MapAction welcomes six new volunteers

It takes a special kind of person to join MapAction’s band of very dedicated and highly skilled volunteers. Following a competitive recruitment process, six new faces have joined our team, expanding our capacity to provide knowledge and practical support to organisations around the world preparing for and responding to different types of emergencies.

The new recruits each bring valuable skills and experience in either GIS, software development or data science, as well as the special mix of passion, team spirit and professionalism that are prerequisite qualities for MapAction volunteers. They will now begin a rigorous induction and training programme which will equip them with the knowledge they need to apply their expertise in different types of humanitarian contexts. Here’s a little bit about our new colleagues:

Gemma with her hand on a colourful statue of a leaping dolphin on a sunny day. She is smiling to camera.

Dr Gemma Davies – Straight after finishing her MSc in Geographic Information for Development, Gemma started working at Lancaster University providing GIS support for what is now the Lancaster Environment Centre. Over twenty years, the role has evolved and equipped her with a wide range of skills in applied GIS. As well as teaching, she has been involved in researching numerous topics including climate change, epidemiology and food security, culminating in the completion of her PhD by Published Works in 2019. When not absorbed in the world of GIS she loves to travel, swim and play saxophone.

“I am most looking forward to being part of a team of like minded people, using their professional skills to make a positive difference in the lives of people affected by humanitarian crises.” – Gemma

Daniel on a sunny mountain top wearing a backpack and smiling to camera. Another climber is visible in the background also looking to the camera.

Daniel Soares – With an academic background in applied mathematics and mechanical engineering, Daniel is a data scientist at data and deep tech company nam.R where he works mainly with geospatial data applied to energy efficiency projects. He is greatly interested in the application of technical skills to humanitarian, social and ecological challenges. In his free time he loves to listen to all kinds of music, including jazz, heavy metal and Latin, and plays percussion in a group.

“My favourite thing about applied mathematics to engineering problems is the diversity of fields my skills can be applied.” – Daniel

Samir Gandhi – Although he recently took the plunge into a data analysis role at the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Sam’s heart is really in maps. He moonlights as The Jolly Geo, hosting quizzes, freelancing and blogging about fun geo stuff like camera trapping and solargaphy. He is also keen on tennis, karting, trail running and football and is a big Leeds fan.

“GIS is a powerful blend of art and science. I could (and do) stare at my outputs for hours! I’m looking forward to being part of a community of like-minded people, just doing what we love doing. You can’t beat a geographer!” – Sam

Emma Hall and her dog Woody each standing on a tree stump on a sunny Austrian mountainside, looking to camera.

Emma Hall – Emma began her career as a GIS specialist working in local government before moving to the world’s first green energy company and then entering academia where she taught GIS and used it in her conservation-based research. She is an environmental advocate, with a passion for conservation ecology. She is currently conducting doctoral research at Kingston University London, using predictive modelling to assess plant species’ adaptations to climate change in Madagascar. When not working or volunteering, you’ll find her hiking, wild swimming, or cycling in the mountains, with her rescue dog, Woody.

“One of my favourite GIS tools is Global Forest Watch because it combines GIS and spatial analysis in an accessible way so that anyone can use it to support the protection of our global forest ecosystems.” – Emma

Hugh running through a chest-deep tank of cold muddy water on a Tough Mudder type race.

Hugh Loughrey – While working in local government as a GIS technician, Hugh spotted the trend of people wanting to interact more and more with maps online, prompting him to learn more about web technologies. He’s worked in both the public and private sectors in the UK and New Zealand automating complex data processes and is currently a software engineer for an online estate agency. Originally from Belfast, Hugh lives in Birmingham with his wife and two young daughters. He plans to complete the Breca Loch Lomond Swimrun in August 2021.

“The news is regularly full of reports of humanitarian disasters around the world and I wanted to use the skills gained throughout my career as a GIS analyst turned software developer to help MapAction assist in as many as possible.” – Hugh

Head and shoulders shot of Felix Fennell smiling to camera

Felix Fennell – With a background in geography, Felix is a geospatial developer in the mapping team at the British Antarctic Survey. He is interested in data discoverability, automation, data processing and building tools and services for location tracking, situational awareness and planning in Antarctica. He’s been involved with MapAction partner Missing Maps for a few years and is looking forward to deepening his contributions to humanitarian work. He enjoys hiking, challenging his fear of heights and mostly losing at board games.

I enjoy saving people time, either by automating routine or complex tasks or building things that are intuitive and easy to use. The broad range of projects and expertise within MapAction is really exciting and interesting, if a little daunting at this point. – Felix

Emergency support for hurricane-hit Guatemala

A three-person MapAction team is today travelling to Guatemala following extreme flooding and catastrophic landslides in 12 of 22 of the country’s administrative departments caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Ten departments have declared a state of emergency and the Guatemalan government has requested foreign assistance. Around one million Guatemalans are estimated to be directly affected and at least 53 people are known to have died.

The devastating storms have come on the back of social and economic hardship caused and exacerbated by COVID, unemployment and population displacement. The flooding has caused widespread destruction of crops and livestock and around 5,000 wells have been contaminated. There is a high risk of disease outbreak and many people are in urgent need of shelter.

Map of Guatemala showing populations potentially exposed to high and very high impact based on multi-hazard forecasting

The MapAction team, which is deploying at the request of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), will be helping to gather and map information about the evolving situation on the ground, as well as the aid being provided by different agencies, so that gaps can be identified and addressed.

This mission brings the total number of MapAction personnel working with OCHA teams on the impacts of Eta and Iota in the Central American region to nine, with additional support from across our wider team. In addition to the Guatemalan team, a five-person MapAction team has been providing full remote emergency support to OCHA’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC) since 6 November and another team member has been seconded to ROLAC full time since September to assist with hurricane preparedness and other humanitarian issues across the region.

We’re grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for supporting our response, as well as to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UK FCDO and Rotary clubs around the UK for their continued support of MapAction’s response capacity. 

Responding to Hurricanes Eta and Iota

Countries in Central America are facing catastrophic winds and flooding as Hurricane Iota, a Category 5 storm, makes its way across Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.

With wind gusts of up to 250km/hr and torrential rain, Iota made landfall in northeast Nicaragua last night. It is compounding the damage and devastation inflicted by Category 4 Hurricane Eta, which killed at least 178 people in the region a fortnight ago and destroyed food crops for thousands of families.

Map of flood extent and land cover in Ulua Basin, Lower Aguan Basin and Choluteca Lower Basin, Honduras, as of 6th/7th/11th November 2020

MapAction has been remotely providing full emergency support to the Latin American and Caribbean regional body of the UN’s Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), known as ROLAC, since 6 November to assist the response to Eta and now Iota. This includes mapping storm tracks, flood extents, building damage, affected populations and information about what assistance humanitarian teams are already providing in different locations so that gaps can be identified and rapidly addressed. This work represents a scaling-up of the ongoing support to ROLAC we have been providing since September, in preparation for Hurricane season and other humanitarian issues across the region.

“Iota is hampering the response to Eta, severely degrading logistic routes and complicating the information picture,” said MapAction’s Operations Director Chris Davies. “Our maps are helping teams on the ground direct resources where they’re most needed, as safely as possible. We will continue to provide support to our ROLAC colleagues and are anticipating and preparing for additional requests for our assistance.”

Map of humanitarian presence overview by department, Honduras, as at 16 November 2020

We’re grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for supporting our response, as well as to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UK FCDO for their continued support of MapAction’s response capacity. 

Helping to build new Caribbean Risk Information System (CRIS)

Launched today, the Caribbean Risk Information System (CRIS) is a “one stop shop” for gathering and sharing information and data on disaster risk management and climate change adaptation across the Caribbean region.

The CRIS platform has been created by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in collaboration with the World Bank and other partners including MapAction, with financial support from the European Union (EU). 

CRIS aims to support informed decision making by providing access to information on all types of hazards, including climate-induced hazards, as well as guidance on how to reduce risk, build disaster-resilient states and promote sustainable development. It consists of a Virtual Library, databases and the GeoCRIS – a geospatial component which provides access to geospatial data needed for risk and hazard mapping, disaster preparedness and response operations. Data from the Caribbean Handbook on Risk Information Management (CHaRIM) GeoNode has been integrated into the GeoCRIS to facilitate evidence-based decision making and development planning processes.

Screenshot of GeoCRIS showing map of Western Haiti with seaports, airports, points of interest, health facilities, river network and waterbodies map layers selected
Screenshot of the GeoCRIS showing a map of part of Western Haiti with several map layers selected

MapAction provided advice on strategic, technical and personnel issues related to creating the GeoCRIS, based on its years of experience of developing similar systems. We particularly assisted in defining
needs for data and tools to support the Rapid Needs Assistance Team (RNAT) and other rapid-response mechanisms within CDEMA as we have partnered alongside CDEMA following several devastating hurricanes in the past five years. We will also be helping CDEMA to train disaster management teams across the Caribbean region in using GeoCRIS once travel restrictions are lifted.

We’re grateful to the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance for funding our participation in this project.

You can view the CRIS launch presentation on the CDEMA Facebook page.

Partnering to support education in Mexico

MapAction is working in close collaboration with our partner CartONG to provide GIS & information management support to UNICEF – another long-term MapAction partner – on an as-needed basis around the world.

UNICEF logo

Working with UNICEF’s head quarters, country offices and partners in different parts of the globe, we are focusing on helping with geospatial data collection and management, mapping, knowledge management and capacity building.

One of the projects we have been collectively working on is a data analysis dashboard to help educators in Mexico respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This dashboard, which is updated on a daily basis, is a dynamic, interactive visualisation of information enabling education teams to monitor changes and identify trends in school attendance following COVID closures. It also provides general information on the state of schools’ water and sanitation infrastructure.

Screenshot of Mexican schools dashboard showing map of Mexico and numerical variables with sample data
Screenshot of the dashboard showing sample data

The dashboard is currently in beta. When finalised, it is planned that all teachers across Mexico will have access to it to help them plan and respond to the evolving COVID crisis.

As well as helping CartONG to build the dashboard, MapAction has provided data processing scripts to ensure a seamless feed of data and has lead on the user testing and quality assurance aspects of the project.

Communicating humanitarian needs and impacts in Eastern and Southern Africa

For over a year, swarms of locusts have been ravaging large parts of rural Africa, affecting different countries at different times. Stripping the land of vegetation and destroying crops and food supplies, the highly destructive pest is causing additional severe food insecurity for communities already struggling to recover from drought and flooding, as well as coping with COVID-19.

Since April, MapAction has been working with Oxfam and its network of local civil society partners in Eastern and Southern Africa to help improve visibility of the work the partners are doing and improve communication flows between them, even during COVID lockdowns. This in turn is helping them to protect people’s food security, livelihoods and access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services as this complex and many-layered crisis evolves.

As well as mapping who is doing what and where to help, we have also been creating map templates and training people locally so that they can update and refresh the maps on an ongoing basis. This means that Oxfam’s partners can alert each other of threats such as locust swarms migrating into new areas.

In Somalia we have been assisting teams working on food security, livelihoods, WASH and protection by helping to triangulate information about locust infestations and areas affected by COVID. In Southern Africa, we have been helping Oxfam and its civil society partners set up and then maintain situational awareness of locusts and other threats to food security across the region.

One Oxfam project MapAction has been supporting involves mapping water ATMs – machines that allow water to be automatically dispensed when a customer places his or her token or card against an electronic reader, which regulates flow at a dispensing point. A chip within the token or card contains information about the amount of water the user has already paid for and water credits are deducted each time water is dispensed.  The water ATMs are important points in areas such as informal settlements, ensuring access to safe, low-cost drinking water which is key in protecting people against water-borne diseases. Initially covering informal settlements around Nairobi, MapAction’s involvement has now extended to mapping ATMs in other areas.

People filling up water bottles at a water ATM in Kenya

Irene Gai, WASH strategist at Oxfam, said, “Sharing where work has been done is helping to avoid duplication of interventions, thereby saving resources that can be channelled to other needy areas. By having the maps shared with other WASH-sector agencies, they can target their own resources for similar initiatives in other places than where Oxfam has already supported.”

During the course of the work in East Africa, the MapAction team created our first automatically-generated maps, testing out this new approach which is part of our ambitious Moonshot programme. Among other things, this enables us to produce the best reference and baseline maps possible in almost no time at all, freeing up team time to focus on the specifics of the situation at hand.

German Humanitarian Assistance logo

Initially supporting Oxfam’s partners’ work in Kenya and Somalia, MapAction personnel are now also helping in Zimbabwe and Zambia, with scope to roll out to Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, South Africa and Botswana. Additional projects in other countries may also take place.

We’re grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for funding this work.

Not the normal London Marathon, but certainly not a dry run

MapAction patron Vanessa Lawrence CB and her running partner and god-daughter Jocelyn Moore (whose partner Steve is a MapAction volunteer and also a London Marathon veteran) ran the London Marathon for us together for the second year running on a very wet day in October. Here’s Vanessa’s account of the experience.

Jocelyn and Vanessa standing on a country path in very wet waterproof clothing, smiling to camera. Vanessa is holding her Marathon runners

The 2020 London Marathon was named by the organisers for the non-elite runners as the ‘my race, my way’ London Marathon. Participants had 24 hours to complete the 26.2 miles (42.2km); you could start when you liked and finish when you liked and do it in any way you wished…so long as an electronic device tracked you, to ensure you completed the distance!

Sunday morning 4th October 2020, Marathon day dawned – but hardly! It was very dark, the rain was slashing down and a cold wind was blowing.
Jocelyn and I had planned the route, plotted it on an Ordnance Survey ‘custom made’ map (a good Christmas Present for those who like maps – £16.99!) and thankfully found a ‘long lost’ map case to keep the map dry.

We set off wearing full wet weather gear and the whole day was dominated by driving rain, a cold wind and lots and lots of mud!

Our route took us through pretty villages which were totally empty, across a windswept airfield, through ancient woodlands, along roads completely under water, over and under the M25 and past very interesting local landmarks. We had an encounter with about 70 bullocks who walked into ‘our field’ as we were about one third across it. They surrounded us but eventually they lost interest…phew!

Close up of Jocelyn and Vanessa smiling to camera wearing damp rain hoods

Thankfully, two thirds of the way along the route, we stopped at a friend’s house. It was so welcome to get out of the driving rain and the biting wind to enjoy some warmth and a welcome cup of tea. We thought she was marvellous as she decided to join us for the next two miles to experience the horrible weather and took a photo of us both at mile 17, with still nearly another 10 miles to go!

Darkness fell early but thankfully we had head torches and hi-vis jackets with us and we arrived back at our start with 1.1km still to do…so we decided to walk around the local roads and thankfully that did the trick. 26.2 miles or 42.2 km completed!

Close up of Jocelyn and Vanessa smiling to camera with London Marathon The 40th Race frame and text reading 'I've just run the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon'

Thank you so much for supporting us. The money thankfully is still streaming in and it is likely our final total will be in excess of £4000.

