo: Alistair Wilkie.
Maps, maps, maps! Photo: Alistair Wilkie.
Members of Team Alpha and Team Bravo check a few details on their map walls.
The wonderful Caribbean contingent (plus Alan Mills) in attendance at the event.

On the final day, teams gathered to give each other feedback on how they handled specific requests while also offering each other tips and advice on specific maps.

UPDATES: MapAction humanitarian mappers supporting UN response to heavy floods in Peru

Key facts (April 26, 2023):

  • More than 500,000 people severely affected by floods caused by heavy rains since December in Peru
  • State of emergency declared by the national government in more than 50 percent of the country
  • Northern coastal regions of Lambayeque, Tumbes and Piura worst-affected
  • MapAction rotating teams and mappers have been supporting the office of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) out of the capital Lima

April 26. 09:30 UTC. MapAction’s mappers have set up temporary office in Lima, Peru, in the last week and maps are already reaching UNDAC and partners. Cue a new MapAction Wall.

April 14. 12:00 UTC. Experienced humanitarian mappers from MapAction have travelled to Peru to support the United Nations and the Peruvian government’s response to floods that have affected more than 500,000 people since December 2022. The Peruvian government has declared a state of emergency in 1056 districts, more than 50 per cent of the country, according to an update last week from the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). 

In the northern Provinces of Tumbes, Piura and Lambayeque, among the most affected, the authorities issued an emergency declaration of the highest level. According to the latest report from UN OCHA, approximately 517,000 people have urgent humanitarian needs, 410,000 others have been directly affected, 12,000 houses have been destroyed and 73,000 damaged.

MapAction’s presence was once again requested by long-time partner UNDAC, the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination office. MapAction’s Luis Velasquez has travelled to Lima to be followed by experienced MapAction volunteer Becky Kervell in the near-future. MapAction’s Tom Hughes will support remotely from New York. 

As the tweet below shows, roads and infrastructure in Peru have been heavily affected by the floods and landslides. 

The Peruvian army has been evacuating children, elderly citizens and other vulnerable groups in some of the affected districts, reports Peruvian daily El Comercio. 

MapAction’s work will be coordinated from the capital Lima but will focus on supporting regional hubs in each of the three most-affected regions: Tumbes, Piura and Lambayeque, all coastal regions in northern Peru.

MapAction’s experience is often requested by international relief operators at the scene of natural disasters. Our disaster mapping helps inform better aid solutions for those affected, but remains under threat as it is not currently funded. If you would like to support this deployment financially, please get in touch with our Head of Philanthropic Giving, Howard Wheeldon: hwheeldon@mapaction.org

We need all the help we can get to continue to support unpredictable emergency responses. Please read about our Emergency Response Fund to understand more about the urgent need for more funding to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. 

READ ALSO: How maps can save lives when disasters strike

A volunteer-driven disaster relief model: a glimpse into a MapAction training weekend

Dogs patrol volunteer tents after a bout of rain at a recent MapAction training weekend. Photo: Cate Seale.

MapAction is a hub of 80 data, geospatial and geography professionals who volunteer as humanitarian mappers for disaster relief. Our new Head of Communications Alex Macbeth shares his views below of a recent training weekend, providing an insight into how and why volunteers at MapAction do what they do.

The GPS points towards a small community hall in a village not far from Oxford. As I approach, a row of wet tents in a field catches my eye. A couple of covered gas canisters outside suggest there has been cooking. Inside the sparsely-adorned hall, about 50 people are sitting on plastic chairs or leaning on pop-up tables.

The breakfast snacks on a table are thrifty: bread, tea, a handful of digestives. Laptop bags and raincoats line the edges of the room, like landmarks parked between the rivers of cables and extension leads. A few well-behaved dogs are roaming around, although it isn’t clear what geospatial credentials any of them have. Laptops are out; all eyes are on the map on the projector. 

A foremost expert among dogs on Geospatial Information Systems (GIS)? Photo: Luis Velasquez.

Lean and green event

I wasn’t sure what to expect at my first MapAction training weekend after recently joining the humanitarian mapping charity as head of communications. Many aid events I have attended or that I have been a part of in the last 10 years in the sector have often had the aesthetics of a high-society gala rather than a community feel. This was less Champagne Sunday, more lean and green.  

MapAction, a charity that works alongside UN, regional and civil society disaster relief agencies to map disaster landscapes and strengthen disaster preparedness, holds regular training events for its cohort of nearly 80 volunteers. These events create a platform to simulate disasters and the response expected from MapAction. They also serve as a way for volunteers who have been on deployments or worked on projects to provide feedback to each other, their peers and to the broader team at MapAction. These circular procedures and reviews are fundamental to how MapAction assesses impact. The learnings from these events ultimately get fed back to our InnovationHub, where new tools, projects, approaches and solutions are developed. 

New recruits

Early in 2023, MapAction added 12 new recruits to its volunteer cohort after a diligent and long interview and screening process. They come from an incredible range of fields and work for leading research institutes, businesses and other bodies, including the British Geological Survey, the British Antarctic Survey, Arup, Informed Solutions, the University of St Andrews and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to mention but a few.  

MapAction volunteers, old and new, brainstorming in a session at a recent training weekend outside Oxford, UK. Photo: Alan Mills.

Their skill sets for the job are proven but it is their life experiences that jump out. One is a former National Park ranger in Taiwan; another made maps for an Oscar-winning actor while yet another was himself a child actor on screen. They come from half a dozen countries, including Andorra. 

As I drove to the training weekend through endless roundabouts on a particularly rainy Sunday morning, I kept asking myself: why do successful mapping and data professionals give up their time and drag themselves to or across England in late March to camp by a wet community hall for a weekend? The answer was obvious once inside the room.

United community

The shared sense of commitment to humanitarian values was overwhelming. Volunteers don’t bemoan the sacrifice. If there is a personal cost to the work they do with MapAction, they hide it well. Passion brings them time and time again. The sense of passion for being able to support and inform key relief decisions in humanitarian crises is something money cannot buy. That shared sense of community – that shared commitment – was tangible. 

The training itself focused on the procedures for mapping in humanitarian situations: naming maps and admin boundary colour schemes, archiving data, different symbology (good to distinguish the humanitarian icon for bacteria from that for bottled water), as well as templates, toolbars and software used by MapAction. There was also a review of MapAction’s recent earthquake response in Turkiye and Syrian Arab Republic.

Many of the 50 or so volunteers in the room were ‘veterans’ of recent deployments: whether it be MapAction’s response to the earthquakes in Turkiye or the team that deployed to Democratic Republic of Congo at Christmas last year in response to floods. Some volunteers professed to having weaker cartography skills than others; others were evidently linguists or experienced project managers. It was easy to see how this combination of skill sets is needed to tailor the right response to a vast range of natural disasters in so many global territories. 

