Thousands of people are at risk of deadly floods in Suriname and Guyana so MapAction is responding to a request to provide rapid mapping support led by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).
Both countries have seen months of extreme rainfall, leading to flooding of up to 14 feet in some areas which is making some of the roads impassable and areas inaccessible. The resulting flooding is only likely to increase during the rest of the rainy season which continues until the end of July.
The area is low lying and much of the countries’ land is only a few meters above sea level, making them two of the world’s most vulnerable countries to flooding. They also have much of their industry, including mining, close to the coast, meaning that jobs, livelihoods and accessible drinking water is being put at risk. Inadequate drainage is also exacerbating the problem in the more densely populated urban areas.
We are supporting CDEMA with a three-person team of geospatial experts working remotely to provide maps and visualisations. We are also helping the United Nations’ Disaster Assessment and Coordination body (UNDAC) which is undertaking damage assessments and environmental management in both countries.
MapAction’s maps and other information products relating to this emergency will be available for Suriname and Guyana as the response develops.
We are proud to be supporting the delivery of an online course in crisis mapping in the Caribbean this month. The training course will involve around 50 disaster management professionals from across the Caribbean and is in partnership with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), with input from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT).
This is the second time the online course has been run, and we used our extensive deployment and training experience in the design and development of it.
As well as learning the principles of disaster mapping for response and resilience and OpenStreetMap data entry, the participants are practicing effective use of the GeoCRIS. This is the new regional repository for geospatial data needed for risk and hazard mapping, disaster preparedness and response operations. As MapAction was involved in setting up the GeoCRIS, we are well placed to design and deliver this training.
The month-long course also includes a disaster simulation exercise in which the students will have the opportunity to deploy their newly acquired skills in a realistic emergency scenario. Additionally, two members of MapAction’s Caribbean volunteer team who have both recently been involved in the response to the La Soufrière volcanic eruption will be running a live session to share their real-world experiences of emergency mapping in the region and answer questions.
We’re grateful to USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) for funding this activity as part of our ongoing programme to improve the ways in which geographical information systems (GIS), mapping and spatial analysis are used in humanitarian emergencies.
“Alert Check: Volcanic Eruption St Vincent and the Grenadines, please sign up your availability.” Those were the words which greeted me as I checked my MapAction email. Simple words, but so profound for me. They really hit hard, and hit home! I could not ignore that call for action. I signed up for remote deployment. It turned out to be my first official response deployment as a MapActioner!
Like many people within the region, I have been observing the volcanic dome growth in St Vincent and the Grenadines since late 2020. As it grew, magma continued to fill the space around the old 1979 dome, as depicted in the images below.
A period of elevated volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquakes, which began on 23rd March, 2021, indicated to scientists that the situation at La Soufrière had deteriorated. An evacuation order was issued on April 8, 2021 by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
The very next day, on April 9, 2021, La Soufrière Volcano erupted! The eruption was very visible to people around the world due to the prominence of posts on social media. It was easy to see live feeds and video posts as the action unfolded. Images of the massive mushroom plume created by the eruption brought back so many memories for me. It was beautifully dangerous!
Having experienced the eruption of our very own Soufrière Hills Volcano in Montserrat and having lived with an active volcano for the past two decades, I empathised with the residents of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Being displaced from one’s home to live in a shelter is no easy feat. Having to leave behind the beloved island you call home is even more challenging. I knew the road ahead for many people would be long and difficult. Hence my conviction to help in the best way I knew: – by providing geospatial support.
It was great news to discover that Mike was also selected as a member of this remote deployment team for the St. Vincent Response. Mike and I were recruited at the same time in 2019 to form part of the Caribbean Section of MapAction. The picture below is a throw-back to June 2019 in Trinidad. We had several days of intense conversion training sessions. In retrospect, those days really set the foundation for our ability to deliver during this response.
Our team was led by Matt who resides in New Zealand. He is very knowledgeable and has significant experience in deployments. We also received additional support from another volunteer, Pip, who is located in the UK. We supported the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) for a period of three weeks. Subsequently, another two volunteers, Ant and Jorge, were deployed to support the environmental work of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) response. We represented different time zones and locations from across the globe.
This unique team selection, worked out very well, as it offered 24 hour coverage for the St. Vincent response. Mike and I, being located in the Caribbean region, were uniquely placed to attend briefing meetings in our local time zone and follow up with any new developments; while Matt provided another level of support from New Zealand, as his day began when ours was coming to an end. No sleep lost – I guess! Our daily briefing meetings allowed us to report our findings during that day and to strategise the allocation and completion of tasks.