But please be warned; the London Marathon organisers are not subtle! They already have sent Jocelyn and I places in the ‘real London Marathon’ to take place on Sunday 3rd October 2021 in London when they confidently predict the pandemic will be over. Let’s hope so! But I am confident of one thing (well at the moment anyway!)…London Marathon 2021 probably will be my last Marathon as they really are a long, long way!

Stay safe and thank you again from us both.

Ten tips for making simple, informative maps in a pandemic

MapAction has been collaborating for a number of years with French NGO and fellow humanitarian information management specialists CartONG.

Four people participating in an online meeting, two from MapAction, two from CartONG

In addition to our operational activities, we thought it would be worthwhile to pool our collective knowledge to create an informative article. The ten-minute read aims to give some helpful tips for people creating maps intended to assist humanitarian responses to the Corona virus and other pandemics.

Between us, we have a lot of experience of using geospatial analysis and visualisations to inform decision-making in this and previous epidemics, such as Ebola, as well as the current pandemic. We wanted to share this knowledge more widely and felt that, by working together, we could create something really useful and reach more people. Although it was written with pandemics in mind, many of the points apply to all kinds of map making.

You can read the article on the CartONG blog below.

AFD, H2H Network and UK aid logos

This project was co-funded by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the H2H Network’s H2H Fund, the latter supported by UK aid from the UK government.

Auction of famous antique map collection

Antique map by Munster, Sebastian.
Europa/das ein Drietheil der Erden

MapAction ambassador Farhad Vladi is a world-renowned collector of antique maps. Over many years, he has travelled the world, seeking out the finest, rarest, and most beautiful examples of early cartography.

Now he is putting this incredible collection up for auction, with a percentage of the proceeds benefiting the work of MapAction.

Included in the sale is the first map to be printed from woodblock (Magna Germania, created by Ptolemäus in 1486), marking the start of modern map making, as well as maps from the world’s most noted cartographers, including Gerard Mercator, Willem Jansz Blaeu, Abraham Ortelius, Johann Baptist Homann, Sebastian Münster, and Matthäus Seutter. 

MapAction Past & Future auction lot

Bidders can also purchase one of the first three MapAction Past & Future Packages. This will enable them to select a map from a back-catalogue of thousands of maps, each of which tells its own story. The map will be a framed, printed version, signed (where possible) by one or more of the team members that attended that emergency and made that map. MapAction will also provide a short description of the purpose and situation for which the map was made.

In buying a map from a past emergency, they will also be helping to fund MapAction’s ability to support future emergencies. To recognise that, the winning bidders can choose any map that appears in our online map library arising from a future response, and MapAction will send a digital copy of that map, along with a sincere message of thanks.

The auction takes place on 23 September 2020 at 12:00pm EST and is open to all. It will be hosted on Liveauctioneers.comInvaluable.com, and Bidsquare.com. Bidders can participate online, through absentee bidding, or phone bidding. 

Page from antique atlas by Ortelius, Abraham. Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (atlas)

How data science can help release emergency funds before a crisis

head shot of Monica Turner smiling to camera

Although data science is still a relatively new field, its potential for the humanitarian sector is vast and ever-changing. We caught up with one of MapAction’s Data Scientists Monica Turner to discover how data science is evolving, the impact of COVID-19 on her work and how predictive modelling could see disaster funding being released before a disaster has occurred. 

Interview by Karolina Throssell, MapAction Communications Volunteer

How did you get into data science?

I have a background in Astrophysics but wanted to transition into data science, so I started volunteering with 510 global which is part of the Netherlands Red Cross. This was my first experience in the humanitarian sector, and I was immediately hooked. After working briefly as a data scientist at a technology company, I began working at MapAction in March 2020. As part of my work, I am seconded to the Centre for Humanitarian Data in the Hague, which is managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

What is the role of data science at MapAction?

Even though one of MapAction’s primary products is maps, these are created by combining different data sets. So, while the explicit presence of a data scientist at the organisation is new, MapAction has fundamentally always been doing data science on some level. With this new role, the hope is to both formalise the current data science practices, and expand our analytical capability, ultimately shifting our role from data consumer to having an active role in the development and improvement of humanitarian data sets. 

As a data scientist, you often have to wear many hats – from data cleaning to model development to visualisation. With the Moonshot project, we are looking to automate the creation of seven to nine key maps for 20 countries. One of my first tasks is to design and build a pipeline that downloads, transforms, and checks the quality of all the different data sets that make up these key maps. The details of this pipeline will be the subject of a future blog post. 

How has COVID-19 impacted on your work?

One of MapAction’s strengths is the field work that we are able to do during an emergency as well as the remote support we provide. However, as COVID-19 has limited the ability to travel, the paradigm has shifted and we need to rethink how we respond to emergencies overall. In particular, we are working to expand the types of products that we offer to our partners, as the demand increases for more remote-oriented products such as web-based dashboards. 

At the Centre for Humanitarian data, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, we’ve been developing a model relating to the spread of COVID, to help low- and middle-income countries plan their responses.

A female medic wearing a facemask takes the temperature of a smiling man before he enters a clinic
Photo: Trócaire 

One of the main challenges of modelling COVID-19 is the novelty of the disease. Since there is no historical data, model validation becomes much more challenging. Additionally, the number of cases and deaths is a crucial input to the model. With higher income countries, more testing is done so the data we need is there, however the availability and quality of this data in low- and middle-income countries poses a further hurdle. Nevertheless, even with these caveats it is still very valuable to provide low- and middle-income countries with a tailored scenario-building tool for developing their COVID response.

Where is data science heading?

Predictive analytics will play a much larger role in the future of data science. The UN is currently working on a huge project to provide funding for predictive models that will enable it to release funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), to help communities prepare and protect themselves from disasters before they occur. After a successful pilot project in Bangladesh, we plan to extend our model validation to other types of disasters such as cholera and food insecurity.

At MapAction, the Moonshot will lead a shift towards preparedness and enable us to develop methods to assess the completeness and quality of the data going into our maps. Our hope is that with this emphasis on data analysis, we will be able to provide meaningful contributions to a wide array of humanitarian data sets. Additionally, we are hoping to build an analytics team, and will be recruiting data science volunteers in early 2021, so check our website and sign up to our newsletter to find out how you can apply. And if you can contribute in other ways to our data science work, please contact us!

MapAction’s Data Scientist is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Responding to the Beirut explosion

MapAction personnel began working yesterday on gathering data and producing reference and situational maps for use by first responders and humanitarian teams in Beirut following the devastating explosion that ripped through the city on 4 August.

A three-person MapAction team will arrive in Beirut tomorrow or Saturday to provide mapping and data management support to help coordinate the national and international response, at the request of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC). They will be supported remotely by other members of the MapAction team based in the UK.

Map showing rapid damage assessment of Beirut docks through remote observation (5 August 2020)

MapAction’s Moonshot – origins and ambitions

By Juan Duarte, Technical Director, and Monica Turner, Data Scientist, MapAction

Close up of left hand side of the moon
Photo: Adam Scott

History will always underscore how landing on the moon represented a significant milestone in the space race, yet what is often less spoken about is the number of technologies that might not have ever made it without space travel.

These include the all-important ability to take pictures on our phone, thanks to the technology originally created by a team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the technique used to develop diamond-hard coatings for aerospace systems that can now be found on scratch-resistant spectacles. Inventions that originally started life with a bigger purpose but have filtered down into solving some of the challenges in our everyday lives.

This brings us onto MapAction’s own Moonshot initiative – an ambitious programme of work encompassing step changes in the way we use different technologies in the course of our work. This includes things like how we triage, assign and manage the requests for support we receive, and how we can automate certain repeat activities. 

One of the first projects we are working on within the Moonshot programme will enable us to produce seven to nine key maps for 20 of the world’s most vulnerable countries automatically, using technology we’re developing that will provide benefits for many years to come. This is being funded through our partnership with the German Federal Foreign Office.

In the humanitarian sector, a perennial challenge is access to high-quality data. This need is even more acute 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, regardless of the nature of the emergency. 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.

As MapAction has made maps in hundreds of emergencies, it has become apparent that, in creating these foundational core maps, there are many repeatable, generalised tasks that could be handled much more quickly by a machine, achieving in seconds what used to take hours. This would give humanitarian decision-makers the orientation information they need immediately, and free up our specialist volunteers for actively assessing and engaging with the situation at hand and performing the mapping tasks that only humans can do. 

Moreover, by shifting the focus from reactive to proactive data sourcing and map production, we can ensure we provide the best maps possible – not just the best maps, given the time and data available and the prevailing circumstances in the midst of a humanitarian emergency. 

Many countries, particularly low and middle-income countries, are likely to have data gaps, and they are often also the countries that may have the least resilience to emergencies such as droughts or earthquakes. Identifying and addressing these data gaps in advance is a big part of the Moonshot project, and something that will have benefits for the humanitarian sector as a whole. 

Like the proverbial needle in the haystack, important data can exist within a subset of a much larger dataset and accessing it can be tricky. Finding a gap is even more difficult, as you’re looking for an unknown entity that isn’t there. The technology we’re developing for the Moonshot will help us to identify the hard-to-see data gaps and quality issues that currently exist. By discovering these, we can pinpoint what information will be needed to ensure a complete map and then work with partners around the world to proactively put in place missing data or improve what currently exists. 

The initial goal of the Moonshot is to publish 180 core maps (nine for each of the 20 vulnerable countries identified at the beginning of the project). The same processes will then be applied to other countries and, eventually, to other types of automated maps beyond these core ones. This means we will ultimately be in a position to expand our understanding and quality assessment processes for more data types. New opportunities and routes of travel are likely to emerge as the project develops.

The ambition is big, but the possibilities that will result from achieving this goal will fundamentally change the way we approach map creation in the humanitarian sector in the future.

In a series of blogs over the next few months, we will share the story of this work as it unfolds, as well as diving down deeper into specific elements of it.

COVID-19 modelling with the Centre for Humanitarian Data

Since March this year, a MapAction data scientist has been based at the Centre for Humanitarian Data in The Hague, supporting its workstream on predictive analytics. The aim of this important work is to forecast humanitarian emergencies and needs in order to trigger responses before a disaster occurs.

One of the projects the Centre’s predictive analytics team is working on, in partnership with the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and individual country offices of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is the development of COVID-19 modelling tailored for each country’s specific context. This seeks to predict the scale, severity and duration of the outbreak within each country, including its likely effects on particularly vulnerable groups, such as people at risk of hunger or those using solid fuel indoors for cooking.

The project is also modelling the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as curfews, travel bans and face masks, according to what is locally viable.

The inclusion of country-specific factors, looking at projections for specific vulnerable groups as well as the general population at a sub national level, can make this work particularly helpful for governments and humanitarian organisations to inform their COVID planning.

Projected total infections per 100,000 inhabitants in Afghanistan on 2020-08-03. Projections are obtained by simulating local transmission in each district in Afghanistan and expected spatial and temporal spread between districts. Country-specific risk factors are included in the simulation at the subnational level.
German Humanitarian Assistance logo

The initial model was developed for Afghanistan and is now being extended to other priority countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Sudan. 

We’re grateful for the support of the German Federal Foreign Office which funds MapAction’s data scientist role.

MapAction strengthens partnership with CartONG

MapAction and CartONG, a French NGO specialised in humanitarian information management, have been working together closely on several projects in recent months.

Laptop screen displaying the front page of the MoU with MapAction and CartONG logos visible

Most recently, we have been providing support to CartONG to help deliver a global information platform for MSF and working with them to provide a national education dashboard for Mexico, as part of our joint long-term agreement with Unicef.

Our partnership has now been formalised by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by MapAction’s Chief Executive Liz Hughes and CartONG’s Technical Director Sandra Sudhoff. The new agreement sets out how we will work together in future to help each other achieve our charitable purposes.

Liz commented, “This agreement underlines our mutual commitment to collaborate even more in future so that we can strengthen and amplify each other’s work. Our charitable objectives are quite closely aligned, but we each bring different skill sets, relationships and expertise to the table. Collaboration is essential to everything MapAction does, so it’s great to be able to cement our partnership in this way.”

Montage of two photos, Liz Hughes doing a thumbs up to camera and Sandra Sudhoff signing the MoU at her desk, smiling to camera.

Supporting refugees in Northwest Syria

Earlier this year, MapAction was asked by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to send a team to Turkey. Their mission was to provide assistance to humanitarian teams there and in Northwest Syria who are supporting the very large numbers of refugees and internally displaced people that arrived in the region during the first three months of the year following an upsurge of fighting in Aleppo.

The request was to work with two groups of organisations collaborating to collectively manage around 900 refugee camps; the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster, and the Shelter /Non-Food Item (SNFI) Cluster.

Days before the MapAction team was due to travel, the UK and Turkey went into lockdown. Consequently, the team was compelled to switch rapidly to a remote-working approach.

Since late March, they have been helping the Clusters to get a better understanding of the locations and sizes of the camps and the needs of the people arriving and living in them. Camps vary enormously; from just a few tents to up to 93 separate sites within a single camp, and from long-term, static settlements to temporary ones.

As well as cross referencing, checking and cleaning data about camp locations received from numerous sources, the MapAction team developed some simple tools to help do this quickly and easily in future, which will also have benefits for other areas of work undertaken by the Clusters. One tool validates the location coordinates of camps recorded by teams within Syria, another matches them to Syrian administrative areas.

The MapAction team has also been locating aerial images of the camps on OpenStreetMap and using these to develop 900 map polygons showing the shape and size of each camp. As well as helping the Clusters to understand and meet the existing needs of people in the camps, this work will help to inform them about their population densities, which is particularly important in the context of COVID-19.

Updated to add: This project was shortlisted for a DataIQ Award for ‘Best use of data by a not-for-profit’.

MapAction helps create UK COVID strategic planning system

The Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCS EP) is leading a collaborative initiative to establish a UK-wide coordination system for civil society organisations and charities participating in the country’s domestic response to COVID-19. It aims to provide support to people in vulnerable situations who aren’t able to get help locally. The initiative, which is backed by the UK government, is a huge undertaking and draws on expertise from a broad range of people and organisations.

The concept is based on a number of ‘tactical cells’ located around the four countries of the UK and made up of experts from across the voluntary and community sector.

These cells will oversee, coordinate and represent the voluntary and community sector’s response to Covid19. Each cell aims to identify the unmet need of people in the most vulnerable situations by linking information gathered from teams delivering front-line support to strategic decision makers. This rapidly changing information is used to ensure resources go to where they are most needed, for example by identifying where demand for support outweighs the local capacity available, or where needs are of a particularly specialist nature.

A four-person MapAction team has been supporting the VCS EP to set up, test and run the information flows and coordination systems for the tactical cells. Our input was solicited because of our team’s experience and knowledge of the challenges of creating and delivering a robust information management process across multiple countries in a complex and rapidly evolving crisis situation.

The VCS EP is co-chaired by the British Red Cross and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA).

The new system is being rolled out this week and will be in place for the rest of the spring and summer. 

2.6 Challenge success

At the end of April lots of people took part in the MapAction 2.6 Challenge, finding creative and impressive ways to get active using the number 2.6 as a theme while maintaining social distancing.