Always ready

And that is really the point. No two disaster responses look the same. For MapAction to be committed to saving lives when disasters strike, this fundamentally generous network of professionals needs to constantly update its skills and training to be on standby to respond. Volunteers outnumber staff by 4 to 1 at MapAction. That prevalence of volunteer spirit is MapAction’s soul; the shared sense of purpose cannot be rivalled with other incentives. 

After a brief editorial exercise and an attempt to sign up these awesome women and men to produce content, it was time to pack up and leave. Tables, chairs, cables and projectors were dismantled with clinical efficiency. I couldn’t see them but I suspected even the dogs were trained to do something, like update software or pack away tents. 

All said and done, the volunteers returned to different parts of the UK or Europe. One was seen setting off for a major transport hub miles away by bike. With them all went a little more disaster preparedness into the world.

How maps can save lives when disasters strike

Prompt mobilisation of MapAction volunteers is helping the earthquake response in Türkiye and Syria. But as natural disasters intensify, the charity is appealing for funds to meet growing demand

A batch of maps printed for disaster relief field teams in Gaziantep, southeast Turkiye, in February 2023. Photo: MapAction.

Read more in the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Land Journal.

MapAction signs WHO partnership agreement underlining growing support for health emergencies

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

MapAction has signed the Standby Partnership Agreement with the World Health Organisation (WHO) which will allow the UK-based emergency response and disaster preparedness charity to have greater impact in health emergencies. 

The agreement will see MapAction volunteers ready on standby to deploy to any health emergency operations at the request of the WHO. This will help bring the organisation’s unique data-driven approach to saving lives in even more health crises worldwide. 

The Standby Partnership Agreement will streamline and simplify how MapAction can deploy to WHO emergency operations at short notice. The agreement states that MapAction will “maintain a roster of standby personnel….for the rapid mobilisation and deployment of pre-screened individuals…to WHO emergency operations.” 

“We will provide some surge support that will be relevant to WHO emergency operations,” MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes says of the agreement, noting that it is an important step to being able to deploy faster and more efficiently alongside WHO teams in emergency operations. “We have a growing knowledge of health needs through our own work” adds MapAction’s CEO. 

MapAction has already lent data management, geospatial and mapping support in 13 health-related emergency deployments worldwide since 2014. Teams of volunteers from the Oxfordshire-based charity were involved in providing support in the Ebola crisis in West Africa, as well as during the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. A team of MapAction volunteers is also currently working on a project to reduce the impacts of cholera in Malawi. 

MapAction personnel have also contributed to a leading sector title on how to respond to health emergencies (In Control: A Practical Handbook for Professionals Working in Health Emergencies Internationally).  

Besides deployments to emergency health crises, MapAction has also developed, with partners, the Integrated Humanitarian Data Package (IHDP) tool, designed to aid final mile vaccine delivery planning and logistics. It contains selected data sets, information explaining the data (‘metadata’) as well as GIS and coding tools which allow users to easily develop situation-specific items such as maps and other graphics. 

The IHDP was trialled during the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines in South Sudan.

It was adapted in Burundi in late 2022 to combat the impacts of malaria. 

UPDATES*: MapAction team in Turkiye working on disaster landscape maps and supporting earthquake response at UNDAC’s request

Key facts (March 15, 10:00 UTC):

  • A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Kahramanmaras Province in southeast Turkiye (formerly known as Turkey) on the morning of Monday February 6th. A second major earthquake struck soon after. Both earthquakes and the aftershocks collapsed buildings and killed tens of thousands of people in both southeast Turkiye and northwest Syrian Arab Republic.
  • Teams of volunteers from MapAction have joined the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) office’s emergency operations in Gaziantep in southeast Turkiye – at their request – less than 20 kilometres from the epicentre of last Monday’s largest of two earthquakes
  • The MapAction team are mapping various aspects – for UN relief agencies – of the earthquake landscape, such as population and shake intensity, forecasted temperatures and temporary camp locations. See a sample of Turkiye earthquake maps here.
  • MapAction launches an APPEAL to sustain the Turkiye deployment
  • Two more earthquakes, of magnitude 6.3 and 5.8 respectively, struck Hatay Province in Turkiye on February 20th
  • The total number of casualties confirmed dead in both countries is more than 52,000 (March 13). The Turkiye government says 48,448 have been confirmed dead (March 13) in the country formerly known as Turkey. More than 4,300 deaths and 7,600 injuries have been reported in north-west Syria, as of March 06, reports UN OCHA.
  • 2.7 million people displaced in Turkiye (March 13)
  • Nearly 16,000 aftershocks have been felt in the region (March 13)
  • Listen on the BBC to why MapAction has launched an appeal and how the vital mapping work we do supports emergency operations (starts at 01:07)
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that a combined 23 million people are affected in Turkiye and Syrian Arab Republic
  • Government of Turkiye says 10 provinces are affected in its country
  • *This blog is not, at least regularly, updated between 6pm UTC and 8.30am UTC and on weekends.

March 15: 10:00 UTC. More than 9 million people have been affected by the earthquakes in Turkiye, according to the latest data and situation report from UN OCHA. Nearly 3 million people have been displaced: 3.5 million people have been provided with shelter or accommodation; 354 new formal tent settlements established. Nearly 50,000 people have died in Turkiye alone.

March 06: 14:00 UTC. A new team of MapAction volunteers has now deployed to Gaziantep to continue to support the word of UNDAC in response to the devastating earthquakes in southeast Turkiye. We hope to rotate more teams but the support we can provide continues to be limited by the funds we have as an organisation. Please support our emergency response appeal.

Feb 23: 15: 30 UTC. 42,310 people have now been confirmed dead in Turkiye, states the latest update from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye – the country’s disaster relief agency. Nearly half a million people have been evacuated from quake-hit zones, states the same update.

Feb 22: 16:45 UTC. A new map from MapAction’s Turkiye earthquake response set shows the average forecasted temperatures over the coming four days near the epicentre of the two major earthquakes just over two weeks ago in southeast Turkiye. The winter cold is a huge challenge for displaced survivors and relief workers.

Feb 22: 10:35 UTC. UN experts estimate that 1.5 million people have been made homeless by the earthquakes in southeast Turkiye. At least 500,000 new homes will need to be built, reports UN News.

Feb 21: 10:15 UTC. There have been more than 100 aftershocks in the last few hours alone in Turkiye, according to the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye – the country’s disaster relief agency.

Feb 21: 10:15 UTC. More than 47,000 people have now been confirmed dead in Turkiye and Syrian Arab Republic since two large earthquakes struck southeast Turkiye on February 6th. That number is likely to rise as authorities continue to clear rubble and a clearer picture of the extent of the catastrophe emerges. A new 6.3 magnitude earthquake also struck Hatay Province yesterday.

Nearly 65,000 buildings have been damaged and 18 million people have been affected by the earthquakes, according to data from UN OCHA and the government of Turkiye.

Feb 21: 10:00 UTC. The latest 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck Hatay Province near Turkiye’s southeastern coastline yesterday affects more than 1 million people, according to an estimate from one disaster relief agency.