MapAction has mastered the ability to use different tools to share and work together in a remote working environment. In my opinion, the COVID-19 pandemic has only strengthened this area. The image below highlights some of the main tools we used to ensure smooth deployment coordination.
One of the major needs of any emergency response is geospatial data. The ‘data scramble‘ as the term is coined, involves the researching, collating and organising of all the spatial data available for a particular location, ensuring that it is fit for purpose. The data collected was prepared by transforming it into the correct projected coordinate system to allow for overlay and integration between different datasets. Datasets included administrative boundaries, such as parishes, census districts, shelter locations, elevation data, transportation networks, buildings, land use, hazard zones, and health centres, just to name a few. These were placed in appropriately themed folder locations so that it would be easy for deployed members to find them during the response.
Coordinating with CDEMA, MapAction provided mapping support to to aid in visualisation of the situation on the ground.
One of the first maps prepared is a reference map of the area. I consider this to be one of the most important maps to be prepared, as it gives context to the area of interest. Everything else is built upon this.
The basemap shown on the left below is detailed with settlement locations, roads, parishes, village names, rivers and elevation data. The baseline map sown on the right, highlights the population figures of St.Vincent derived from the most recent 2012 census survey. This allowed us to understand how the population is distributed throughout the affected areas.
To provide further understanding, situational maps were prepared. Data being shared through situation reports from the Emergency Management Agency allowed us to create visual representations of what was happening on the ground. The map on the left, shows movement of displaced people from affected communities in the red, orange and yellow zones. The map on the right shows the location and status of the shelters.
Additionally, a 3D webmap was created showing the key volcanic events and hazards of the La Soufrière volcano. This dynamic map allows you to explore the data which was used to create the maps above and offers a better understanding of the risk posed by the volcanic eruption in St. Vincent.
Working so closely with the data from St. Vincent during this period of time, allowed me to become very familiar with areas and village locations on the island. Seeing feeds on social media allowed me to identify quickly with where things were happening. Names such as as Chateaubelair, Troumaca, Byera, Owia and Fancy stood out to me!
During my remote deployment, some acronyms were mentioned frequently during our briefing meetings. I eventually got the hang of them! These all form part of the response mechanism which helps the crisis on the ground to be addressed. Each of the teams highlighted below, played a very important function in being able to get supplies into St. Vincent, assessing the needs of the population and understanding the impact of the disaster on the island.
A number of other international organisations responded to the crisis in St Vincent and the Grenadines by activating their disaster response mechanisms and programmes. The links below provide additional insight into their response activities.
Satellite images like the ones below were captured as time progressed and further mapping and analysis was carried out. Derived information proved useful to responders on the ground.
MapAction is known to respond in-person during an emergency response deployment. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has limited this, my experience through this remote response deployment has shown that MapAction’s involvement is still significant in providing geospatial information to support the humanitarian needs of people in crisis. I do look forward to future deployments with MapAction!
This article was first published on Lavern’s own blog on 24 May 2021.
MapAction is providing mapping and information management support to the La Soufriere volcano emergency on the island of St Vincent, in response to requests from both CDEMA (Caribbean Disasters & Emergency Management Agency) and UN OCHA’s regional office.
Explosive eruptions from La Soufriere since April 9th have caused ash clouds to cover much of St Vincent, Bequia and southern St Lucia, as well large parts of Barbados. Pyroclastic flows have descended from the mountain top, after it was confirmed that the volcanic dome had collapsed.
Monitoring of the volcano is difficult as existing seismic stations were knocked out and it became dangerous to travel into the area. By the 7 of April, circa 16000 residents had been advised to evacuate following early signs of activity. The incident has already caused serious need for shelter, PPE and fresh water and is developing. Flooding is now reportedly compounding the situation.
MapAction is currently supporting the situation remotely, having already assembled a dedicated team of three volunteers and one staff member, located in Montserrat, the Turks & Caicos Islands (both in the Caribbean), New Zealand and the UK respectively. All members of the MapAction team will be working remotely due to the travel and other complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are no current plans to send a geospatial team to the affected area, although two of the team are based in the Caribbean region.
The direct mission costs are being met by the German Federal Foreign Office. MapAction’s response capacity has been supported by UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we have been working extensively in the Caribbean region on disaster preparedness work thanks to USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs.
The mapping techniques used in the 3D web mab above are based on recent work by MapAction and the University of Edinburgh, which pioneered 3D interactive webmapping for planning and response to volcanic hazards.
Many of MapAction’s maps and other information products relating to this emergency will be available here as the emergency develops.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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!
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.”
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 .
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).
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).
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.