Bouncing, hopping, putting, running, cycling and swimming were some of the activities undertaken, measured in miles, minutes, multiples and – of course – maps!

2.6 Challenge boy dressed as superhero with arm raised as if flying

We’re absolutely delighted to report that to date, the MapAction 2.6 Challenge has raised over £6,000, and we are still to receive our portion of a central fund to be distributed to participating charities.

This is a fantastic amount, and is vitally important to us as at the moment, when we are rapidly adapting our services to meet the fast-changing needs of our partners as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A huge thank you to everyone who took part as well as everyone who made a donation.

The 2.6 Challenge was the brainchild of the organisers of the 26-mile London Marathon, which was due to take place on 26 April. Like many charities, we had runners who were planning to take part, raising money for us in the process. It was disappointing for them and us when the event wasn’t able to happen and we’re hugely grateful to them for all the effort they put into training and fundraising.

Special thanks to the pupils and staff at Gateway School, Jonathan Hendry and 4 Earth Intelligence, Barbara Bond, Valerie Hindson, the Sims and Maynard families, Mike Denicolai, Pauline Newton, Dan Smith, Penny, Ian and Raquel for your great efforts while taking up the 2.6 Challenge. And thanks also to Stefan Schweinfest, Vickie White, Karen McDonald and Jonathan Hendry for your dedicated support in planning to run the Marathon for us, which is greatly appreciated. Next time!

Helping WHO with mapping in Libya and Chad

MapAction volunteers have been supporting the World Health Organization (WHO) in Libya and Chad to process and map data about health and sanitation services, in order to support the response to COVID-19.

The volunteers have been working remotely, alongside each country’s health cluster (networks of WHO partners that work together to relieve suffering and save lives in humanitarian emergencies). They have been helping to identify and map what healthcare, water and sanitation services and aid are being provided, by whom, when and where. This is known as 4W mapping and is important to help identify gaps and avoid duplication.

We are now looking at providing similar assistance to WHO in other parts of North and Central Africa.

Join the MapAction 2.6 Challenge

At a time when charities throughout the UK and around the world are being severely impacted by big drops in fundraising income caused by the Corona virus, MapAction is busier than ever before.

We’re helping national governments, the UN and humanitarian organisations across the globe make rapid sense of the COVID-19 pandemic and plan the best response, to save the most lives and minimise the long-term impacts.

Managing a pandemic of this kind requires the rapid collection and analysis of vast amounts of data. Without maps and data, those responding to the crisis are effectively blindfolded. This is where MapAction’s help is crucial. Our expertise in humanitarian information management and mapping is hugely in demand, as we face a global crisis of unprecedented scale. We’re having an impact, right at the heart of the world’s response.

At the same time, other humanitarian emergencies that existed pre-Corona, or have occurred since its onset – such as Cyclone Harold and the Syrian refugee crisis – require our urgent assistance too.

Like all charities, our funding has been affected by the COVID crisis. That’s why we’re asking all our supporters to take part in the MapAction 2.6 Challenge.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Plan a 2.6-mile route around your home using a tool like mapmywalk.com or the map app on your phone. Make sure you adhere to government guidance and social distancing measures in force where you are.
  • Run, walk, cycle, scoot, hop, jump or anything-you-like around your route between 26 April and 1 May 2020. You could even do the same loop ten times to make it 26 miles!
  • If you can’t leave your home, you can still take part by performing any activity you like 26 times (do 26 sit ups or 26 minutes of yoga, toss a pancake 26 times…). If you like, you can create a fantasy 2.6 mile map route that you plan to do one day.
  • Take a picture of you doing your challenge (videos and GIFs are also v welcome, but make sure you include at least one photo), and a screenshot of your route map, if applicable. Send them to fundraising@mapaction.org with your name(s). (Route maps will be anonymised before we share them. By sending us your name and images, you consent to us storing and publishing them.)
  • Share your picture/video/GIF on social media with the hashtags #MapAction26Challenge and #twopointsixchallenge. (NB don’t share a map that shows where you live.)
  • Donate £26 – or whatever you can afford – to MapAction via this Virgin Money Giving page or set up your own 2.6 Challenge fundraising page.
  • That’s it! You’re a super hero. Thank you!

As well as the money you donate, we will receive a portion of a central fund being collected from large corporate donors. The amount of that we receive will be proportionate to the amount of donations we receive, so please give as much as you can.

MapAction provides GIS support for MSF’s COVID response

MapAction’s partner Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides rapid-response medical teams to assist in conflict zones, natural disasters and epidemics. On any given day, its staff treats tens of thousands of patients for a variety of illnesses in its medical programmes around the world.

MSF is very concerned how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect people in countries with already fragile health systems. In many areas where its teams work, there are few medical organisations in a position to respond to an overload of patients.

In order to provide the best medical aid as fast as possible, MSF is working with its technical partner CartONG to create a single repository for all the information its operations personnel need to rapidly respond to the COVID crisis, including information about travel restrictions, flights, cargo transport, availability of supplies, etc. A MapAction team member has been seconded to this technical task force in the role of GIS coordinator. As well as bringing technical expertise in data and content strategy, he’s helping to define and prioritise the information needs of MSF teams and create content for the new platform.

MapAction helps response to Cyclone Harold

While much of the world was focused on battling COVID-19 last week, a powerful tropical cyclone swept through the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga, causing significant damage and loss of life.

With gusts over 170mph and rainfall of 250-450mm, Tropical Cyclone Harold was the worse storm to hit Vanuatu since Cyclone Pam in 2015, and, in some areas, damage has been significantly worse. Entire villages are reported to have been destroyed in the northern parts of the island chain.

In addition to the devastation caused by the storm, social distancing measures had to be temporarily lifted in some areas to enable people to gather in emergency shelters, and this may exacerbate the impacts of COVID-19 in the region. Furthermore, the crisis is largely remaining under the radar, given the ongoing pandemic, meaning little funding is being made available to assist the affected islands, despite tremendous need. What international aid there is has been hampered and delayed by the virus.

MapAction is already delivering support to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Asia Pacific region (ROAP) to help the regional COVID-19 response. We have diverted some of this effort to respond to the emergency caused by Cyclone Harold, creating situation maps for Fiji and Tonga. These are helping humanitarian teams prioritise and coordinate aid. We will continue to provide assistance as needed.

MapAction’s Caribbean network helps prepare for COVID-19

MapAction has been helping its partners the World Food Program (WFP) and Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to distribute mobile app questionnaires about availability of and access to food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past several years, we have been working with CDEMA and other organisations to build a network of GIS professionals in the Caribbean region (and elsewhere) with a shared interest in disaster preparedness and information management. We were able to use this network to help disseminate the questionnaire as widely as possible across the region in order to gather information about potential food shortages once incidences of the virus escalate.

Helping UN Asia Pacific COVID-19 response

A MapAction team member currently based in New Zealand is providing GIS, mapping and information management support to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Asia and the Pacific (ROAP).

Over the next two months, he will be helping ROAP to support countries that have limited public health infrastructure and resources to cope with the rapid onset of COVID-19. He will be assisted in this work by MapAction’s team of volunteers.

ROAP covers 41 countries in Asia and the Pacific and currently supports these countries in their efforts to ramp up preparedness and response through the UN Resident Coordinators and their offices, as well as local governments.

COVID-19 government measures dashboard

We’ve helped ACAPS to put together a dashboard showing government measures being taken around the world. Data can be filtered by region, country, type of measure and timeframe.

Screenshot of government measures dashboard

We will be updating this twice a week. In the meantime ACAPS, MapAction and other organisations are looking at further topics to develop analysis for. 

Report into COVID-19 government measures worldwide

Map of countries with COVID-19 public health measures as of 17/3/2020

The first bulletin in a series about measures adopted by governments in response to COVID-19, as well as potential impacts on ongoing humanitarian operations, has now been published by ACAPS.

MapAction is collaborating with ACAPS and other partners to provide analysis, maps and visualisations of the pandemic as it evolves to assist governments and aid agencies in their response.

Map of countries with social distancing measures as of 17/3/2020

Supporting ACAPS’ analyses of COVID-19 government responses

Since last week, we have been working with our partner ACAPS, the independent humanitarian analysis organisation, to support their efforts looking at the longer term humanitarian effects of COVID-19.

Every Wednesday, starting today, ACAPS will be publishing a weekly bulletin about government measures around the world in relation to the virus. MapAction is assisting this work with analysis, mapping and visualisations of the collected data. The data is also being published via the Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX).

This information will enable teams planning the response to the pandemic around the world to see what steps are being taken in different countries and what the impacts of those measures are.

Colour in mapping

By Jo Pratt, MapAction’s Communications Lead

March 9-10 is Holi, an ancient Hindu festival celebrating the arrival of spring with a riot of colour. To mark the occasion I asked the MapAction members for their interesting tips, facts, examples and experiences – anything they felt moved to share – about the use and importance of colour in mapping.

A few people sent me examples of maps they’ve created in which colour was particularly important in communicating and differentiating between different layers of information. Colour can be used to increase the amounts and types of information a map contains without reducing its readability. Divergent colours are often used to differentiate between types of data shown, while sequential colour scales can show degrees of prevalence of a particular feature.

MapAction’s Geospatial Services Coordinator, Matt Sims, shared with me a map of South Sudan he produced in 2014 for our partner ACAPS. He used divergent colours to differentiate between layers of information including data about food security, health and internally displaced people (IDP) movements. At the same time, a sequential colour scale gives an immediate visual indicator of the severity of the food insecurity in each county.

In this colourful 2017 language map of Borno, Eastern Nigeria (below), MapAction volunteer Mark Gillick used divergent colours to show at a glance which groups of IDPs were in locations with a local language other than their own. The map also shows the size and location of each community.

“This is the most colourful MapAction map I’ve made.”
MapAction volunteer, Mark Gillick

Mark also flagged up the use of divergent colour to enhance communication in the London Underground map and the map below from 1895 of different nationalities in Chicago, USA.

1895 map of nationalities in Chicago

MapAction’s Head of Training and Learning Emma Mumford pointed me to a lovely looking and rather fascinating thematic map of age demographics in Switzerland created by mapping blogger Timo Grossenbacher. The sequential colour scale shows how different age groups are clustered in certain areas. It also demonstrates why yellow is generally taken to be a highlight colour, as the yellow and orange areas stand out against the purples.

Thematic map of age demographics in Switzerland

Colour considerations and cautions

I had an interesting chat with MapAction volunteer duo Becky and Andy Kervell. As well as flagging up ColorBrewer as a useful mapping resource, they talked me through some of the issues to bear in mind when thinking about colour choices.

  • Colour blindness – this is quite a common problem. Most people with colour-vision deficiency have difficulty distinguishing between red and green. ‘Red-green’ deficiency affects one in 12 men and one in 200 women globally and can make it hard for them to tell the difference between reds, oranges, yellows, browns and greens. They may also have difficulty distinguishing between shades of purple and may not be able to tell red from black. ‘Blue-yellow’ deficiency – affecting vision of blues, greens and yellows – is another form of colour blindness that is much rarer. This Brilliant Maps blog explores what maps look like to people with colour-vision deficiency.
  • Format, use and context – colours look different on screen compared to paper, so the ways in which a map is distributed and used should affect colour choice. If a map is intended to be desktop printed, questions around the quality and availability of printers and inks arise. If a colour map is printed in black and white, will it still be fit for purpose? If a map is shown via a projector, will details be visible?
  • Cultural significances – colours have different meanings and associations in different parts of the world. For example, in some cultures, death is associated with black; in others, with white. Red can be associated with danger, good fortune or grief and death, among other things, depending on where you are. This is one good reason why team diversity, as well as awareness of and consideration for different cultures, is important in mapping – as elsewhere in life.

Another interesting fact I learned in the course of compiling this blog is that mappers use up a lot of blue ink. Because – oceans. According to MapAction’s logistics manager Andy Punter, who looks after all the kit used by our teams on deployment, we get through three or four times as many cyan ink cartridges as any other colour. So, if you ever come across a map with feathering around a land mass to denote the sea instead of a solid block of blue, thriftiness could be the reason.

This is the first in an irregular series of blogs in which we use an international event such as Holi, as an excuse (as if one were needed) to celebrate the diversity of mappers, maps and mapping.

MapAction appoints new treasurer

Steve Harper, who works as Charities Director at Hays Macintyre LLP Chartered Accountants, recently joined MapAction’s board as treasurer. Steve acts as auditor and advisor to national and international charities and is co-author of the International Charity Financial Benchmarking Report. He is a qualified chartered accountant with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland and holds the ICAEW’s Diploma in Charity Accounting. 

Greening MapAction

By Liz Hughes, Chief Executive, MapAction

The nature of our work means that we are only too aware of the impacts of climate change on the lives and livelihoods of the world’s most vulnerable people. Although the causal chain between humanitarian need arising out of climate change and MapAction’s contribution to the problem may not be a straight line, we are, no doubt, a contributor to some degree. And, as an organisation of people with a passionate commitment to improving humanitarian outcomes, it is incumbent on us to take a really serious look at our contribution to the problem.

Towards the end of last year, therefore, an internal working group was created to update our thinking about the environmental impacts we generate during the course of our work, and how we can avoid and mitigate these. In December, the group developed an environmental policy that outlines our commitment to strive for carbon neutrality by 2030. This is both daunting and necessary. In my view, it is absolutely right that we should set such a target. However we don’t yet know the scale of that and what we are going to need to do to tackle it.

Our policy states: “MapAction recognises the devastating effects of climate breakdown and environmental degradation which can lead to displacement, disease, food shortages, water shortages, economic loss, and poverty for people, particularly those in vulnerable regions across the world. Principally MapAction recognises the contributory effect and exacerbation climate breakdown and environmental degradation can have on humanitarian crises. MapAction commits to our own moral and ethical (“do no harm”) responsibility to reduce and minimise our environmental and carbon footprint, whilst supporting those affected by humanitarian crises, supporting Sustainable Development Goal #13 on Climate Action[1] (to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts).

Flooding in Sierra Leone, August 2017

I am very grateful to the working group for developing this policy and taking us forward. There is still quite a lot of work to do to get a clear baseline and some impact measures in place so that, as we embark on this journey, we do so with some clear parameters and actions, and it isn’t just talk.

There’ll be an opportunity for MapAction’s membership to feed in suggestions on what areas we can improve. We will budget and fundraise for this work. We are very grateful for the assistance of Arup, a supportive employer of several MapAction volunteers, including a member of our environmental working group. They are helping us look at our procurement guidelines. Members of the working group are also bringing their workplace experience to bear on this, so its a very rounded MapAction employer and team effort. 

The tasks ahead are both exciting and formidable. When an organisation makes a decision to move forward deliberately in areas like this, things change. And so they should. We don’t always know at the outset where it will end up. But I am really sure it is the right journey to be making right now. 

MapAction and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team formalise partnership

MapAction's LIz Hughes and Tyler Radford of HOT signing an MoU

This week, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formalise our ongoing working relationship with our partner Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) at Humanitarian Networks Partnerships Week in Geneva.