Feb 21: 09:55 UTC. The drone footage below of the post-earthquake landscape in Malatya shows the extent to which the catastrophic earthquakes that struck nearby two weeks ago devastated the city.

Feb 21: 09:50 UTC. 41,156 people have now been confirmed dead in Turkiye following the two devastating earthquakes that struck Turkiye two weeks ago on February 6th, according to the latest press bulletin (February 17th) from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye. Four more people are reported dead and hundreds injured in Turkiye and Syrian Arab Republic following two smaller yet substantial earthquakes in Hatay Province – southern Turkiye – yesterday, February 20th.

Feb 20: 19:15 UTC. BREAKING: Two more powerful earthquakes have struck southeast Turkiye exactly two weeks after two larger quakes killed more than 45,000 people in Turkiye and Syria. Today’s 6.3 and 5.8 magnitude earthquakes struck Hatay Province in Turkiye, reports the Guardian. More details to follow

Feb 20: 12:00 UTC. MapAction teams working on emergency response are usually hybrid, with a mixture of frontline mappers working alongside the UN in-country and remote support provided by other members of our volunteer cohort. Chris Ewing (pictured below) is a MapAction volunteer and trustee who has been leading the MapAction remote earthquake response team for Syrian Arab Republic from his home in London.

Chris Ewing, MapAction remote leader for the earthquake response in Syrian Arab Republic.

Feb 20: 10:10 UTC. More than 38,000 people in Turkiye have now lost their lives in in the devastating earthquakes that struck the southeast of the country – formerly known as Turkey – on February 6th, according to the latest press bulletin (February 17th) from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye.

Feb 18: 11:15 UTC. New maps and decision support products are being published regularly. See many of them at https://maps.mapaction.org/. The map above is a Situation Overview of North West Syria, produced using the data available on Feb 17th. It shows which border crossings are open for aid flow, along with indicators of need shown by a combination of damaged house surveys and ‘access to basic services’ assessments. MapAction creates the maps but you can see from the list of Data Sources in the bottom left corner how much of a team effort this all is.

A collapsed building in Kahramanmaras.

Feb 16: 16:2 UTC. Dust is thick in the air in Kahramanmaras as Turkiye authorities begin to remove rubble.

A truck removes rubble from collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, southeast Turkiye.
A digger removes rubble in Kahramanmaras, southeast Turkiye, on February 16th.

Feb 16: 16:10 UTC. To carry on mapping the earthquake landscape and to strengthen the layers of data in the coming weeks and months, we urgently need funds to extend this mission. Please visit our appeal page if you, somebody you know or your company can help. Thank you.

MapAction has launched an appeal to cover the costs of this unexpected deployment.

Feb 16: 15:20 UTC. Survivors are still being pulled from the rubble by search and rescue teams 10 days after the earthquake, reports Al Arabiya.

Feb 16: 14:45 UTC. The MapAction team are working out of a container-turned-temporary-office in Gaziantep, mapping key data for UN relief agencies.

Mobile office.

Feb 16: 12:10 UTC. Any emergency operation as large as the response to last week’s devastating earthquakes requires extensive logistics. The Turkiye government has stated that more than 249,000 search and rescue personnel from AFAD (the disaster management agency), other Turkish emergency services and international supporting agencies are on the ground. Many relief operators in southeast Turkiye, where our MapAction team is deployed alongside UN agency UNDAC, have set up temporary operational and logistics bases.

Tents for search and rescue personnel in Gaziantep, southeast Turkiye.
A view, from the MapAction temporary office in a container, of bottled water.

Feb 16: 10:05 UTC. RECAP. Nearly 40,000 people have lost their lives following two devatstating earthquakes that struck southeast Turkiye and northwest Syrian Arab Republic on Monday February 6th. MapAction mapping volunteers were requested at the emergency operations centre in Gaziantep, near the epicentre of the largest earthquake, by the office of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) team. A team of three experienced humanitarian mappers travelled to Turkiye last week to support the mapping of the disaster landscape and to help process the huge volume of incoming data.

The MapAction team has already created more than a dozen key maps for emergency relief field agents. These include maps documenting:

There are so many more things that will need mapping as the larger picture emerges from the earthquake landscape. From 11 previous earthquake relief efforts and 137 emergency responses in total, MapAction knows from experience that the following data points may turn out to be relevant (NB: this list is intended as a sample guideline and does not reflect the official priorities of any partners):

  • Medical locations and status/capacity/type.
  • Pharmacies
  • Helicopter landing zones – coordinates in degrees and decimal minutes
  • Needs Assessments
  • Vulnerable groups
  • Broadcast stations and ranges/ languages/status
  • Schools open/closed/damaged
  • EMT locations
  • Infrastructure damage – phone, power
  • Port damage
  • Protection
  • Border crossings and refugee camps

Each set of data points we can map gives relief agents a better understanding of the landscape they face and the decisions they have to make. More informed decisions means aid reaches those who need it most. In order to continue our current mission in response to the earthquake in Turkiye, we urgently need funds to rotate our teams and complete our work. Please donate to our APPEAL if you can. Thank you.

Feb 15: 16:20 UTC. Maps on the wall.

A team member guides a relief agent through the map wall at a UN emergency operations centre in Gaziantep.

Feb 15: 15:20 UTC. The Director-General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus shared his thoughts on a visit to Syria.

Feb 15: 14:35 Our team in southeast Turkiye, mapping the disaster landscape at the request of the office of the United Nations Disaster and Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) team, has reported back from a field trip with the sad images below of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras.

Collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, southeast Turkiye.

Feb 15: 14:05 UTC. 31,974 people have lost their lives in the earthquakes in Turkiye, according to the latest press bulletin from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye. Nearly 200,000 people have been evacuated from quake-hit areas in Turkiye, according to the same source.

Feb 15: 09: 40 UTC. At least 8.8 million people in northwest Syrian Arab Republic have been affected by the earthquake, with the majority anticipated to need some form of humanitarian assistance, according to UN OCHA. “Public service provision – water, electricity, heating, and social services – which were already under strain before the earthquake, are under severe pressure, and people’s access to emergency healthcare is limited with hospitals overwhelmed. Lack of fuel and heavy machinery and equipment are also major issues, hampering efforts to quickly reach those most in need,” states the update.

100 maps printed (in less than 20 minutes) last-minute for a field team in Malatya.

Feb 14: 16:10 UTC. The map below put together by our team supporting the UN in Gaziantep shows temporary camp locations set up in response to the earthquake near Osmaniye, southeast Turkiye.

At least 900 refugee camps were estimated to be across the border from Turkiye in Syrian Arab Republic according to MapAction research in 2020. Many are in or near areas affected by the earthquakes in the northwest of the country. A team from our cohort of more than 65 volunteer data software engineers, geospatial analysts and disaster data pipeline specialists were involved in mapping refugee settlements in 2020, revealing some of the data challenges. “Camps vary enormously,” stated the MapAction report from 2020, “from just a few tents to up to 93 separate sites within a single camp, and from long-term, static settlements to temporary ones.”

