MapAction supports data preparedness in Sri Lanka

Just weeks before massive floods in Sri Lanka killed more than 80 people and forced around 300,000 to leave their homes, MapAction and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worked with the Government of Sri Lanka to prepare essential base data for emergency preparedness and response.

MapAction and WFP had undertaken a disaster preparedness mission in early May to establish a robust database of key information that would help the national Disaster Management Centre and humanitarian aid agencies decide how best to provide assistance right from the outset of a disaster.

Sri Lanka is experiencing increasing incidences of extreme climatic events. Communities are regularly being struck by droughts, floods and high winds, with highly detrimental impacts on livelihoods and food security. According to a report by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), floods alone have cost the Sri Lankan economy over USD $700 million in the last ten years. Tropical Cyclone Roanu hit the country 14-20 May, bringing as much as 300mm rainfall over three consecutive days, which led to widespread flooding and landslides.

Maps are a critical component of any humanitarian response, in order to determine which communities are affected and how best to assist them. Having high quality data in advance of an event can make a vital difference to the effectiveness of a response when disaster strikes.

In those crucial first days post-disaster, it’s vital to have good quality data on the country’s topography, administrative areas, transport networks, as well as up-to-date statistics on population, health, education and economic status. All these factors influence how a response is planned and how resources are allocated.

MapAction’s collaboration with WFP has put in place a robust database which can be regularly updated and used right from the outset of an emergency response. This means that those precious hours post-disaster can be dedicated to saving lives and minimising suffering, which is the ultimate aim of MapAction’s humanitarian mapping service.

MapAction volunteer, Tom Hughes

MapAction and WFP, working with local authorities, have together created a database of relevant information which is “ready-for-use” in an emergency. The information gathered will be accessible to government and all humanitarian responders and regularly updated and improved in order to maintain the accuracy of the data.

WFP plays a key role in the coordination of delivery of emergency food assistance in Sri Lanka and across the globe. If we have data to hand to understand the profile of the people affected by a disaster, we can spring into action more quickly. That’s data preparedness. The database we’ve set up with MapAction will help us and fellow responders determine what kind of assistance people in each area might need, be it food or other items. It’s all about thinking ahead. The population figures have even been projected as far forward as the next planned census in 2022, giving us a solid basis from which to plan and programme responses well into the future.

Amy Chong, Regional GIS Coordinator for WFP’s Food Security Analysis team for Asia and the Pacific

This project was the first collaboration between MapAction and WFP as part of a broader partnership to strengthen humanitarian responses in South East Asia. The database developed in Sri Lanka will serve as a template for further joint initiatives planned for Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Pacific Island communities in the coming year.