HOT is an international team dedicated to humanitarian action and community development through open mapping. MapAction and HOT have been collaborating for some time to ensure that humanitarian teams have the maps they need to locate and assist people affected by emergencies, particularly in remote places.

MapAction's LIz Hughes and Tyler Radford of HOT shaking hands and smiling at each other
MapAction’s Liz Hughes and Tyler Radford of HOT

In 2017, MapAction became a member of Missing Maps, a joint venture founded by HOT, the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross and Médicin Sans Frontières to map the most vulnerable places in the world. In 2019, we worked with HOT during the responses to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. You can read more about our joint activities in this article by MapAction volunteer Steve Penson.

We look forward to many more years of fruitful collaboration together.

Geospatial training in Guyana

The latest phase of our collaboration with Unicef and the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) of Guyana is currently underway in the country’s capital of Georgetown. We are training CDC volunteers in spatial techniques to help respond as needed across the country, including potential flood response and assisting migrant communities.

Participants in this week’s practical training exercises have already completed an online training course we conducted during December. During this extended course, students will learn to apply geospatial techniques to the their own projects over a two-week period.

Earthquake exercise in Thailand

Photo: @OCHAAsiaPac

Three MapAction volunteers were in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this week, participating in an International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) earthquake simulation exercise involving over 400 participants from 27 countries.

The MapAction team provided maps to assist the coordination of the response to the realistic disaster scenario.

Thanks to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.

Diversity and MapAction

Video interview

Earlier this year, MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes blogged about diversity in the humanitarian and technology/GIS sectors and why it’s important. Since then, we’ve been working to evolve our practices in this area.

MapAction volunteer Bel Hewitt has been involved in shaping our diversity and inclusion policy and helping us to work towards our objectives. The policy outlines MapAction’s commitments, accountability and actions on all aspects of diversity.

Bel lives in the Philippines, so we took the opportunity to catch up with her for an informal chat about where we’re at with it and where we want to get to when she stopped by our UK office on a holiday visit today.

Thanks to our outgoing Chair

On 7 December at MapAction’s annual general meeting in Kent, UK, after a phenomenal 12 years of unbroken service on MapAction’s board, Nigel Press (above left) handed the baton to incoming Chairperson Nick Moody.

Nigel has been closely involved with MapAction since the very beginning, as International Director, board member, Secretary to the Board and then Chair of Trustees. The organisation has benefited tremendously from his entrepreneurial energy, good ideas, practical support and drive to make things happen.

Nigel is succeeded as Chair by Nick Moody, who joined MapAction’s board in 2017. Nick’s first career as an army officer gave him his baptism in mapping, plotting unrecorded minefields. Nick also led the UK Met Office’s support to disaster risk finance programmes.

MapAction’s Chief Executive Liz Hughes commented, “We are so grateful to Nigel for his exceptional service to our organisation. We can all learn from his tenacity and vision. I’m very grateful that we will continue to benefit from his input as a volunteer. I’m also delighted to welcome Nick into the role and look forward very much to working with him as we implement our new Strategy to 2023.

Responding to floods in Djibouti

Two MapAction volunteers are travelling to Djibouti, East Africa, tomorrow at the request of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) to assist the response to devastating floods that have affected up to 250,000 people.

Flash floods occurred when two years’ worth of rainfall fell in a single day on top of several days of heavy downpours. Nine people are believed to have died, including seven children, and more rain is forecast. Most of those affected are in Djibouti city, the country’s capital.

The Djibouti government is leading the relief operation with the support of humanitarian partners, civil society and armed forces stationed in the country. MapAction is providing reference and situational maps to assist the coordination of the response.

MapAction’s team is likely to remain in Djibouti for around two weeks, but this will be reviewed at that time. Direct mission costs are being met by the German Federal Foreign Office. MapAction’s deployment capacity is funded by UK Government DFID and Government of Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

New partnership with German Federal Foreign Office

MapAction has formed a new partnership with the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO) Humanitarian Assistance to help improve the use of technology and data in humanitarian decision making.

As part of the broad-ranging programme, MapAction is working on greatly reducing the time and effort required to create maps and data products needed in many emergencies, by automating repeat processes. It is also extending its capacity to have specialist personnel in emergency situations for longer periods to support information management and decision-making processes, and placing a data scientist in the Centre for Humanitarian Data in The Hague to facilitate knowledge sharing.

MapAction Chief Executive Liz Hughes said, “This is an exciting programme which will help to keep us at the vanguard of humanitarian response missions, but also, vitally, to overhaul our technical offer. This will enable us to continue to help ensure the best possible outcomes for people affected by disasters and humanitarian emergencies. We are very pleased to be working with GFFO and looking forward very much to getting stuck in to this important work together.”

UN On-Site Operations Coordination Centre course in Estonia

Two MapAction members are currently in Tallinn, Estonia, participating in and helping to facilitate a course for UN On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) Assessment and Analysis Cell teams. Participants are looking in detail at ways in which data and analysis can inform fast-moving and chaotic emergency situations.

MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes is also in Tallinn this week, taking part in a meeting of the International Humanitarian Partnership.

Thanks to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.

INSARAG earthquake simulation in Azerbaijan

Earier this month, three MapAction volunteers provided mapping and data support to an International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) earthquake simulation exercise in Azerbaijan, known as the Africa-Europe-Middle East (AEME) Regional Earthquake Response Exercise (ERE).

Thanks to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.

UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination training

At the end of October, two MapAction volunteers participated in a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) refresher training course in Neuhausen, Germany. As well as presenting to participants on humanitarian mapping, they supported the simulation exercise with mapping.

These regular training courses enable all involved to enhance and update their skills and knowledge and share insights from disaster responses.

One MapAction participant described the course as a “fantastic week”, while the other described the UNDAC trainees as a “Really dedicated team with interesting first hand experiences from Idai and Dorian.”

We’re grateful to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.

Emergency response training in Indonesia

Two MapAction members have just returned from Sentul, Indonesia, where they have been working with our ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) partners to help provide training to new members of the ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ERAT).

MapAction volunteer Raquel Martin described it as a “Fantastic experience…  An honour and a pleasure to contribute as a facilitator.”

Our participation was part of our joint programme of work with the AHA Centre (the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management) to build mapping and information management capacity among humanitarian actors in the ASEAN region, as well as helping them to prepare for disasters by putting in place essential geospatial information and resources. This work is supported by the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID OFDA).

Since the formalisation of our joint-working relationship with the AHA Centre last year, we have provided in-country and remote assistance to emergencies including Typhoon Mangkhut, the Sulawesi Earthquake and floods in Laos.

Sharing insights at INSARAG meetings in Chile

This week, a MapAction volunteer has been participating in discussions and strengthening relationships with our partners at the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Information Management Working Group and Team Leaders meetings in Santiago, Chile. These conversations enable us to continuously improve how we visualise data collected by INSARAG teams.

Thanks to the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting our participation, as part of our joint programme to improve the ways in which geographical information systems (GIS), mapping and spatial analysis are used in humanitarian emergencies.

Assessing communities’ needs in Afghanistan

After years of conflict, natural disasters and drought, a large proportion of communities in Afghanistan are in crisis and many people have fled their homes in search of safety and security.

Since last year, MapAction has been working with partners including REACH and ACAPS in Afghanistan to support country-wide assessments of humanitarian needs, including hard-to-reach areas.

Two MapAction volunteers have spent the past two weeks in Afghanistan working with the local REACH team to support REACH’s largest needs-assessment survey of the year across the whole of Afghanistan. They have been collaborating to analyse and present assessment findings and help plug information gaps. This will greatly help those working to assist communities that are caught up in what is one of the most complex humanitarian emergencies in the world.

We’re grateful to the UK’s Deprartment for International Development for supporting this important work.

Responding to floods in Lao PDR

At the end of August and beginning of September, Tropical Storm PODUL and Tropical Depression KAJIKI caused heavy rain in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. This resulted in flooding in six provinces in the southern part of the country. 1,658 villages across 47 Districts have been affected.

A MapAction volunteer is currently working in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Emergency Operations Centre in Jakarta to support our partner the AHA CENTRE as they assist the response. He is supporting the Emergency Response Assessment Team by mapping the evolving situation on the ground, conducting geospatial analysis to compare with 2018 flash flooding in the region, and helping to identify gaps in coverage to help get aid where it’s most needed. This also involves establishing information management and GIS systems and templates for Lao that will be useful beyond the current emergency.

We’re very grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for supporting this work.

MapAction on the Mapscaping podcast

Podcast

One of MapAction’s longest-serving volunteers, Kathrin Renner, recently spoke to Daniel O’Donohue, presenter of the Mapscaping podcast series, about how MapAction provides geospatial support for humanitarian emergencies.

They chatted about how MapAction supports first responders and disaster management teams to make the best possible decisions and what it’s like to be a MapAction volunteer.

You can hear their conversation here (it’s a 22 minute listen).

Internal displacement crisis in Iraq

A two-person MapAction team is currently in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), working with the humanitarian information initiative REACH. We are supporting REACH to increase understanding of the region’s internal displacement crisis and the needs of those caught up in it.

Since the end of military operations, around 4 million people have returned to Iraq. Around half of these have been unable to return to their homes and are living at over 100 camps for internally displaced people. Since 2014, REACH has been carrying out assessments and providing information to support the humanitarian response.

Over a three-week period, the MapAction team is supporting REACH’s own international GIS team to optimise its data management and update overview maps of the camps. In the final week of the mission, the focus will be on analysing assessments of 13,000 camp households.

Thanks to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for supporting this activity.

Hurricane Dorian strikes the Bahamas

A MapAction team is en route to the Bahamas to support the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) as they coordinate the response to Hurricane Dorian. Our UK support base has already been working over the weekend on vital maps and data.

With windspeeds over 160mph, the category 5 Hurricane is the strongest to hit the Bahamas since records began. It is moving slowly westards across the Abaco Islands and Grand Bahama.

We are grateful to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for enabling us to help provide the geospatial input that’s needed to get aid to where it’s most needed as quickly as possible.

Our thoughts are with all those affected.

More GIS training in Central Asia

Last week a MapAction team was back in Kazakhstan continuing our collaboration with Central Asia’s Center for Emergency Situations & Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR).

We were training emergency responders from Shymkent, Kyzylorda, Turkestan & Jambyl in GIS, mapping and data management.

The event appeared on local TV news: https://youtube.com/watch?v=OJ5qVpjiH64 (in Kazakh).

This week, the training continues with a new group of emergency responders in Kyrgyzstan.

We’re grateful to the US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for supporting this work.

Reflecting on World Humanitarian Day

By Liz Hughes, MapAction CEO

Today is World Humanitarian Day and the theme this year is Women Humanitarians. I find that an interesting theme. I am, indeed, personally grateful to all the female humanitarians – including our own volunteers and staff – who inspire, challenge, advise, listen and make a difference. As well as experiencing barriers to participation in formal humanitarian responses, women are often also at greater risk in emergency situations. So anything that highlights and begins to address these issues is to be welcomed.

World Humanitarian Day is often interpreted as being about the workers, not the affected communities. Yet, it seems to me that humanitarianism is in fact about people’s suffering and what helps. So, in general, I think the message should be about the amazing survivors of conflict and disaster, the ways communities recover together and the women in those communities who contribute to that. 

It is good to make note of differences of perspective (gender being just one), but we need to take care that that is not where our acknowledgement of difference starts and stops, with just one day. If we want to promote a really inclusive humanitarianism, we need to think about these differences and contributions every day, and make our efforts towards inclusion and diversity part of the way we live and work. There is much more work to be done.

To this end, we are in the process of examining in detail and systematically improving our own working practices. During our monthly team training weekend in July, our Diversity Working Group presented the findings of a recent team survey on the topic of diversity within MapAction. Although the sample size was too small to be statistically significant, it enabled us to ask some good questions. Together we discussed some concrete next steps. We will share more on these once they are more fully developed.

Huge thank you to our Ride London cyclists!

Cycling 100 miles from Central London out to the Surrey Hills and back again in a day is no mean feat (even if you are a former Olympic rower, as in the case of one of our bikers, Peter Beaumont)!

Doing it while raising life-saving funds for MapAction is even more noble.

So, we’d like to say a very big thank you to Peter and fellow MapAction cyclist Mike Denicolai. Between them, they’ve raised over £1000, which is a fantastic amount. We are hugely grateful.

Happily, they seem to have had fun in the process, too. “The ride went well; just one puncture and some bottlenecks along the way. But I made it and really enjoyed it,” Mike told us. Well done, Mike and Peter!

Becoming a MapAction Volunteer

By Lavern Rogers-Ryan, MapAction Caribbean Section volunteer

When the call came for Caribbean volunteers to apply to MapAction, I was keen to sign up. Having followed the work of this organisation and the amazing group of people who work as volunteers, I saw this as an awesome opportunity for me to contribute to the work of saving lives.

Living in Montserrat, with an active volcano and being privy to how devastating disasters can be, I was grateful for the prospect of being able to use my skills in geospatial technologies to contribute to humanitarian efforts during a disaster. My mind quickly raced back to the impact Hurricanes Irma and Maria had on my neighboring Caribbean Islands, in 2017. I wanted to be in a better position to offer assistance if a situation like that – God-forbid – presented itself again.

I therefore submitted an application to the organisation and not very long after, I was greeted with an email inviting me to an ‘assessment day’. Needless to say, I was very happy to advance to the next stage.

The assessment day turned out to be very interesting. Surprisingly, during the introductory session, I was reintroduced to the Head of the MapAction Caribbean Section, who reminded me that we met while he visited Montserrat in another capacity several years before. Moreover, the gentleman who is the Preparedness Lead for MapAction worked in Montserrat briefly on a project back in the early 2000s. I found it to be very fascinating how unsuspectingly our paths crossed again! In addition, hearing the testimony of a fellow MapAction volunteer sort of sealed the deal for me. He explained what being a volunteer all entailed and how my skills can contribute to saving lives.

Overall, this interview process was detailed enough to ensure that I was a good fit for MapAction. Amongst other skills, the panel assessed team spirit, leadership potential and the knowledge and application of geographic information systems (GIS) tools and software.

Receiving another email shortly after assessment day, entitled, “MapAction Caribbean Section – Interview Outcome”, I nervously but anxiously opened it. The words that bounced from my computer screen, read: “Congratulations, you have been selected to join our Caribbean Team!” 

This was awesome news and I am absolutely thrilled to be apart of the MapAction family and be able to contribute to society in this capacity.

I look forward to sharing more about the work of MapAction and my experiences in future blogs.

Lavern Rogers-Ryan is a geospatial consultant specialising in disaster risk management and recovery. She is currently head of the GIS Centre within the Government of Montserrat.

This blog was originally published on 20 July 2019 at www.lavernrogersryan.com.

Supporting United Nations training exercise in Indonesia

This week MapAction is in Sentul, Indonesia, to support an induction training course for the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC).