Feb 14: 14:45 UTC. Setting up the emergency relief operations in southeast Turkiye is a fluid, ongoing and challenging task.

“An air bridge has been built for the deployment of personnel and equipment. A total of 4097 sorties have been made with 170 helicopters and 76 aircraft from The Air, Land and Naval Forces, the Gendarmerie, the Coast Guard, the Turkish Police, the Ministry of Health and The Directorate General of Forestry,” clarifies the latest update from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye.

A total of 26 ships, 24 ships by the Naval Forces, and two ships by the Coast Guard Command were employed to deliver personnel and materials to the affected area, adds AFAD’s press update.

LISTEN: A MapAction volunteer in Turkiye spoke to BBC Radio Scotland about the work mapping the earthquake landscape (starts at 01:36:35)

Feb 14: 12:05 UTC. RECAP: A team consisting of three humanitarian mapping volunteers from MapAction has travelled to the emergency operations centre in Gaziantep, southeast Turkiye, at the request of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) office. Working out of a temporary operations centre less than 20-kilometres from the largest of February 6th’s two earthquakes – which have already claimed more than 36,000 lives – the MapAction team has already created more than a dozen key maps for emergency relief field agents. These include maps documenting:

There are so many more things that will need mapping as the larger picture emerges from the earthquake landscape. From 11 previous earthquake relief efforts and 137 emergency responses in total, MapAction knows from experience that the following data points may turn out to be relevant (NB: this list is intended as a sample guideline and does not reflect the official priorities of any partners):

  • Medical locations and status/capacity/type.
  • Pharmacies
  • Helicopter landing zones – coordinates in degrees and decimal minutes
  • Needs Assessments
  • Vulnerable groups
  • Broadcast stations and ranges/ languages/status
  • Schools open/closed/damaged
  • EMT locations
  • Infrastructure damage – phone, power
  • Port damage
  • Protection
  • Border crossings and refugee camps

Each set of data points we can map gives relief agents a better understanding of the landscape they face and the decisions they have to make. More informed decisions means aid reaches those who need it most. In order to continue our current mission in response to the earthquake in Turkiye, we urgently need funds to rotate our teams and complete our work. Please donate to our APPEAL if you can. Thank you.

LISTEN: More about our appeal on the BBC (starts at 01:07)

Feb 14: 11:40 UTC. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has stated that the earthquakes that struck Turkiye last week constitute “one of the worst disasters this century.” The latest combined casualty estimate from Turkiye and Syrian Arab Republic exceeds 36,000, although the actual number of those who lost their lives in this tragic event is likely to be far higher, warn relief operators.

Feb 14: 10:35 UTC. The video below, by our team on the ground in Gaziantep, maps all earthquakes and aftershocks since February 5th in Turkiye, highlighting that after shocks are still hitting the area.

  • Data from USGS
  • Size of circle = magnitude of shock
  •  Colour = depth from surface (darker red is closer to surface)
  •  Points are displayed over a 12hr period
A map of the earthquakes and aftershocks since February 5th in Turkiye. Map: MapAction.

Feb 13: 15:50 UTC. The casualty rate continues to rise and is now nearing 40,000 in both affected countries. “We learn geology the morning after the earthquake,” said the US writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. We will only really understand the destruction these earthquakes have wreaked in the coming weeks or months as the larger picture becomes clearer. MapAction’s humanitarian mappers process the incoming data and create maps along key themes for relief agents, helping to shape that picture and create a better understanding.

Feb 13: 15:00 UTC. We have never received a philanthropic cheque from an anonymous businessman for $30 million, yet we do appreciate every donation, large and small, because it allows us to support unexpected, emergency operations like the current ones in Turkiye. If you or anyone you know can support the work of our humanitarian data mappers, we have launched an appeal here. Hear on the BBC about (starts at 01:07) why our work makes a difference in emergency relief operations.

Feb 13: 14:45 UTC. More than 4,300 deaths and 7,600 injuries have been reported in north-west Syria, as of 12 February, reports UN OCHA in it latest update. “52 trucks loaded with aid provided by five UN agencies so far crossed to north-west Syria, over a period of four days since the earthquakes,” states the update.

Feb 13: 14:15 UTC. 31,643 people have now been confirmed dead in Turkiye by Turkish authorities, according to the latest update from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye. Nearly 160,000 people have been evacuated from quake-hit areas in Turkiye. Approximately 240,000 search and rescue workers from around the world are involved in the emergency response to last Monday’s two major earthquakes (and 2,700+ aftershocks).

Feb 13: 11:00 UTC. While a lot of our work is currently focused on the response to the earthquakes that have devastated southeast Turkiye and northwest Syrian Arab Republic, MapAction is also working on other projects. Follow the link to see some of our latest mapping work on the Cholera outbreak in Malawi.

Feb 13: 10:10 UTC. “Today we are doing a lot of work on establishing where the emergency shelters have been set up.” MapAction’s Alice Goudie spoke to BBC Good Morning Scotland (starts at 01:36:35) today from the emergency operations centre in Gaziantep about the kind of data MapAction’s humanitarian mappers are mapping for emergency relief field agents.

A MapAction map of temporary camp locations in the earthquake-hit areas in southeast Turkiye (accurate as of 11/02/2023).

Feb 13: 09:40 UTC. Good and well-arranged data can save lives. MapAction has prepared packs with 12 key maps for emergency respondents working on relief efforts in southeast Turkiye. These include maps of:

The MapAction map shows average forecasted temperatures for quake-hit areas in Turkiye in the coming days, with lows of -23C expected.
Printing maps for emergency relief operators to better navigate the earthquake landscape.

Feb 13: 09:20 UTC. More than 22,000 people have been confirmed dead in Turkiye following last Monday’s devastating earthquakes and approximately 2,000 aftershocks, according to the latest press bulletin from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye. 80,278 individuals have been rescued from debris in Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Adana, Adıyaman, Osmaniye, Hatay, Kilis and Malatya and Elazığ and more than105,000 people have been evacuated from quake-hit areas, according to the same source.

Feb 12: 12:45 UTC. Temperatures are set to drop to as low as -23C in the next four days in some of the earthquake-hit areas in southeast Turkiye near the border with Syrian Arab Republic. This map from MapAction charts the highs and lows for average daily forecasted temperatures in the next 96 hours.

Feb 11: 16:05 UTC. Much of MapAction’s work in such an emergency response focuses on finding the gaps in data. “Data and maps may be updated following aftershocks or to add additional analysis layers, including for example assessed landslide risk zones, vulnerable infrastructure (e.g. dams), or population baselines,” state MapAction’s guidelines on earthquake response. One example of a challenge for data responders will be to triangulate satellite imagery on physical damage and population density with baseline source information from the ground. Some things are not clearly viewed or verified from space. 

Feb 11: 16:00 UTC. Media outlets are reporting that the combined death toll in Turkiye and Syrian Arab Republic has surpassed 25,000, although that number is likely to rise according to frontline workers. “I think it is difficult to estimate precisely as we need to get under the rubble but I’m sure it will double or more,” Martin Griffiths, a UN emergency relief coordinator in Adana, told Sky News.

Feb 11: 16:00 UTC. Nearly 19,000 people have been confirmed dead in Turkiye and more than 75,000 have been injured, according to the latest press bulletin from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye. More than 80,000 people have been evacuated from quake-hit areas in Turkiye.

Feb 11: 15:50 UTC. MapAction’s team of humanitarian mapping volunteers are busy working on incoming data with UN partners at an emergency operations centre in Gaziantep, less than 20 kilometres away from last Monday’s largest of two earthquakes.

Mapping aid solutions.

You can read more about our earthquake appeal here.

Feb 10: 18:00 UTC. “For this earthquake to occur in a war-shattered region is nothing short of a catastrophe,” remarked the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) talking from Aleppo, Syrian Arab Republic.

Feb 10: 18:00 UTC. More than 17,000 have been confirmed dead and 70,000 injured in Turkiye by the government, according to the latest press bulletin from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye. More than 30,000 people have been evacuated from earthquake-hit areas, according to the same source.

Feb 10: 17:45 UTC. If you haven’t yet seen our Turkiye/Syrian Arab Republic appeal, it’s perusable here. The nuts and bolts are that however much we try, we can’t predict unexpected disasters like the earthquakes that struck southeast Turkiye on Monday February 6th. But we do often get asked to bring to emergency response operations our 20 years of knowhow in creating maps of disaster landscapes for relief agents. We need emergency deployment funds to cover our work in this and future emergency responses, as well as our training and resilience work with local partners. Hear more about why it matters on the BBC (starts 01:07).

Feb 10: 17:45 UTC. “To give you an idea of the sheer scale of the Turkey earthquake, if we overlay the USGS ShakeMap onto the British Isles, the fault (red colours) would have ruptured from the Severn Estuary to the Humber Estuary. Much of England would have seen at least Intensity Level 7 shaking.” Seismologist Stephen Hicks.

Feb 10: 11:10 UTC. Here is MapAction’s latest newsletter.

Feb 10: 10:25 UTC. Listen to a MapAction team member working on relief efforts in Gaziantep, southeast Turkiye, talk to the BBC World Service about the work the humanitarian mapping charity is doing alongside UN agencies in response to last Monday’s devastating earthquakes (12:00-17:20).

Feb 9: 19:55 UTC. If you haven’t seen our Turkiye-Syrian Arab Republic appeal, it’s right here. However much we try, we can’t predict unexpected disasters. But we do often get asked to bring to emergency response operations our 20 years of knowhow in creating maps of disaster landscapes for relief agents. We need emergency deployment funds to cover our work in this and future emergency responses, as well as our training and resilience work with local partners. Hear more about why it matters on the BBC (starts 01:07).

Feb 9: 19:50 UTC. First UN aid convoy reaches Syria’s quake-hit northwest since disaster.

“According to UN aid coordinating office, OCHA, six trucks carrying “shelter items and non-food item kits, including blankets and hygiene kits” reached Bab al-Hawa on Thursday, the only UN Security Council border crossing authorized for aid delivery.” UN News.

Feb 9: 19:45 UTC. Dedication to the job. A MapAction volunteer working on emergency response in Turkiye below takes a break after a 60-hour transit and a long shift today in the temporary MapAction field office at the UN operations centre in Gaziantep.

Feb 9: 16:45 UTC. Nearly 8,000 have been rescued from the rubble of buildings as of today, including – reports the Independent – a two-year-old boy who had been trapped for three days.

Feb 9: 16:25 UTC. The geospatial department at MapAction is busy and continues to publish new maps every day of the affected regions. Today from our Turkiye map repository we have:

A map published yesterday (February 8th) by MapAction. The map shows population data and shake intensity in Turkiye in regions affected by Monday’s earthquakes.

Feb 9: 16:10 UTC. Our head of communications spoke to the BBC yesterday about MapAction’s role in the Turkiye earthquake response (02:23). Our Head of Income Ian Davis was on the air (01:07) today for MapAction explaining why MapAction has launched an appeal to support our work in this unexpected catastrophe.

Feb 9: 14: 45 UTC. MapAction’s team are setting up their gear at the UN’s emergency response centre in Gaziantep, southeast Turkiye, less than 20 kilometres from the epicentre of one of last Monday’s two major earthquakes that devastated the region. For anyone wondering, there are roughly 60 kilograms of tech gear in that mobile office.

There are approximately 60 kilograms of tech gear in that mobile office.

Feb 9: 14:15 UTC. MapAction arrives at the scene of any disaster relief effort with pre-prepped laptops, hardware and customised tech gear. We have learnt a thing or two from 136 previous emergency responses. Our frontline operators are always supported by a dedicated remote team, as well as an amazing community of between 65 and 80 volunteers from various sectors.

“MapAction is one of the few entities that can use data analysis to quickly inform strategic decisions when data is limited/dirty/unstructured,” says one information management and analysis expert at the UN.

Find out more by navigating this 3D globe marked with details of our previous missions about the disaster relief efforts MapAction volunteers have been involved in over the last 20 years of our work.

Feb 9: 13:00 UTC. MapAction has launched an appeal in order to continue to support the vital response efforts to this unexpected disaster. Read more – or perhaps donate kindly – here.

Feb 9: 13:00 UTC. Nearly 13,000 people in Turkiye alone have been confirmed dead and more than 60,000 injured, according to the February 9th press bulletin from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye. More than 113,000 rescue workers are now working on the response in Turkiye, according to the same source. International media estimate the total combined number of people confirmed dead in Turkiye and Syrian Arab Republic to be between 16,000 and 17,000, although that number is likely to rise as search and rescue operators get a better view of the disaster landscape.

Feb 9: 12:55 UTC. MapAction’s Ian Davis spoke to the BBC today (01:07mins in) about our team’s deployment to Turkiye to support UNDAC’s emergency relief operations.

Feb 9: 12:50 UTC. The MapAction team in Turkiye getting ready to travel closer to the epicentre with UN partners.

Feb 9: 10:45 UTC. The MapAction team at work with UN partners in Adana.

Feb 8 15:00 UTC. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) filed an update yesterday evening regarding access to key areas in the affected earthquake zone.

“Local sources report that the road conditions to the border-crossing are impaired and therefore the cross-border response is temporarily disrupted . In particular, the road connecting Gaziantep to Hatay, the most affected district in Türkiye by number of deaths, is reportedly not accessible. Hatay is also home to UN Transshipment Hub where aid is monitored, verified, and loaded into trucks as part of a UN monitoring process before crossing to Syria. The UN and partners are currently exploring other routes and conducting feasibility assessments.

The first two days of the emergency have added enormous pressures to an already overstretched response in north-west Syria, compounded by snowy weather and electricity cut in many areas,” states yesterday evening’s update from the UN agency.