As well as supporting an earthquake simulation exercise with mapping, three MapAction members are delivering training on GPS, information management and the use of maps for humanitarian response.

MapAction regularly provides training and support to UNDAC’s induction courses that take place around the world for new team members

Our participation in this training was made possible thanks to the support of the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance. OFDA provides us with grant funding to help us improve the use of maps, geographical information systems (GIS) and spatial analysis across the humanitarian sector to improve the impact of humanitarian aid.

GIS training for disaster preparedness in Kazakhstan

A programme of training for disaster management teams across Kazakhstan has been continuing this week. Employees of the Department for Emergency Situations of Almaty, the East Kazakhstan and Pavlodar regions have been learning about geographic information systems (GIS), data management and mapping on a course jointly provided by MapAction and the region’s Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR).

The training is part of an ongoing programme of work which sees CESDRR and MapAction collaborating to enhance the use of mapping and information management to improve and expand disaster preparedness, relief and recovery activities across Central Asia. We’re very grateful to US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for funding this work.

Three MapAction volunteers are currently in Ust-Kamenogorsk in East Kazakhstan. Next week they will move to Atyrau in the West of the country to repeat the course with another group of local emergency management personnel. In August, two further courses will take place in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Read about our other recent activities in Central Asia.

More training for Caribbean disaster management teams

Two MapAction training courses are in progress in Trinidad & Tobago this week.

Three MapAction team members are privileged to be working with members of civil protection response teams from Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Surinam. We are collaborating to share geospatial skills and experiences to support readiness for response to communities.

In the region, hurricanes and storms are a key concern, but several countries also respond to a multitude of different concerns affecting their citizens including earthquakes and other seismic risks.

We are very grateful for the support of The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management of Trinidad & Tobago for their support. This is part of an ongoing joint programme we are carrying out with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). We have already run humanitarian mapping courses with CDEMA in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados and Jamaica. This important work is funded by US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

Training MapAction’s latest recruits

Also in Trinidad & Tobago this week, the newest members of MapAction’s Caribbean section are being put through their paces on our Conversion Course which, through a combination of theory and practical exercises, prepares our GIS expert volunteers for deployments to humanitarian emergencies.

The week-long course covers numerous topics including sources and collection of humanitarian data, mapping in emergency conditions, priority needs and the timeline of a response.

Training UN staff and partners in Switzerland

Last week, a MapAction team was in Morges, Switzerland, training United Nations Disaster Assessment & Coordination (UNDAC) team members from around the world in humanitarian mapping as part of a two-week intensive induction course.

UNDAC training courses take place regularly throughout the year in different countries and MapAction is often involved, providing mapping support to emergency simulation exercises as well as teaching GIS skills.

We’re grateful to USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance for making our participation in this and other UNDAC training courses possible.

Humanitarian mapping training in Central Asia

Three MapAction team members are currently in Kostanay, Kazakhstan, teaching national civil defence and emergency responders how to create and use humanitarian maps. Next week they move to the capital Astana (Nur-Sultan) to provide the same training to local teams there.

These courses are the latest in a series of workshops we are providing as part of an ongoing joint programme of disaster preparedness activity with our regional partner, the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR). Our partnership with CESDRR aims to improve and expand disaster preparedness, relief and recovery activities across Central Asia. 

We’re grateful to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for funding this important collaborative work.


New colleagues strengthen our Caribbean team

Earlier this year we embarked on a round of volunteer recruitment to find mapping and geographical information system (GIS) experts living and working in the Caribbean. The aim was to expand our small team in the region to ensure we are always well placed to help prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies across the Caribbean, working with our close partner the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). This includes pre-positioning personnel when necessary to provide mapping and data support in the event of severe tropical storms.

We are delighted to now welcome three exceptionally high-calibre volunteers who bring a tremendous amount of additional knowledge, expertise and energy to an already very strong Caribbean team.

Deanesh Ramsewak

Deanesh lives in Trinidad and is a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Maritime and Ocean Studies (CMOS) of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. He teaches GIS and remote sensing and has recently worked on a multi-agency research project funded by NASA, using drones for studying coastal ecosystems. His work has been published in international and regional journals and he is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

My interest in MapAction began after the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. The response by MapAction volunteers to it, as well as to other Caribbean disasters since then, inspired me to join the humanitarian effort.

Deanesh Ramsewak

Deanesh also volunteers as a mentor for the Caribbean Youth Science Forum (CYSF), the longest standing non-formal STEM education programme in the region, as well as for a local non-profit organisation called Restore a Sense of I Can (RSC) which seeks to effect change through technology and education. In his free time he enjoys travelling, meeting new people, swimming and yoga.

Lavern Ryan

Lavern is from the beautiful Caribbean island of Montserrat where she lives and works as a GIS Manager. She loves travelling, meeting new people and learning about new cultures. She especially loves star gazing!

Following the events of the 2017 hurricane season, I wanted to use my skills more to help mitigate against the impacts of disasters. When the call came for Caribbean GIS professionals to join MapAction, I was further inspired. I am passionate about GIS and I want to use my knowledge and skills to help people when they are most in need and to help to save lives. MapAction provides the platform for me to do just that!

Lavern Ryan

Mike Clerveaux

Mike is currently the Hazard Mitigation and GIS Specialist within the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies (DDME), Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an Urban and Regional Planner by profession and holds a Masters degree in Built Environment with a specialisation in Geomatics. He joined the Disaster Management Team in 2016 and that same year was part of the CDEMA Regional Response Mechanism that was deployed to the Bahamas following Hurricane Matthew, which was when he first encountered MapAction.

Prior to joining DDME, Mike was a volunteer in Damage and Needs Assessment (DANA) as well as lead facilitator for them. Outside of Disaster Management, Mike is happily married with three girls. He enjoys carpentry and coaching basketball.

“Ever since Hurricane Matthew, I was eager to be a part of MapAction. I look forward to serving in this new capacity and being a part of the MapAction family.”

Mike Clerveaux

Mark completes gruelling Marathon des Sables for MapAction

MapAction volunteer Mark Poole has just returned from Morocco where he took part in the Marathon des Sables – a six-day, 250km run through the sands of the Sahara Desert.

Mark completed the epic race – equivalent to 5.5 regular marathons, with 20% of the distance across sand dunes, in temperatures of up to 48 degrees – to raise money for MapAction.

Mark is no stranger to endurance running, having completed a number of mountain marathons in his youth. However, he was still nervous about this challenge. “Whilst it wasn’t a completely unknown proposition, at 56, I approached it with some trepidation in light of its reputation. It was my wife Kathie who persuaded me to enter – something that I couldn’t resist reminding her of as she questioned our sanity in the small hours of the morning on the long stage.”

Thanks to match funding from his employer BP, Mark has raised a staggering £4,300, which will be used to help ensure disaster management teams around the world have the data and maps they need to effectively respond to humanitarian emergencies, such as the recent flooding in Mozambique following Cyclone Idai.

We’re extremely grateful to Mark for undertaking this enormous challenge for MapAction, and to Kathie for asking him to do it with her!

If you’d like to sponsor Mark, you can do so here. Your donation will be matched by BP.

Countdown to the London Marathon

It’s just over a week until the 2019 London Marathon. Five fantastic MapAction runners are making their final preparations for the big race, and some of them are feeling quite nervous. We’re looking forward very much to cheering them on at miles 13 and 22 and celebrating with them when they cross the finish line. If you fancy coming to join us, please get in touch with Ian.

We’re extremely grateful to all our runners for taking on this epic challenge, and raising money to enable us to continue to help get aid to where it’s needed in humanitarian emergencies.

You can find out more about why they’re running for MapAction and donate via their fundraising pages:

Humanitarian mapping training in the Caribbean

Together with our partner the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), members of MapAction’s Caribbean and European teams are providing humanitarian mapping training to local disaster management teams from the Eastern and Central regions of the Caribbean this week and next .

Pictures by CDEMA

Disaster management personnel from nine Caribbean nations, as well as CDEMA staff, are attending one of two courses, one in Antigua & Barbuda and the other in Barbados. These courses follow on from similar workshops that took place last year: a regional one at CDEMA’s headquarters in Barbados and one for the North-Western Caribbean in Jamaica. 

Participants are improving their GIS (geographical information system) skills and we are working with them to help understand their national data and information management needs and capabilities, where the gaps are and how MapAction can help to ensure they are filled. This will assist them to effectively prepare for and respond to disasters.

This is part of our ongoing joint programme of work with CDEMA and is funded by US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

Inside the Response to Cyclone Idai

MapAction volunteer Andreas Buchholz has just returned from Beira, Mozambique. He has put together the short video below, which gives a good sense of the scale and urgency of the international response to this major disaster.

While the floodwaters have begun to recede, the situation is still very serious in large parts of Mozambique and surrounding countries. Damage to homes and livelihoods is extensive and lack of access to clean water is causing outbreaks of diseases such as cholera.

MapAction has been working closely with the government of Mozambique, NGOs, the UN and Red Cross teams at the heart of the response and our help has been widely appreciated. The aerial assessment maps shown in the video have so far been printed over two thousand times and used to support search and rescue and the distribution of foodstuffs. The maps were created by the MapAction team in Mozambique with close collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and Save the Children.

At the time of writing, MapAction personnel are continuing to work at the On-Site Operations Coordination Centre in Beira, Mozambique.

We are grateful to everyone that has donated to our Cyclone Idai appeal, to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for funding this life-saving work.

MapAction supports Cyclone Idai response

On Friday 14 March, Cyclone Idai made landfall along the south-eastern coast of Africa. With sustained wind speeds of 120mph and heavy rain, it is now recognised as one of the most intense recorded weather events to hit the region. Many affected areas were already heavily waterlogged, making the overall effect even worse and causing extensive flooding.

Hundreds of people are known to have died and hundreds of thousands of people to have been affected, with casualties across Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. Many people have been left without shelter, clean water or food.

MapAction initially sent a three-person Emergency Response Team to Mozambique on 20 March at the request of United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team. A fourth team member followed a few days later when it became clear that more in-country support was needed. Three MapAction members are currently based in Beira, the city that took the full brunt of the Cyclone, suffering catastrophic damage, and a fourth is in Chimoio, to the West of Mozambique. A further team rotation will travel out this weekend.

MapAction’s highly specialist team is working at the heart of the planning and coordination of the response, providing vital situation maps and information management services needed by all agencies to get help to where it’s most needed, as quickly as possible.


Among other things, the MapAction team in Mozambique is providing analysis of aerial assessments of the affected area, working with UNOCHA, the Red Cross and Save the Children. Photo by Luke Caley

They are supported in this work by our wider team of technical volunteers and specialist staff, who have been working remotely on flood extent modelling and on gathering and sharing useful reference data to help response teams since the disaster happened.

We are grateful to everyone that has donated to our Cyclone Idai appeal, to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for funding this life-saving work.

[Update: video blog ‘Inside the response to Cyclone Idai]

Mapping mountains

By Jorge Andres, MapAction volunteer

A few years ago, on a MapAction team training course, participants were asked to present a map that provided particular insight, analysis, or novelty – going beyond simple descriptive mapping.

I chose this map I created of the 2014-5 volcanic eruption on Fogo Island. The steep relief of the island was highly relevant for humanitarian response. Emergency coordinators were monitoring the lava flow as it could reach a critical point where some settlements and roads could be potentially affected afterwards. However, trying to show it with contour lines made the map too messy for a shelter map like this. Satellite imagery and some image processing was used. But, with hindsight, I’m not so sure it was the right option.

I thought quite a lot about this map and the visualisation of the relief. But honestly, this was the best I could do on a static map for showing relief to a broad audience without contour lines.

However, creating this map and then later collaborating with the University of Edinburgh on a volcanic hazard mapping project made me think of a 3D output as a better option for maps where relief is extremely important for understanding the emergency situation.

This fed into my approach to creating the below map of the Crisis del Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala last year.

The volcanic hazard mapping project we are collaborating on with Edinburgh University is growing and we now have funding to expand to six more countries. We are currently working on Chile’s Nevados de Chillán.

Last chance to join the London Marathon!

We unexpectedly have one space available for this year’s London Marathon on Sunday 28 April. Now’s your chance to trump all your friends’ new years’ resolutions by joining our fantastic team of runners taking part in this incredible event!

To secure the place, we ask you to pledge to raise £1350 for MapAction. This will spur you on while also enabling us to provide lifesaving information and maps to help save lives and minimise the impacts of disasters around the world. We can help you get the word out and give you help, advice and fundraising tips. And of course we’ll be there on the day to cheer you on and help you celebrate crossing the finish line.

If you’d like to find out more, drop us an email at fundraising[at]mapaction.org, or register your interest here. The deadline for applications is Thursday 17 January.

Will 2019 be your year to do something amazing?

 

 

A busy fortnight of training

While many people in the UK prepare for Christmas, a number of our members have been hard at work supporting disaster simulation exercises and delivering mapping training to our partners in different parts of the world.

UNDAC induction course in Ecuador

In the first week of December, three MapAction volunteers were in Riobamba supporting an UNDAC (United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination) disaster simulation exercise with maps and data visualisations.

The team worked hard to produce a large number of maps in a short space of time under realistic field conditions.

Earthquake simulation in Armenia

At the same time, two MapAction volunteers travelled to Yerevan, Armenia, to support the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group’s (INSARAG) regional earthquake response exercise with maps. This simulation exercise was particularly poignant, coinciding as it did with the 30th anniversary of the Spitak earthquake, which killed over 25,000 Armenians and injured over 130,000 more.

During the exercise, the MapAction team worked with an UNDAC team as well as collaborating with various Search & Rescue and Emergency Medical Teams from around the world.

Induction course in Indonesia

Meanwhile, in Bogor, Indonesia, two MapAction volunteers took part in another earthquake simulation exercise as part of the 10th Induction Course of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT). They mapped the exercise and provided a GIS refresher course.

We’ve worked closely with the ASEAN-ERAT team this year, having supported a number of training activities as well as four emergency responses (two in country and two remotely). It’s great to be strengthening our relationship with each new exercise, ensuring a very effective collaboration when circumstances demand it.

Humanitarian mapping course in Jamaica

Last week, a three-person MapAction team was in Jamaica delivering a humanitarian mapping course to emergency response coordinators from another close partner, CDEMA (the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency). This is part of a programme of longer term disaster preparedness we are working on with CDEMA supported by EU ECHO (the European Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid Operations).

National mapping and data management training in Kyrgyzstan

A further two MapAction volunteers were in Bishkek last week to deliver a package of training on mapping, data collection and data management for national disaster management agencies.

This is part of our ongoing collaboration with CESDRR (the Central Asian Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction) which sees us helping to develop best practice for emergency data management across the region.

We’re very grateful to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for funding our participation in the Ecuador, Armenia, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan activities and to EU ECHO for the Jamaica course.

MapAction Volunteer(s) of the Year

On 1 December, MapAction held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) at which we looked back over 2018 and thanked our volunteers and members who have given so much to us over the course of the year in order to further our humanitarian work.