Feb 8: 14:05 UTC. More than 60,000 search and rescue workers from Turkiye and around the world are working on rescue operations in Turkiye, according to a press bulletin from the Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) at the Ministry of the Interior of Turkiye.

Ten Turkish provinces are affected by the earthquake, according to AFAD: Kahramanmaraş, Gaziantep, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Adana, Adıyaman, Osmaniye, Hatay, Kilis and Malatya. Many media outlets are now reporting more than 11,000 people confirmed dead in Turkiye and Syrian Arab Republic following two devastating earthquakes and many aftershocks on Monday February 6th.

Feb 8: 13:10 UTC. Teams of humanitarian data respondents from MapAction have been involved in more than 130 disaster relief operations in the last 20 years. Navigate this globe in 3D to find out where, when and how.

Accurate as of August 2022. The total is now in fact 137. Photo: MapAction.

Feb 8: 12:00 UTC. MapAction publishes a map on population data and shake intensity in Turkiye, displayed by regions. A repository of relevant maps for the Syrian Arab Republic is also currently being populated.

Feb 8: 11:55 UTC. “The earthquakes are estimated to have directly impacted 23 million people,” states The Red Cross.

Feb 8: 10:00 UTC. MapAction’s team of three humanitarian mappers are in Turkiye. Their presence and support was requested by the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) team. Details on the mission below.

A MapAction team member with equipment, prepares to fly to Adana to join UNDAC’s emergency operations centre in Gaziantep. Photo: MapAction.

Feb 8: 08:45 UTC. Some images from our team on the ground in Turkiye as they prepare to fly from Istanbul to Adana, in the southeast of the country. The MapAction team of volunteers will then join UNDAC at their emergency operations centre in Gaziantep, less than 20 kilometres from the epicentre of Monday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

Frosty temperatures complicate disaster relief efforts in Turkiye. Photo: MapAction

Feb 7: 22:50 UTC. The combined death toll from Turkiye and Syria nears 8,000 as disaster relief workers continue search and rescue operations.

Feb 7: 16: 30 UTC. MapAction announces deployment of team of three to support UN emergency operations centre on site, two more supporting remotely

Three experienced MapAction emergency mapping and geospatial responders will fly out of Heathrow & Manchester today to work alongside partners in relief efforts for the earthquakes that have already claimed nearly 5,000 lives in southern Turkey and northern Syria. 

The team will deploy alongside staff from the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) office, initially working with search and rescue data. MapAction’s data and mapping work will also inform what data is used to assess primary needs throughout the emergency relief operations. 

Ready to deploy: MapAction volunteers are travelling to Turkey to support UN relief operations in the areas affected by the devastating earthquakes. Photo: MapAction.

The team of three will be supported remotely by other MapAction volunteers, as well as MapAction’s tech, innovation and geospatial support staff, who have begun creating a repository of maps for response coordinators.

“Search and rescue teams require rapid detailed maps of collapsed site locations and search sector boundaries, as well as hospital locations and status, base of operations and other resources,” according to MapAction’s guidelines on mapping needs in search and rescue operations. The status of all key data points like roads, transport hubs, hospitals and urban landmarks will all need to be mapped. MapAction collates multiple secondary forms of data, such as roads and transport hubs or physical access constraints, to create, in real time, the most up-to-date maps possible for emergency respondents to make the right decisions in any situation, to ensure aid gets where it is needed, fast.  

A MapAction volunteer’s kit for their deployment to Turkey. Photo: MapAction.

Experience with earthquakes


MapAction’s position in the ‘navigators seat’ of more than 130 major emergency responses worldwide has enabled it to constantly hone its capability, providing mapping, data and information tools to disaster relief agencies coordinating key emergency responses in 11 earthquakes in the last 18 years. From Haiti, to Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal and more, MapAction has accrued extensive know how in the way responses to earthquakes develop, as well as an understanding of the most urgent mapping and data needs for disaster agencies coordinateing them.

Feb 7: 07:30 UTC. Confirmed casualties surpass 5000.

Feb 6: 19:30 UTC. UN agencies and international media report that the total number of people confirmed dead has surpassed 3000.

Feb 6: 15:00 UTC. United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) office officially requests MapAction’s support on mapping and data management at emergency operations centres in Turkiye.

Feb 6: 13:00 UTC. MapAction remote geospatial analysts and volunteers start publishing relevant maps for disaster relief agencies in Turkiye on the ground: Turkiye earthquake maps.

READ ALSO: BREAKING: MapAction to provide support to earthquake emergency response operations in Turkiye and Syria

Feb 6: 10:24 UTC. A second 7.5 magnitude earthquake strikes in southeast Turkey.

Feb 6: 01:17 UTC. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake strikes Kahramanmaras Province in Turkiye, affecting millions of people and a vast area in southeast Turkiye and northwest Syrian Arab Republic.

MapAction to provide support to earthquake emergency response operations in Turkiye and Syria

MapAction’s team in training for disaster response.

At least 5000 people have been confirmed dead (updated: Feb 7, 09:30 GMT) after a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and subsequent aftershocks, struck southeast Turkiye (formerly known as Turkey) and northwest Syria on Monday February 6th. That seismic event was swiftly followed by a second 7.5 magnitude earthquake in the same region and dozens of aftershocks, according to UN agencies and mainstream media, including Al Jazeera and the Guardian.

Humanitarian mapping and data charity MapAction began working in the early hours of Monday Feb 6th, as team members saw early news of a devastating earthquake near the Turkish/Syria border. With remote work already underway on updating of key maps and data, MapAction has been planning with UN and other emergency response partners and its own standby team members.

The first earthquake struck Kahramanmaras Province in southeast Turkiye in the early hours of this morning, states an initial report from the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS). The same source estimates that 4.8 million people who live within 100 kilometres of the epicentre will be exposed to the disaster, many of whom live in temporary camps and are facing sub zero winter temperatures. 

“It’s a very shallow earthquake beneath highly populated areas and in a region which the buildings just can’t stand this level of shaking,” Stephen Hicks, a computational seismologist from University College London (UCL), told Sky News of the largest quake, adding that this earthquake – the “worst kind” – had ripped through an area 400-kilometres wide in under two minutes. “When we talk about earthquakes this large, the epicentre is not a single point. It’s actually ruptured along a fault of about 400km,” explained Hicks. 

The EU and UN jointly-run GDACS assessment team has declared the disaster level as red, the most severe for an earthquake. Many governments have already offered assistance. Disaster relief agencies have deployed teams to the area and MapAction is coordinating with partners on how to best support the emergency response. 

MapAction: 11 earthquake responses

MapAction has been involved in providing mapping, data and information tools to disaster relief agencies coordinating key emergency responses in 11 earthquakes in the last 18 years: from Haiti, to Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal and several other countries, MapAction has accrued extensive knowhow in how responses to earthquakes develop, as well as an understanding of the most urgent mapping and data management needs for disaster relief agencies. 