Ant Scott giving a situation report during the response to the Indonesia earthquake in October

Every year we highlight the contribution of one volunteer who has exceeded even our very high expectations in terms of their dedication and impact over the previous twelve months. Winning the Volunteer of the Year prize (also known as the David Spackman Award after our first Chief Executive who presents it each year) is a significant achievement. The bar is very high; all our volunteers are carefully selected for their skills, intelligence, attitude and dedication and being part of our deployable team requires a large, ongoing commitment of time and effort. As well as going on missions and participating in team training, our volunteers also do a lot of less publicly visible work in the UK. They help to ensure that MapAction has the technical capability (tools, knowledge and skills) to maintain and enhance its humanitarian activities. They also create maps remotely and provide remote support to our own teams and our partners around the world to help them process and analyse data and create maps locally.

Mark Gillick (left) receiving the MapAction Volunteer of the Year Award from David Spackman

Two winners

This year, unusually, the David Spackman Award was given to two individuals – Mark Gillick and Ant Scott – both of whom have packed in a huge amount of extremely valuable and important pro bono work during the past twelve months.

Mark deployed a remarkable seven times in 2018 carrying out essential training and preparedness as well as disaster response work. He went from floods in Nigeria directly to the earthquake in Indonesia without returning home in between.

Ant deployed to the Indonesian earthquake, helped represent MapAction at the Humanitarian Openstreetmap Team’s global summit in Tanzania and this month will be conducting a preparedness mission to Kyrgyzstan. He also lead the management and evolution of MapAction’s disaster preparedness offering and spearheaded the transition of our internal wiki to a new platform – a task which took many months of continual focus.

Presenting the awards, David highlighted three qualities that both winners had exhibited in abundance during 2018; intelligence, honourable intent and imagination in the form of creativity and inventiveness. “There is a power relationship between motivation, thought and action, and you both have shown the potency of that synthesis in a noble cause. Could anyone ask for more? Together you are a manifestation of a shining tradition. Thank you both, for your practical hard work and for the self-effacing magic of your inspiration.”

Congratulations to Ant and Mark, and thank you to all our volunteers for the tremendous work you do.

Below is our CEO Liz Hughes’ review of 2018 which she shared at the AGM.

Extending our response to the economic crisis in Venezuela

Since October, MapAction has been working in Guyana with the Civil Defence Commission and Unicef to support Venezuelan and Guyanese communities affected by the Venezuelan economic crisis. This work has now been extended until 2019.

Photo: EU/N Mazars

Large numbers of people have left Venezuela as a result of economic hardship, and many of them are in Guyana. Registering incoming Venezuelans and understanding which communities are in need of support to host them continues to be vitally important.

MapAction has been helping Unicef to analyse how effective the response to the economic crisis in Venezuela has been, in particular bringing the situation for children into focus. Our work with the Guyana Civil Defence Commission involves assisting a move from a paper-based to a digital information management system. Both partners are keen to extend this work through the end of this year and beyond.

We’re very grateful to the Calleva Foundation for supporting this important work.

UN World Geospatial Information Congress

Last week MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes was in Deqing, Zhejiang Province, China, to take part in the UN’s international forum for global geospatial information management.

The theme of this year’s event was ‘The Geospatial Way to a Better World’. As MapAction has for several years been involved with the Working Group on Geospatial Information and Services for Disasters which is part of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM), Liz was invited to present on a panel looking at how we can better prepare for disasters. Discussions were framed by the global Strategic Framework on Geospatial Information and services for Disasters agreed earlier this year.

The need for interoperability, partnership, open data and preparedness, and the centrality of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) were underlined in several sessions throughout the Congress and some excellent examples of national-level initiatives to progress the SDGs were presented. “Although a short trip, this was a thoroughly enjoyable one with Chinese welcome and hospitality on a grand scale. It was also gratifying to hear our messages around open data echoed elsewhere during the Congress,” said Liz.

Training and mapping at ARDEX

MapAction volunteer Ian Coady was in Banten, Indonesia, last week, with our partner the AHA Centre, which is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management. Together they were taking part in the seventh ASEAN Regional Disaster Emergency Response Simulation Exercise (ARDEX).

As well as creating maps to support the AHA Centre’s coordination teams during the exercise, Ian provided training on the use of geographical information systems (GIS) and information management for humanitarian purposes.

Thanks to USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for supporting this important work.

 

Seven days of GIS

November 14 is GIS Day – an international event for users of geographical information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in society.

To mark the day and celebrate the impact that GIS has in humanitarian work, we’re sharing ‘Seven days of GIS’.

Each day for the next seven days we will reveal a favourite map, a fascinating fact or a story about how GIS is used to help prepare for and respond to humanitarian emergencies.

Day 1) 8 November – floods in Malawi

In January 2015, MapAction volunteer Andreas Buchholz was one member of a MapAction team that traveled to Malawi to help the response to catastrophic flooding.

This map turned out to be vitally important to the UN and other teams responding to the situation on the ground.

Andreas chose to highlight this map for GIS Day because “it influenced decision makers on a local, national and global level to decide where to distribute and prioritise aid.”

Click on the map to see the story.

Day 2) 9 November – livestock map

David Spackman was MapAction’s first employee in 2002 and led its first major deployment to Sri Lanka following the tsunami that devastated the country in January 2004.

David chose this map from 2007 because “it makes a powerful point, often lost in the focus on human tragedies: if you lose your livestock you lose your livelihood.”

The map was created as part of MapAction’s response to Tropical Storm Noel which caused severe flooding and displaced more than 64,000 people in the Dominican Republic in October 2007. More than 80% of the country was affected. In total we created around 50 maps that helped local responders get aid to where it was needed as quickly as possible and begin the recovery process.

Day 3) 10 November – Mark’s busy year

MapAction volunteer Mark Gillick has had a busy year so far, putting his GIS skills to life-saving use around the world. Since August alone, he has deployed to Indonesia, Nigeria and Afghanistan and delivered humanitarian mapping training in Laos and Kazakhstan.

Find out more about where he’s been and the difference it’s made by clicking on the photo.

Day 4) 11 November – language mapping

The ability to communicate with populations affected by disasters and emergencies effectively is key to understanding their needs and keeping them informed of life-saving information.

A language map is a good example of a map that might be needed in the aftermath of a disaster. It is likely to be used by anyone interacting with the local community, particularly international responders who may be unfamiliar with the affected area. Emergency telecommunications clusters may use it to help inform the best positioning of new infrastructure.

Mappers can pull in language data from resources such as Ethnologue and national censuses and combine it with administrative boundaries and settlements and communications infrastructure data.

This map was created by MapAction during the response to the earthquake in Nepal in April 2015. It shows the main language groups in Nepal and was used for planning public communications with disaster-affected communities.

Click on the map to find out more about language mapping.

Day 5) 12 November – coordination maps

MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes strongly believes that maps are key to making effective operational decisions. “But they need to communicate simply, quickly and clearly and the data needs to be right, or it can have serious implications.”

Liz chose to highlight this map from the aftermath of Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu in March 2015 because it shows how useful geospatial analysis can be in quickly understanding needs and coordinating the response in a chaotic post-disaster situation. Knowing what others are already doing to help is essential to targeting aid effectively.

Liz explains, “This map lets you quickly see gaps and also where more coordination is needed. It’s good to know that we can use our amazing team’s skills to provide useful analysis of this sort.” MapAction created well over 100 maps to help coordinate the response to Cyclone Pam, which was one of the worst natural disasters the island of Vanuatu had ever experienced.

Day 6) historic map

MapAction trustee Barbara Bond is an author and geographer whose senior leadership roles have included president of the British Cartographic Society, senior civilian Director and Deputy Chief Executive of the UK Hydrographic Office and Chair of the International Hydrographic Organisation’s Antarctic Commission. Among other accolades, she has received the British Cartographic Society’s silver medal and the Prince Albert I medal and been inducted into the US National Geospatial-Intelligence Hall of Fame.

Barbara’s PhD thesis, ‘Great Escapes: the story of MI9’s Second World War escape and evasion maps’, was published in October 2015 by Harper Collins.

One of Barbara’s all time favourite maps is of the Danzig Docks and was produced by MI9 during the Second World War for escaping prisoners of war. The map shows the place that Swedish boats docked. Barbara explains, “It carries the most powerful message about the best way to get home (board a Swedish ship and get to a neutral country.) That map saved many lives since hundreds (even thousands) of prisoners of war successfully escaped via that route.”

Day 7: GIS Day – our volunteers

MapAction’s work depends on a group of highly skilled and dedicated volunteers who are ready to be deployed at very short notice anywhere in the world, with a select few providing specific technical capacity (system administration and software development).

In their day jobs, our volunteers work in a range of fields from Antarctic surveying to zoological research. When they join our team they are already proficient and experienced in GIS or a related subject. We train them to apply those skills in a humanitarian context.

Being a MapAction volunteer is as demanding as it is rewarding. A humanitarian response requires a huge team effort to work; MapAction team members can find themselves helping at a remote and challenging location or working through the night to provide support to our deployed team. Between missions volunteers participate in monthly MapAction training courses to update and expand their skills, as well as teaching and passing on their knowledge to humanitarians around the world. The time commitment is high, but the sense of community and satisfaction means people stay with us for many years. As longstanding volunteer Emerson Tan comments in this video, “You can’t beat the feeling of seeing some people who are alive because of your work.”

 

Humanitarian mapping training in Kazakhstan

Last week three MapAction members were in Almaty delivering an introduction to humanitarian mapping course to representatives from civil defence teams from all regions of Kazakhstan.

The training is part of a programme of joint activity with the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR). Our partnership with CESDRR aims to improve and expand disaster preparedness, relief and recovery activities across Central Asia. The course will be repeated in Uzbekistan in December.

MapAction’s participation in running this course, as well as all our joint activities with CESDRR, is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

 

MapAction wins Data Analysts User Group award

Photo: Jan Wright Photography

MapAction has been recognised by the Data Analysts User Group (DUG) with the award of its annual prize recognising advances in the production of better information.

DUG is a member organisation for commercial data analysts to meet and exchange best practice. MapAction was chosen to receive the award because of its work to ensure that those preparing for and responding to humanitarian emergencies around the world have the data and information systems and products they need to make sure the right aid to gets to where it’s most needed as quickly as possible.

The award was presented by DUG Director Dr Tim Drye at the Group’s annual conference at the Royal Society on 26 October.

Dr Drye commented, “We have been investigating the possibility of building a team of rapid response data analysts and scientists within DUG. During our research at least three different people pointed us to the great work that MapAction are already doing. They have developed a robust infrastructure, capacity and processes that can respond to emergencies promptly and effectively. It is wonderful to see data and analysis being used in these circumstances so effectively. We at DUG are keen to recognise this work with our annual award for contributions to the development of data and analysis within the UK.”

Photo: Jan Wright Photography

Liz Hughes, CEO of MapAction, said, “We are very grateful to DUG for recognising MapAction in this way. It underlines, on the one hand, the value and importance of geospatial analysis for more effective humanitarian response, and, on the other, the expertise and commitment of our highly skilled volunteers.”

At the conference Liz Hughes and MapAction volunteer Karl Hennermann gave a short presentation on diversity analysis and its relevance to humanitarian action.

Venezuela economic crisis impacts Guyana

(photo: Angelina Archer)

Over the next two months we will be working in Guyana with UNICEF and the Civil Defence Commission of Guyana to help them with mapping and data management to meet the needs of people arriving from Venezuela and the Guyanese communities hosting them. A two-person MapAction team is currently in the Guyanese capital Georgetown.

More than two million people have fled the economic crisis in Venezuela since 2014 due to shortages of food, medicines and basic goods. The influx of people into Guyana is starting to put pressure on host communities. Our work with UNICEF will focus on bringing the situation for children into focus for responders in Guyana. We are also supporting the Civil Defence Commission to digitise information management processes and to use data to identify which communities are in need of support.

 

Responding to floods in Nigeria

Severe floods in Nigeria have claimed almost 200 lives and affected over 80% of the country across 12 states. For the past week, a two-person MapAction team has been in Abuja supporting the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team and the National Emergency Management Agency in their response.

MapAction has been helping with information management and needs assessments for critical food, water, shelter and healthcare supplies to ensure those affected get the help they need as quickly as possible. We’re grateful to the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for funding this essential work.

Indonesia earthquake and tsunami

On Friday 28 September 2018, a 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck off Donggala Region, in the province of Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, causing extensive damage and triggering devastating mudflows and a tsunami. Over 1,200 people have been killed and more than 61,000 have been forced from their homes. Queues at petrol stations around Palu reportedly stretch for kilometres. Thousands of people have tried to flee via the city’s airport but only one flight a day is due to leave.

A three-person team of MapAction mapping volunteers in Indonesia at the the request of our partner the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre (AHA Centre) to help them coordinate the response. They will be ensuring that rescue and recovery workers have situation maps which are continually updated and reliable. We have also been providing remote support since the earthquake struck creating maps detailing essential information such as health and transport infrastructure. We’ve launched an appeal to fund this mission.

Supporting the response to Super Typhoon Mangkhut

Catastrophic weather events have affected millions of people around the world in recent weeks. So far this month we have seen six named tropical storms in the Atlantic and Pacific, including three hurricanes and two super typhoons – and storm season is still far from over.

At the same time as the southern US was battered by Hurricane Florence just under a fortnight ago, parts of the Philippines were devastated by Super Typhoon Mangkhut, known locally as Ompong, which also caused widespread damage in Hong Kong and southeast China.

Mangkhut has affected over 2.1 million people in the Philippines, which is still recovering from the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 in which over 6,000 people died. The latest death toll has reached 127, with almost the same number still missing, compared to four dead in China. More than 10,000 houses in the Philippines were completely destroyed by Mangkhut and over 100,000 others damaged. More than 50,000 people are in immediate need of assistance and, with damage to agriculture estimated at over £378 million, livelihoods and food security are of concern in the medium-term.

A MapAction member has been in Jakarta, working with emergency response teams at the head quarters of the AHA Centre (the Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) as it responds to the emergency. Our latest maps show some of the impacts Mangkhut has had in the Philippines as well as the assistance currently being provided. We are continuing to provide mapping and information management support to support the recovery process.

MapAction and CDEMA working together in the Caribbean

In recent years we have begun working closely with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to help prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies in the Caribbean region. We collaborated around the responses to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and last week’s Tropical Storms. We have also begun to provide mapping training to Caribbean disaster responders.

Through these joint activities, we have built up a strong working relationship with CDEMA and last week this partnership was formalised through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at a ceremony in Barbados. This states that we will continue to work alongside CDEMA teams as well as supporting National Disaster Management Agencies within the Caribbean region as needed. We are helping them to improve their use of data gathering, mapping and analysis so that they can provide disaster response support quickly and in the right places. In the event of an emergency in the Caribbean region, we help CDEMA to obtain the most complete, accurate and detailed data available in the fastest possible time. As well as providing remote support, we send MapAction team members as needed to the affected location and, in certain situations, we preposition people to ensure an immediate response.

MapAction’s Chief Executive Liz Hughes traveled out to Barbados for the MoU signing ceremony. “Collaboration and partnership are fundamental to MapAction’s approach,” she commented. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to deepen and formalise our working relationship with CDEMA and we are keen to support them and their partners in whatever way we can.”

MapAction’s work to support CDEMA and national agencies in the Caribbean through training and preparedness activities is funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (EU ECHO).

Caribbean storms: our response

Storms Isaac, Florence, Joyce and Helene are currently passing across the Caribbean region and Southern USA and we are monitoring and mapping their progress together with forecasts of likely wind speeds, storm surges, flood risks and other hazards. Isaac is due to pass over Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua and Barbuda today, bringing very high winds and heavy rain. Currently it looks as if Dominica is at greatest risk of flooding.

MapAction member Jonny Douch is in Barbados where he is providing support to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) which is headquartered there. Jonny has been in the region for the past three weeks, delivering mapping training to members of the teams that make up CDEMA’s Regional Response Mechanism and supporting the UN Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) with preparedness activities in St Maarten. He has stayed on in Barbados to help with the storm response. We also have a small team of trained Disaster GIS Volunteers who live in the region and other team members are on standby to help as needed.

MapAction has significant recent experience and strong working relationships in the Caribbean, having provided GIS teams and other assistance in response to several hurricanes and the Haiti earthquake, as well as training and preparedness activities. Ronald Jackson, Executive Director of CDEMA, said this week, “We had the opportunity to work closely with members of the MapAction team during the response to Hurricanes Matthew in 2016 and again during Irma and Maria in September 2017, and from this collaboration, we understood the benefits that their mapping and information management expertise could bring to our own operations.”

We hope that damage caused by this week’s storms is not as severe as that caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria a year ago, but we are keen to support responders in the region in any way we can.

In addition to the Caribbean storms, we are monitoring Super Typhoon Mangkhut which has the potential to affect 43 million people in the Philippines.

Helping refugees in Uganda

Around 1.4 million refugees are currently living in 30 settlements in Uganda. Many of them have fled conflict or abuse in South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi.

For several months, MapAction has been working with humanitarian research project REACH and other humanitarian organisations in Uganda to help understand the needs of this large and diverse population of displaced people so that they get the help they need.

In April this year, a MapAction team went to Uganda to explore the information needs of humanitarian teams operating in the region and how we could help. This followed an upsurge in conflict in eastern DRC, which caused a large number of people to flee to Uganda. Since then, MapAction has undertaken three further missions to Uganda to support a large-scale assessment of the needs of refugees lead by REACH, and to deliver a humanitarian mapping course.

We are very grateful to MapAction members Jonny, Jorge, Katharina, Anne, Alistair and Becky for their hard work helping ensure that the needs of refugees in Uganda can be met. We are also grateful to the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (EU ECHO) which is funding this work through a two-year grant aimed at strengthening effective, evidence based humanitarian decision-making.

It is likely that MapAction will continue to be involved in leading training sessions and advising on the development of regional information systems in Uganda this Autumn – so watch this space for more news of that work as it unfolds.

Photo: two classroom blocks funded by EU ECHO and partners at Bidibidi refugee settlement in northwestern Uganda. EU/ECHO/Edward Echwalu

 

New partnership to improve disaster response in Central Asia

The Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR) for Central Asia and MapAction yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to formalise a new joint working relationship. We are collaborating around the use of mapping and information management to improve and expand disaster preparedness, relief and recovery activities across Central Asia.

The MoU was signed by CESDRR Director Valeiry Petrov and MapAction Chief Executive Liz Hughes at a ceremony at CESDRR’s headquarters in Almaty, Kazakhstan. 

CESDRR is an international organisation which aims to decrease the risk and mitigate the consequences of emergencies in Central Asia, as well as stimulating and supporting regional and international cooperation.

Working with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), CESDRR identified an opportunity to use mapping and information management to improve and expand its preparedness, relief and recovery activities. CESDRR, OCHA and MapAction have since been collaborating around a scoping exercise to review existing capacity within CESDRR relating to skills, technology, information, policies and procedures. An initial geospatial services training and scoping workshop was held at CESDRR’s Almaty headquarters in October 2017 delivered by MapAction and OCHA, followed by a further five-day exercise in July 2018 lead by MapAction to begin taking forward recommendations.

Liz Hughes commented, “Our joint efforts to ensure that CESDRR and its partners are fully equipped to use mapping and information management techniques to help prevent, manage and rapidly recover from disasters are progressing extremely well and a lot of progress has already been made. Our scoping work is nearing completion, and we are now starting to work together on a plan of action for the coming months. I’m very pleased that MapAction has been able to support CESDRR in a crucial aspect of its incredibly important work and I’m optimistic and excited about our ongoing collaboration.”

MapAction’s participation in joint activities with CESDRR is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Roll out of Strategic Framework on Geospatial Information and Services for Disasters

From 30 July to 3 August, MapAction again participated as an official observer at the annual meeting of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) at the UN headquarters in New York. This year, MapAction’s chief executive Liz Hughes attended. Liz also took part in discussions at a meeting on Geospatial Information and Services for Disasters that took place as part of the congress.

Now in their eighth year, these meetings provide a great opportunity to network and exchange ideas with different national and international organisations, to advocate for better quality and sharing of data during emergency responses and to look for potential supporters to help us achieve our mission.

UN Photo/Kibae Park

Connecting SDGs and humanitarian responses
In 2017 the Committee of Experts adopted a new Strategic Framework on Geospatial Information and Services for Disasters, which aims to prevent or reduce the human, socioeconomic and environmental risks and impacts of disasters through the use of geospatial information services. “This is important because it represents a new level of joined-up thinking relating to international development, as outlined by the Sustainable Development Goals, on the one hand and humanitarian emergency response efforts on the other,” said Liz. “Development and humanitarian response do affect each other significantly, but historically they have not been all that well interconnected in terms of coordination between the relevant actors. So the adoption of this new Framework is very good news.”

The UN’s Economic and Social Council is now encouraging member states, the United Nations system, international organisations, donors, the private sector, academia and non-governmental organisations with responsibility for disaster risk reduction and management to adopt the new Strategic Framework, recognising that disaster risk reduction and management requires the commitment and cooperation of all stakeholders.

MapAction’s work is closely aligned with the goals of the Framework, which include making quality geospatial information and services available and accessible in a timely and coordinated way to support decision-making and operations within and across all sectors and phases of disaster risk management.

MapAction’s participation in UN-GGIM is made possible thanks to the generous support of the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of a programme to improve the use of geospatial analysis and services across the entire humanitarian response sector.

 

Training information managers in Lao PDR with the AHA Centre

Two MapAction members were in Vientane, Lao PDR, last week, working with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre). They were helping to deliver an Emergency Rapid Assessment Team (ERAT) Pilot Course on Information Management.

This collaboration follows on from our recent signing of a Memorandum of Intent with the AHA Centre to formalise our joint efforts to help build mapping and information management capacity among humanitarian actors in the ASEAN region, as well as helping them prepare for disasters by putting in place essential geospatial information and resources.

Last week’s course provided our first opportunity to meet and work with information management teams in the region and MapAction volunteers Mark and Tony used the time to coach them on creating mapping products, as well as gain an understanding of their support requirements and working methods.

This work was made possible thanks to the generous support of the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of a programme to improve the use of geospatial analysis and services across the entire humanitarian response sector. 

We are looking forward to many more collaborations with the AHA Centre in future.

Video: MapAction mappers support INSARAG training exercise in the Philippines

Last month, three MapAction members participated in an earthquake simulation training exercise in the Philippines.

The event was organised by the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), a global network of more than 80 countries and organisations under the United Nations umbrella. Around 500 people from 27 countries took part. The MapAction team provided maps and data to help the emergency response teams deal with the aftermath of the simulated 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Metro Manila.

MapAction’s participation in the exercise was funded by the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID OFDA).

AHA Centre and MapAction partner to strengthen disaster management in Southeast Asia

PRESS RELEASE – The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre), established by ten Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to facilitate cooperation and coordination of disaster management across the region, has entered into a formal partnership with humanitarian mapping charity MapAction. The Memorandum of Intent was signed today by Adelina Kamal, Executive Director of the AHA Centre, and MapAction Chief Executive Liz Hughes, during the 8th Meeting of the Governing Board of the AHA Centre held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The two organisations are working together to build mapping and information management capacity among humanitarian actors in the ASEAN region as well as help them prepare for a disaster by putting in place essential geospatial information and resources. MapAction will also be called upon to provide mapping and information management support in the event of a disaster in Southeast Asia, both in-country and remotely, as needed.

Liz Hughes commented, “Humanitarian emergencies often strike without warning and the challenge for those responding is to know where to start. They need information about what help is needed and where, as well as the status of roads and other infrastructure, as quickly as possible. Conveying this information visually in the form of maps and data visualisations helps to create a shared operational picture for aid agencies, governments and local partners, which is vital for a coordinated and effective response. The work that the AHA Centre is doing across and beyond the ASEAN region to protect and assist vulnerable communities is excellent and we are very pleased to be able to support it.”

Adelina Kamal said, “We are delighted to be working closely with the MapAction team. Their expertise and experience in humanitarian mapping and information management will be very valuable for the AHA Centre, as well as for our ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team or ASEAN-ERAT members, who have been trained together with the MapAction team in recent years. The knowledge and practical skills shared by MapAction through joint training and exercises will allow the AHA Centre and our ASEAN-ERAT members to better assist the disaster-affected country and enhance coordination with other humanitarian actors in line with the spirit of One ASEAN One Response.”

MapAction’s participation in the joint training exercises and activities with the AHA Centre and ASEAN-ERAT members is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Photos

Top: signing ceremony of the MoI. Back row, members of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management, from L to R: Mr. Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community; Dato’ Haji Muhammad Yusoff bin Wazir, the Deputy Director General (Post-Disaster) of NADMA Malaysia; Dr. Ko Ko Naing, the Director-General of Myanmar’s Department of Disaster Management

Above: MapAction and ASEAN-ERAT team members train together.

About the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance

The AHA Centre is an inter-governmental organisation established by ten ASEAN Member States on 17 November 2011 with the aim to facilitate cooperation and coordination amongst ASEAN Member States and with relevant United Nations and international organisations in promoting regional collaboration in disaster management. Under the ASEAN Declaration on One ASEAN One Response signed by the ASEAN Leaders in September 2016, the AHA Centre is reaffirmed as the ASEAN regional coordinating agency on disaster management and emergency response. The AHA Centre reports to a Governing Board that consists of heads of the National Disaster Management Organisations of the ten ASEAN Member States. The AHA Centre is based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

For more information regarding the AHA Centre, please contact:

Ms. Shintya Kurniawan
shintya.kurniawan[at]ahacentre.org
t: +62 21 2982 7793 ext. 108
www.ahacentre.org

About MapAction

MapAction’s mission is to save lives and alleviate suffering for people affected by humanitarian emergencies by mapping priority needs and helping to coordinate the response. Recognised as a leading provider of professional mapping services in first phase emergency response, MapAction is a long-term partner of humanitarian agencies including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Food Programme, Save the Children and ACAPS and has recently joined the Missing Maps project. Since 2002, MapAction has responded to 78 humanitarian emergencies, which have impacted on the lives of tens of millions of people.

For more information about MapAction, please contact:

Ms. Jo Pratt
Jpratt[at]mapaction.org
t: +44 (0)1494 568 899

MapAction’s participation in joint activities with the AHA Centre is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this press release are the responsibility of MapAction and the AHA Centre and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

MapAction’s largest training exercise of the year

On 8-10 June 2018, MapAction held its annual disaster simulation training exercise for volunteers. This year’s event recreated the chaotic atmosphere of a complex humanitarian emergency with health, food, water and sanitation insecurity in the fictional, war-torn country of Albia.

The aim of the exercise is to help MapAction’s highly skilled mapping volunteers practice different aspects of their vital work helping get the right aid to the right people in a humanitarian emergency. Over 60 MapAction members took part, along with people from a number of other organisations, including the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), Milton Keynes NHS Hospital Trust, Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service and Save the Children.

The simulation gives the entire team a chance to rehearse every aspect of a typical mission. A continual stream of planned requests, interruptions and and events means that, as in reality, making maps is only one aspect of an effective mission. The Gilded exercise is the largest and longest of 12 annual training courses that MapAction runs for its members every year, of which deployable volunteers are expected to attend at least seven.

MapAction at SIMEX 2018

On 15-17 May, MapAction played a central role in SIMEX, the UK’s largest international response simulation exercise. More than 3,000 people from a range of national and international emergency response organisations took part in the simulation exercise in Portsmouth, which was also attended by the UK Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt.

Three MapAction members provided mapping support for the whole exercise, providing participants with geographical information about the evolving disaster scenario, which was a storm surge resulting in flooding, structural damage and leaks of hazardous materials. MapAction also helped stage the event as part of the overall planning team.

Experienced MapAction volunteer Mark Gillick lead the onsite MapAction team, while newer MapAction members Richard Phillips and Ian Coady had the opportunity to broaden their experience of emergency response mapping in a realistic situation. Highly experienced MapAction volunteer and simluation planner Nigel Woof actively participated in the event, acting the part of the most senior United Nations official in a country, the UN Resident Coordinator.

(Photos by Ian Coady)

MapAction team responds to refugee crisis in Uganda

A two-person MapAction team flew to Kampala, Uganda last week to provide mapping and information management support to humanitarian teams responding to a major refugee crisis in the region. This follows a recent upsurge in conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), causing significant displacement of people into Uganda, a country that is already contending with a large influx of refugees from South Sudan. Around 1.9 million people have fled DRC since the start of 2017, with 242,000 being hosted in Uganda. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) estimates that 13.1 million people are in humanitarian need within DRC.

This latest MapAction deployment follows an earlier scoping mission undertaken by a two-person MapAction team during April this year to assess needs and how MapAction can help. MapAction offered support to in-country teams with analysing and reporting of gathered information to understand the needs of displaced communities. MapAction’s work is being funded by a two-year grant from European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (EU ECHO) aimed at strengthening effective, evidence based humanitarian decision-making. We will continue to provide support both in-country and remotely for around two months.

MapAction members share in Royal Wedding celebrations

Seven MapAction members were privileged to participate in the royal wedding celebrations at Windsor Castle last weekend.

Six MapAction volunteers were among 200 representatives of charities with whom the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are closely associated, who were invited to watch proceedings from within the Castle grounds. Stationed in front of the steps to St George’s Chapel, they had a spectacular view of the guests arriving and departing, including the Royal couple’s first kiss as husband and wife.

MapAction’s chief executive Liz Hughes attended the wedding service itself, inside the Chapel, and the guests’ reception afterwards. Typically for Liz, she was attending MapAction training the next day , and shared her experience with the team. “The wedding was both beautiful and very very natural,” she said. “I was most struck by the personal nature of the event, shared so publicly and generously.”

We are delighted and grateful to have had the opportunity for MapAction members to share in this very special occasion, and we wish the royal couple the very best for their future together.

MapAction volunteers support UNDAC induction training

Three MapAction volunteers have just returned from Morges in Switzerland where they were supporting an induction training course for the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC).