The initial response to such an earthquake focuses on search and rescue operations, as well as damage assessment. The two major earthquakes, and subsequent shocks (reported to be up to 40), have affected a very wide area, much of which lies within conflict zones. 

“Search and rescue teams require rapid detailed maps of collapsed site locations and search sector boundaries, as well as hospital locations and status, base of operations and other resources,” note MapAction’s guidelines on mapping needs in search and rescue operations. The status of all key data points like roads, transport hubs, hospitals and urban landmarks will all need to be mapped. 

Please stay tuned for updates and further information about MapAction’s response in the coming days.

MapAction team deploys to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to support UN response to floods

Three members of MapAction, the humanitarian mapping agency, have had to cut short or postpone their Christmas plans as they drop everything to respond to the UN’s call for help in Kinshasa, DRC, to respond to deadly floods. 

The MapAction DRC team on the ground. Photo: MapAction.

Experienced MapAction members Mark Gillick, Andrew Kesterton and Daniel Soares have deployed to DRC – initially for two weeks – to work alongside, and at the request of, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), a long-standing MapAction partner. 

Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo in southwest Africa, has experienced severe flooding caused by heavy rains. According to DRC authorities, at the time of writing, at least 169 people have died, nearly 39,000 households were flooded and at least 282 houses were destroyed, leaving many families homeless. Critical infrastructure has also been damaged or destroyed.

The United Nations Disaster Assessment & Coordination (UNDAC) team were asked to respond and they requested “long-standing partner” MapAction, the Oxfordshire-based humanitarian mapping charity, to support their initial emergency response coordination to the floods. 

MapAction regularly sends teams to crisis-stricken areas alongside UN agencies to help ensure good data use and management in disaster response. Since 2002, MapAction has been part of approximately 130 similar emergency responses. 

Our teams regularly deploy last-minute and spontaneously at the request of UN disaster relief agencies like UN OCHA and UNDAC. From the moment we receive a request for support, team members often deploy within 24 to 48 hours to the affected country to assist with management and analysis of data in response to any given emergency. 

MapAction volunteers train year-wide to prepare to deploy and provide backend support. Photo: MapAction.

Getting good data into the hands of decision makers in the first days of any disaster relief response is vital.  Access to high-quality data is fundamental in the chaotic aftermath of a humanitarian emergency, when data and maps are crucial to make rapid sense of the situation and plan the best response to save lives and minimise suffering. 

In the early hours of a crisis, one of the first tasks facing our team is to produce standardised ‘core’ maps that will be used throughout the response. These provide contextual and reference information about, among other things, the local environment, population and infrastructure. Sometimes they are created under difficult on-the-ground conditions or with incomplete information. Once they are in place, they are used to create additional situation-specific maps by layering on top evolving information about the extent and impacts of the emergency and the humanitarian response. 

Ready to deploy

In emergency response, every hour is critical. When floods strike, like the ones currently affecting DRC, and a UN agency requests our support, a call goes out instantly to MapAction volunteers to see who is available. Backroom support at MapAction will already have begun: tickets, visas, insurance and other logistics will be reviewed and finalised; software and hardware tested and customized for the situation. Equipment will be streamlined according to mission-aligned criteria, such as a country’s specific voltage, plug type and satellite phone coverage. Our geospatial department will begin to produce maps from the moment the news is reported. Dialogue between internal departments and with external partners will be continuous. 

As the DRC-bound team works in-country alongside UN agencies, the wider MapAction team has already started collating and publishing key datasets for the affected area.

MapAction reinforces pivot towards early warning work after 20 years of focus on disaster response

By MapAction CEO Liz Hughes

Photo: Hermann Traub/Pixabay.

MapAction’s 2022 Annual General Meeting celebrated 20 years of humanitarian service. The event in early December also served as a platform to announce the organisation’s increasing pivot towards early warning work – to consolidate global resilience to the climate emergency, health epidemics and conflict.

20 years ago a small group of people started MapAction from humble beginnings in a village in Oxfordshire. The organisation has grown – via more than 130 deployments alongside international, regional and national relief agencies – to encompass a cohort of more than 60 volunteers and 20 staff with a global footprint of projects in five continents. 

In 2022 alone, MapAction was involved in responses to disasters in Paraguay, Suriname, Madagascar, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, The Gambia and the Philippines (to mention but a few), responding to cyclones, floods, droughts, conflict and food security emergencies. 

This year, MapAction volunteers and staff completed 59 projects. Our teams produced hundreds of maps and trained more than 100 professionals in GIS and data and information management worldwide. With the help of five major donors and many individual donations, we were able to work with 26 key partners globally. A majority of our cohort of volunteers attended 14 training events in the UK. 

New dawn

Coming into 2022 we knew it would be an inflection point for the organisation, with different routes we could travel. Twenty years on from our beginnings, that seems appropriate. 

We have had a front seat alongside emergency relief agencies in more than 130 disaster responses since we started providing maps, data analytics and IM services to humanitarian emergency relief coordinators. Thousands of maps later, we are using that experience to create new, and better, ways of working.

Grassroots resilience

Perhaps the most striking change compared to the humanitarian sector 20 years ago when MapAction was founded is the shift away from global relief agencies towards local and national leadership for response, anticipatory action and preparedness. We recognised a while back that we will not always be the ones providing the maps; others will do so. That is why we are increasingly focusing on a strategy of ‘global localisation’: supporting regional and grassroots response capacity.

MapAction works with regional and local disaster relief bodies and civil society organisations worldwide to strengthen resilience and preparedness vis-a-vis any disaster. In Asia, we work with the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre) – an intergovernmental organisation consisting of 10 southeast Asian nations – as well as the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR) in Central Asia.

In the Caribbean, MapAction works with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). Equivalent projects are also underway to create partnerships and opportunities for knowledge exchange among humanitarian data analytics practitioners in Africa. 

InnovationHub

We support organisations to streamline preparedness for any disaster through enhancing response with innovation and new ideas. That is why we are increasingly placing resources and energy into our InnovationHub, which identifies, prioritises and explores needs and opportunities in the humanitarian data analytics sector. Our ultimate goal is for no one to be left behind. 

We see the potential of building communities of like-minded people to use geospatial and data analysis to help decision-making effectively. We wanted to globalise the wonderful data-crunching culture of MapAction, our own community of practice. Such communities can cross national boundaries working collaboratively and in solidarity to use data and tech to solve problems and answer questions

Looking to 2023

In 2023, we are already earmarked to work in Bangladesh, Burundi, Madagascar, Philippines and South Sudan on preparedness and anticipatory action, as well as on health microplanning. The calendar for next year in general is looking exciting.

In January, MapAction will lead ‘geo-surgery’ sessions as part of the State of the Map Tanzania conference. In April, our annual disaster simulation Gilded will bring together more than 50 data professionals on the Isle of Cumbrae off the west coast of Scotland. Our InnovationHub will continue to collaborate with the Predictive Analytics team at the UN Centre for Humanitarian Data to push the boundaries of innovation. 