As well as supporting a simulation exercise with mapping, Karl Hennermann, Johnathan Gatward and David Collins delivered training on GPS, information management and the use of maps for humanitarian response.

Our participation in this training was made possible thanks to the generous support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) which provides us with grant funding to help us improve the use of maps, geographical information systems (GIS) and spatial analysis across the humanitarian sector.

Huge thank you to our London Marathon runners

Four runners, including two new MapAction members, defied the heat at the hottest London Marathon on record on Sunday to run the race and raise thousands of pounds for MapAction.

We’d like to say a very big thank you and well done to Steve Penson, Pippa Hamilton, Iain Brackenridge and Richard Wood. It was Pippa’s second consecutive year running for MapAction and Iain has previously run the gruelling Marathon des Sables for us. Steve and Pippa both joined  our humanitarian mapping volunteer team earlier this year.

Despite the warm temperatures, all four runners completed the course safely and with good times. We were on hand to cheer them on at the halfway point and at mile 22. So far, they have raised a fantastic £6,500 which will help fund our work providing vital geographic information to help people in crisis.

    

Using imagery to best effect in disaster relief

By Alan Mills, MapAction volunteer

Can satellite imagery and UAV data become useful data sources for humanitarian decision making in disaster relief coordination?

Satellite Imagery and data collected by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are increasingly promoted as valuable new information sources to aid humanitarian emergency decision making, but how much have things really changed? MapAction is at the forefront of information management delivery on the ground in humanitarian relief, and the choice of which data we use depends on what is best for how to get aid to affected people. Our primary aim is to inform decision making by mapping for people in a crisis, ensuring the best data is timely in delivery to help those affected. Do satellite imagery or data from unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs make a difference in the field yet? We consider the evidence from our perspective.

People focus is primary in MapAction’s approach – we source the optimal data available to help people, focused around what they need. We don’t use or process data just because we have it in the hope that something good will come. There’s just too much data available to do that. As well as topographic map data, baseline statistics, situation reports and field data, imagery from satellite and unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV (often called drones) is regularly available and has been used in a wide range of emergencies, from cyclones and earthquakes, to migrant crises and munitions explosions. But we have to make decisions on which data to use.

In a recent internal review calculating how much imagery has been used by MapAction in our emergency missions, some fascinating conclusions were drawn. First, we make more use of derived products than we do of original imagery. The most used dataset comes from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data flown way back in 2000. Where other elevation data are not available, the SRTM’s digital elevation model data forms a pleasing and useful backdrop to so many maps. It helps responders get a feel for the topography of the disaster affected area and in some cases assists in logistics planning, market analysis and winterisation predictions. SRTM is also easily accessible and can be downloaded to laptops before a deployment starts. Its old, but simple and effective.

Also frequently used are flood extent derivations (primarily from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Image Spectroradiometer – MODIS) and rainfall accumulation models from various sources showing the intensity and longevity of rain in affected areas. MapAction frequently accesses data from other agencies (for example UNOSAT) who have detected damage from imagery, such as after a cyclone or earthquake. Some more moderate use of land cover data or wildfire detection has also been exploited.

Our use of basic visible spectrum imagery has usually been restricted to small areas of interest, as a detailed backdrop against other data (such as in refugee camps) or to highlight conditions before and after a disaster. To date we have not made use of UAV imagery in any of our published maps.

What does this tell us about the use of imagery in the kinds of emergencies MapAction responds to? First it is worth noting the environments in which we often work. We are usually based in the countries where the relief operations are focused, and where ‘normal’ Information Management working conditions do not operate, due to power and IT Comms challenges. We cannot necessarily download large volumes of data due to thin or interrupted internet connections. We have very little time to stitch lots of imagery together, process that raw imagery, or analyse the bands of data into something meaningful. And we are bombarded by multiple requests to process data for a range of relief managers in a rapidly evolving situation, so we work under acute time and technological constraints.

Raw imagery that is bulky, and needs processing and analysing is not best suited to these conditions even if it is handed over on a very large capacity USB stick! Smaller vector based datasets derived from the imagery, or raster data ready-to-travel pre-disaster are much more serviceable.

A further problem with visible spectrum satellite imagery is that it is not appropriate to post disaster scenarios in especially tropical or temperate climates. Cloud or smoke frequently cover the area of interest. Imagery may only be acquired well after its primary purpose was needed and the relief effort has already moved on to a new phase. In certain scenarios remote interpretation can also misclassify the data and without extensive ground verification can at best confuse, at worst mislead the decision making processes on the ground.

UAV claims to solve some of these limitations. The spectrum of UAV technologies emerging in disaster management purport to give timely information and services, including carrying essential medical supplies, surveillance in areas difficult or dangerous to reach by human assessors, capturing data below clouds which obscure the ground from satellites, and mapping damage.

Digging below the hyperbole and excitement which often surrounds a new technology, the reality has been that while the videography has an immediate visual impact and is being widely shown both in the formal and social media, the actual usefulness for information management in the humanitarian relief effort remains to be proved. Current limitations on the technology, whether the lack of flying time by lightweight UAVs, the difficulty in logistics of getting larger vehicles to the affected areas, and for getting permission to fly UAVs in the same zones as helicopters and planes on other relief operations is also hampering effectiveness. UAV operators are learning rapidly that in responses where normality has broken down simple resources such as transport and fuel, let alone material to put together flight plans, can be difficult to obtain and greatly restrict the ability to mobilise.

Case studies for UAVs in the humanitarian sector do exist, but they are more often in disaster preparedness, mitigation and resilience. There are precious few documented examples of UAVs providing useful information to be reliably included in disaster assessment, relief delivery or coordination.

As well as the logistical problems which need to be overcome, an understanding of what humanitarians do, or need, on the ground is too often lacking by enthusiastic UAV advocates. Admittedly this is an omission in many areas of technology being offered to relief operations. As Nick van Praag said in a recent blogs “Absent a clear direction, labs tend to focus on innovation by gadget”.

Humanitarians are not blameless in being slow to explore new solutions, technology or processes, but there is obviously a need for a more open and two-way dialogue to target both the space and UAV sectors’ undoubted talents, resources and goodwill towards humanitarian relief. Humanitarians must be open to testing entrepreneurship and innovation but technicians must listen to the hard-learnt experience of humanitarians in dealing with the complexity, even chaos, desperation and rapidly evolving ground situations in disaster affected locations.

Two encouraging trends suggest a growing maturity in the UAV sector that might soon deliver game-changing information to humanitarians, and make a difference to the suffering of those affected by disasters. One is self-organisation, leading to regulation and cooperation. A single UAV operator testing their kit in the field is not going to help a suffering population. However an array of UAV operators who have resolved key issues in advance will get much attention and praise. Before flying, they will have agreed on issues such as; how to carve up the affected area, which sections to map first, standards of operation, output resolution, how to stitch that data together and extract useful information about damage, logistical bottlenecks, flooded areas, tornado paths, critical infrastructure status, etc., and how to provide that data to humanitarians when they need it.

The emergence of UAViators also gives encouragement. Not only are they sharing best practice and actively seeking ways to coordinate their resources in the field, they are also grappling with the multiple legislative issues in many countries to get permission to fly, avoid hampering any other humanitarian actions and developing a code of conduct for UAV operators on the ground. Potentially they are a one stop shop for humanitarians wanting to find advice on how best to engage with the UAV sector.

Further causes for optimism are targeted improvements to the technology that relieve the logistical bottlenecks in the environment in which UAVs have to work during and after disasters. Better geo-location services routinely found on board UAV platforms, faster and more accurate automated geo-correction processes, longer flight and shorter recharge times, recharging in the field, better broadband (for example from new global satellite arrays), better resolutions, and higher specifications for the lightweight end of the UAV spectrum will all contribute to more effective operations.

Localisation of UAV operations in areas prone to disasters either by national operators or international organisations prepositioning their kit in the right places is also occurring. This localisation, alongside working out legalities and permissions pre-disaster, should hasten deployment times and reduce costs to producing useful information.

A challenge could be set by humanitarian information management officers to give awards – or at least a friendly pat on the back – to those UAV operators who can deliver a seamless, interpreted and compact set of data (e.g. damage assessment) over an affected area – not just where the UAV can fly – when the humanitarians need it (e.g. initial assessments within 72 hours of the disaster occurring) at an effective scale (we may need to see buildings but don’t need to count every dislodged brick).

Even where the above parameters and technical challenges can be met, donors and users should still weigh up the cost-effectiveness of UAV operators in the field gathering huge amounts of data which might be more easily, more cheaply and less disruptively gathered by other sources like satellite or ground surveys. Just because you can gather data at very high resolution and in glorious technicolor with a brand new device, does not mean you should.

Do we make too much fuss of UAVs just because they are new technology? For mappers, is it really just another platform for obtaining remotely sensed data, to take its place along with satellites, space shuttles, aeroplanes, helicopters, balloons, kites and pigeons? Perhaps once humanitarians and social media shakers and movers accept this, they can ignore both the platform and how the data is captured and get down to looking at the information itself and how we can make better use of it.

We have focused above on the UAV sector, but the space sector also needs to be much more aware of the same parameters for good humanitarian information outlined above. In this sector, too, there are plenty of new innovations, which may have the potential to be game-changers. Humanitarians, not just the information management specialists who love all things technological, but field operators and project managers, should be made very aware how fast this sector is transforming and expanding, and help guide it in what are their true information needs. We’re back to needing a more informed dialogue.

Some areas where the space sector will potentially assist are in the exponential growth of platforms, primarily through microsatellites. New radar sensors will literally make us see better with their penetrating gaze through the clouds. While general visible sensors will always have a place, the accessibility, resolution, sensitivity and specificity of physical monitoring sensors; fire detectors, vegetation mappers, water detectors, temperature gauges, will provide very targeted products that humanitarians should tap into.

The challenges for use of space sector services are similar to those in the UAV sector. Are the solutions they provide appropriate to the problem they aim to solve, whether it be measuring the extent of the affected area or helping value the damage to assets? And how cost effective is it to transfer those solutions to the people who need them on the ground so they can make the right decisions, at the right time?

In many ways the list of innovations listed above is nothing new – meteorologists for example will tell you targeted sensors are old news. Radar has been around since 1940s. But it is both the proliferation, the usability and the fast widening access to these resources by non-specialists which is starting to gain purchase in the humanitarian field.

Is there a risk of drowning in a sea of data? Humanitarian data continues to proliferate and responders and information management officers can be overwhelmed by data, even early on in an emergency response. Finding those data can be a challenge, as much as being over-provisioned by well meaning data providers as soon as you declare you are heading for the disaster. Clearing houses, portals and nodes are multiplying almost as fast as data sources. Many offer focused locations to get hold of data, but they vary in quality, structure, searchability, relevance and long term management. As humanitarian mappers, we at MapAction know how frustrating it can be to spend significant time sifting through these sites to get that one set of truly useful data that our customer has requested urgently.

MapAction will continue watching the horizons of technology to see what innovations may make our operations and outputs more effective. We are happy to engage with technologists to build understanding of the needs of humanitarian relief to produce targeted, appropriate and timely solutions. We are happy to replace old solutions with new, such as using more accurate elevation data than SRTM. However they must meet both humanitarian technical requirements – suitable resolution and accuracy, for example – and practical & logistical requirements – working with limited bandwidth, digestible in quick time, interoperable with commonly used systems. We don’t use data sources or services because they are new, but because they are better than anything else.

Ultimately, it is time to change the way we use remotely sensed data in humanitarian response. We do need to shift from technology driven, supply side innovations to an iterative process of system evolution. Where this is successful, humanitarians will clearly express their information needs for getting aid to the right place when it is needed following a disaster, amid what, by their nature, are difficult conditions . And technologists must understand the restricted parameter of these difficult conditions and provide appropriate, streamlined, effective tools.

The situation after a disaster is by its nature chaotic, distressed and difficult to operate within – in short, confusing. Any tool or data source which exists to help within that system should be targeted at alleviating the confusion and ensuring that the affected communities and individuals are at the heart of any solution.
Remotely sensed data do not and will not solve humanitarian information management problems by themselves. Their added value comes from combining these data effectively with other digital map, survey and ground-based information. Simple, focused solutions from technicians will work best – but only where they are interoperable with other data sources, multiple systems and open for use by all responders.

Sudden Onset & Humanitarian Response Mapping Course

In a disaster situation, making rapid sense of the avalanche of information is crucial to an effective response.

MapAction’s practical, three-day Response Mapping course teaches you to use simple, low-cost, open source software and tried and tested field applications to create essential maps, proven to aid key decision-makers in a major crisis.

When: 1 – 3 May, 2018
Or: 9 – 11 October, 2018

Where: MapAction’s offices in Saunderton, Buckinghamshire, UK

Who should take this course?

Sudden onset responders and development practitioners who want to improve their knowledge of mapping, data collection and data visualisation in the context of humanitarian response, as well as people with an interest in data mapping who want to apply their knowledge in a humanitarian context.

What will I learn?

The course will teach you how to carry out basic spatial data collection, spatial analysis and mapping and how to find the necessary free/open-source tools and software needed to set up a GIS project.
Learn how to make maps that help with:
• Field-based navigation and needs assessment
• Identifying areas in priority need of aid and gaps in delivery
• Planning and monitoring programmes
• Support to logistics
• Identifying hazards and security risks
• Reporting, communication and advocacy

All course materials and software will be provided. Computers and GPS units can be loaned if needed, but you are encouraged to bring your own laptop on which open-source software can be installed. During the course you can research data and set up a project around your area of interest, so making it easier to apply what you learn directly to your work.

The course covers:

• Mapping and information management for responders and humanitarian work
• Creating base maps using open source mapping and QGIS software and online data sources
• Creating thematic maps showing humanitarian situations
• Using GPS/smartphones to undertake field data collection

The principal course instructors will be GIS practitioners with MapAction field experience in humanitarian emergencies. MapAction has deployed to over 70 sudden onset/humanitarian disasters and supported as many again remotely. We are a stand-by partner to the UN Disaster Assessment & Coordination (UNDAC) team and we provide mapping training to UN OCHA, UNDAC, INSARAG and many other organisations with responsibility for humanitarian disaster management.

Practicalities, fees and registration

The course will be held at the MapAction office in Saunderton, Buckinghamshire, which is easily reached by train from London and Birmingham. Lunch and refreshments will be provided, as well as one evening meal for all delegates. Costs are as follows:

Course only All inclusive***
Band A: Student / Unemployed / Small Charity* £360 £740
Band B: Self–funding Individuals / Medium Charity** £600 £980
Band C: Large Charity / Commercial & State Organisations £950 £1330

* Defined as having fewer than 25 employees
** Defined as having fewer than 45 employees
*** Course plus local hotel with bed, breakfast and evening meal (Monday evening to Thursday breakfast). Daily taxi transfer to and from hotel. 

Places on this course are limited. To book a place, please here and select ‘tickets’ (subject to Eventbrite booking fee), or email training[at]mapaction.org to book direct.