As the final days of the year loom, I can honestly say 2022 was everything we anticipated. We end the year having achieved what we set out to do, with perhaps the strongest team that we’ve ever had. We will carry this momentum into 2023, fully aware that very real challenges lie ahead of the horizon. One of the greatest challenges we will face will be to secure the resources that we need to achieve the impact that we strive for. I know that MapAction will continue to work to fill this funding gap with determination, innovation and conviction. 

All that remains for me to say is to wish all of our donors, partners, volunteers, members, staff, friends and followers all the very best for the festive season. Merry Xmas! 

MapAction’s partnership with Asian disaster reduction & response network ADRRN is part of ‘global localisation’ strategy

MapAction continues to help create resilience for geospatial and data science practitioners in the Asia-Pacific region working on emergency response and anticipatory action. It is part of MapAction’s ‘global strategy of localisation’, a commitment to empower regional disaster relief bodies and civil society stakeholders to be more resilient and sustainable.

A hurricane. Photo: WikiImages/Pixabay.

The East Asia and Pacific region alone includes 13 of the 30 countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to the World Bank. “Without concerted action, the region could see an additional 7.5 million people fall into poverty due to climate impacts by 2030,” warns the international financial institution. 

In 2021, MapAction signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), a civil society partnership of 59 international and regional NGOs working in 18 countries across the Asia-Pacific region, to support that “concerted action”. 

The ADRRN network, in its own words, “focuses on transforming Asia’s resilience, moving from the most vulnerable to the most resilient region’. Its influence and reach is considerably enhanced through collaboration with national-level networks, global networks, regional multilateral stakeholders and UN agencies.”

MapAction remains committed to strengthening the global humanitarian data science and geospatial sectors through partnerships with civil society networks like ADRRN. “Our joint agreement commits us to seeing how humanitarian information can help in planning and developing tools for anticipatory action and in better understanding the different contexts of emergencies, such as the difference between urban and rural settings,” says MapAction CEO Liz Hughes.

Our work so far with ADRRN has focused on improving Information Management (IM) for civil society organisations (CSOs) to have a better understanding of their existing resources, impact and plans. MapAction also supports CSOs to be interoperable with other humanitarian actors and mechanisms. This nourishes a bottom-up approach to building capacity and ability to do IM at local levels – that then regional and international agencies can support. The ultimate goal is for local stakeholders to be more resilient vis-a-vis any crisis. 

MapAction continues to provide data and volunteers for emergencies in the region alongside major international relief agencies like the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). But working with civil society organisations at ADRRN has additional benefits. “Doing it through a network encourages spillover approaches and techniques from one agency to another,” says Alan Mills MBE, a MapAction team member on the project. “MapAction wants to learn peer-to-peer with these agencies who come with different world experiences and perspectives from our own.” 

MapAction’s partnership with ADRRN is ongoing. As part of Regional Humanitarian Partnership Week in Bangkok (jointly organised by ADRRN, CWS,  ICVA and OCHA) on December 14th, MapAction will lead a session to support how people use geospatial data in emergencies. The presentation and ‘geo-surgery’ Q&A for partners will cover ‘Using location data for preparedness and response work’. In a nutshell, tips and techniques for successful geospatial work. 

Geo-surgery date

A screenshot of a 3W dashboard MapAction produced for CDP in the Philippines in December 2021 following Typhoon Rai. 

The session will focus on some key geospatial and data challenges faced by data scientists and geospatial data engineers when confronted with any emergency, from mapping techniques, to location surveys and establishing baseline data for the ‘3Ws’: the who-what-where baseline information that is so vital to emergency service coordinators and providers to able to make informed decisions. The session led by MapAction will look at rapid mapping techniques using software like PowerPoint, Excel, Google Earth, ESRI ArcGis (mapping software) and QGIS (an open source geo data tool). 

Another Q&A with stakeholders will explore the benefits of including location in assessments, using survey tools such as Kobo. The discussion will explore how good data sources, good formatting and interoperability can all represent quick wins for geodata specialists working in disaster relief.  

In the last 16 months, MapAction data volunteers and staff have been working on projects in Sri Lanka and the Philippines geared at building preparedness. In Sri Lanka we work with Muslim Foundation for Culture and Development (MFCD) and in the Philippines with the Centre for Disaster Preparedness Foundation Inc (CDP). Both projects focus on mapping their programmes and partnerships (the who-what-where baseline of information and ‘3W Rapid Mapping’) through a standardised template. Essentially, creating a clear view to pierce through the whirlpool of data.

“Not only does this provide our partners with useful information about what everyone is doing but it also provides visibility amongst the full ADRRN network and with regional and global bodies such as OCHA. During a crisis response this is useful as this information can be fed straight into the humanitarian cluster system for the 3W work, so the local civil society organisations are getting better visibility in the response and with donors – and it also fosters  better interoperability between all organisations,” says MapAction’s Matt Sims, who worked on both projects. 

At MapAction we are committed to building on what we already know: use of data to mitigate the devastating effects of global threats such as climate change is at the heart of why we set-up our Innovation Hub in 2022. The emphasis on innovation in how we use, source, present and process data to mitigate natural disasters aligns with stakeholder policy.

“Frontier technologies and digital innovations not only reduce the cost of implementing the policy interventions, but also have game-changing impacts on scaling up transformative adaptation through enhanced risk analytics like impact forecasting and integrated multi-hazard risk assessment and early warning, surveillance, and strategic foresights,” notes the UN’s Economic and Social Commission For Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Asia Pacific Disaster Report for 2022. 

“Anticipatory action protects lives”

This is part of a prevailing global strategy to put data and innovation at the centre of mitigating the colossal impacts of the climate emergency, including  through the promotion of disaster risk reduction and emerging anticipatory action strategies. “Anticipatory action protects lives, livelihoods, homes and entire communities. These early investments also prevent higher response costs down the road. This is at the core of my prevention agenda — to put better data, and more innovation, foresight and inclusion, into our work to address major risks,” affirmed UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ in a video message for a UN event on Anticipatory Action in September 2021.

MapAction’s work with ADRRN is part of a broader institutional strategy to engage and partner with regional and local disaster relief bodies and civil society organisations worldwide. Since 2018, MapAction has worked extensively with the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre), an intergovernmental organisation consisting of 10 southeast Asian nations. 

MapAction also works with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in the Caribbean, as well as the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR) in Central Asia. Equivalent projects are also underway to create partnerships and opportunities for knowledge exchange in humanitarian data science in Africa. 

MapAction is helping CSOs put together the building blocks for more coherent management of information between all pillars of humanitarian actors. One of the key goals of all our partnerships with local and civil society organisations is to ensure that they can efficiently contribute to that sharing of vital information on local action which often gets overlooked by global audiences. Our collaborative work with ADRRN and others in the Asia Pacific region is helping to create that solid foundation from which more innovative and interoperable solutions can emerge.