How maps can save lives when disasters strike

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

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

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

Urgent appeal : Humanitarian Response Fund

Thank you for opening MapAction’s Humanitarian Response Appeal. We need your urgent help as we seek to fund our continuing responses to humanitarian crises in 2023 and beyond. 

If you fund MapAction you won’t be buying blankets, water, shelter or food. You will be making sure that as those items arrive they get to where they are needed most, as quickly as is possible.

The maps we make help to inform the activities of many different streams of aid, making sure that the most up-to-date information is being used to identify the greatest need. Understandably situation maps and data are not the first thing you might think of when hearing about a response, but just imagine trying to plan search and rescue, emergency health care or efficient aid delivery without maps showing you what is happening, where, and just as important, where the needs are.

Robert Colombo Llimona, Head of the UN OCHA Assessment & Analysis Cell for the first phase of the Turkiye response, had to support humanitarian decision-makers immediately after the Turkiye earthquake. He said: “Investing in MapAction is a great way to support humanitarian operations…supporting Mapaction is supporting response directly”. 

MapAction’s field teams are the most visible part of our activity, but more often MapAction members are supporting situations remotely, making maps, preparing data, each as qualified and experienced as the team members in the field.

Above : MapAction Field Team members working in the UN Onsite Operations Coordination Centre in Gaziantep, Turkiye.

Why Support MapAction?

MapAction has a unique capability to help in humanitarian crises. Turkiye/Syrian Arab Republic is MapAction’s 12th earthquake and our 137th response: we bring a wealth of knowledge, know-how and operational insight.  Immediately after news of this latest devastating earthquake broke, UNDAC, one of many long-standing partners of MapAction, requested support.

MapAction responded immediately, as we always want to do. However there is a significant cost for MapAction to maintain and provide well-trained, well-supported teams, very rapidly. As an organisation we aren’t large enough to receive funds from the big TV and newspaper appeals, so we must raise the money however we can. This is increasingly a combination of trusts and foundations, corporate support, (often from mapping, geospatial and data-related businesses) and private individuals. We are grateful to them all.

If MapAction’s support can’t be provided when its asked for, responses to disasters may be less effective and more costly. Supporting MapAction can save lives, and make scarce resources go further. 

Please help us to continue this vital work. Whilst highly-valued and regularly requested, MapAction’s response missions have no direct funding right now.  We no longer need immediate funding for the Turkiye/Syria earthquake response, but we do need funding for the next mission and those after that, to ensure we can get on the plane without hesitation . Any donation, big or small, matters right now.

Donations can be made direct to MapAction in the UK, or to MapAction USA as a 501c3, who can also receive funds for this urgent work.

Please partner with MapAction to ensure that all aid gets to where it is needed most, for the many people affected by humanitarian emergencies. Thank You.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A collapsed building in Kahramanmaras.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, southeast Turkiye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mapping aid solutions.

You can read more about our earthquake appeal here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience with earthquakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MapAction’s team in training for disaster response.

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

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

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

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

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

MapAction: 11 earthquake responses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to deploy

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

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

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

By MapAction CEO Liz Hughes

Photo: Hermann Traub/Pixabay.

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

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

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

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

New dawn

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

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

Grassroots resilience

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

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

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


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

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

Looking to 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hurricane. Photo: WikiImages/Pixabay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geo-surgery date

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anticipatory action protects lives”

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

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

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

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

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

MapAction urges world leaders and stakeholders gathered at COP27 to promote data-driven solutions to improve the lives of people on the front lines of climate change. 

In the last year alone we have seen scorching fires in the Amazon rain forest, record-breaking temperatures across Europe, devastating droughts in Kenya and unparalleled flash floods in China. Hurricanes swept havoc across the Caribbean; severe floods hit Pakistan. Regular climate-related disasters are exacerbating water and food insecurity. 

How emergency relief stakeholders and governments coordinate their responses to the climate emergency can impact the recovery of affected communities. That is why good data is key to preparedness and mitigation, especially in locations with limited resources. 

Ice and snow on the Hindu Kush mountain range, which runs along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is melting and causing devastating floods in both countries. Photo: Alex Macbeth

As the changing climate ravages and displaces some of the world’s poorest communities, good data use will not prevent such climate-driven occurrences. It can only soften the effects by helping the affected communities, and stakeholders, to be prepared and to coordinate relief strategies. Good use of data, in decision-making at key moments, can dramatically reduce the human cost of the climate emergency. 

“Data, often visualised through maps, can help identify who the most vulnerable people are, where they are, and highlight need,” says Nick Moody, MapAction’s chair of trustees. “At this CoP there is a recognition that while this information is critical during a crisis, it can have an even greater effect if used in advance. MapAction has a huge role to play in helping others to build resilience through data.”

Why MapAction?

Since MapAction’s inception over 20 years ago, the charity has provided data and specialist technical geospatial and data volunteers in more than 130 crises, many climate-related, worldwide. Our team has supported responses alongside UN, regional and national agencies as well as INGOs and local civil society organisations, providing relief to some of the most vulnerable climate-exposed people worldwide. 

Our 60+ volunteers come from across the ever-growing range of sectors using data and geospatial technology, bringing a huge diversity of technical expertise. MapAction gives them the training, operational experience and support needed to operate effectively in humanitarian situations. 

Working in collaboration with many emergency relief partners, our teams create unique situation maps, data visualisations, data sets and other products that help coordinate disaster relief using the best available information in the most insightful ways. The improved decisions they enable can help mitigate, for example, the impact of droughts, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, famines and health crises, to save lives and protect communities. In 2022 alone, MapAction has provided data products to support climate-related emergency relief operations in Madagascar, Suriname, Gambia, Paraguay and South Sudan. 

From response to anticipation

While MapAction’s initial expertise was in support of emergency response, our work is increasingly moving into early warning and preparedness. Anthropogenic climate change has been proven to alter both the likelihood and the severity of extreme weather events around the world, and the growing frequency of these can be predicted, if not precisely then generally. Being ready to spot the indicators, triggering early support for anticipatory action can be life-saving. Predictive analytics can allow us to define the mechanisms that trigger these actions by analysing current and historical data and developing models, as long as the data is reliable.

“It is more important than ever to be able to respond effectively to such events, but also to be able to anticipate them, in order to more effectively mitigate their impact,” says Daniele Castellana, lead Data Scientist at MapAction. “Through our collaborations with the Centre for Humanitarian Data and the Start Network, MapAction has been working on this flourishing component of humanitarian aid.”

“The African CoP”

“This CoP has been described as the African CoP; it is all about adaptation and resilience, and rightly so,” says MapAction Chair of Trustees Nick Moody, who is in Egypt for CoP27.  “In the last 21 months more than 52 million African citizens have been directly affected by drought and floods, and the continent is warming faster than the global average over both land and sea. While we mustn’t forget that every individual has a story, the grinding effects of climate change and extreme events on poverty, food insecurity and displacement at these scales must also be understood through data.” 

Early action is one of the most effective ways to address the ever-growing climate impacts. That is why MapAction has partnered with the START Network, a coalition that focuses on humanitarian action through innovation, fast funding and early action. START Network brings together 55 international non-governmental organisations and 7,000 partners worldwide. In 2022 MapAction also  launched its own Innovation Hub, to address some of the key humanitarian challenges by taking advantage of new opportunities in the data and geospatial sectors. 

From commitment to action

MapAction has made concrete commitments to actively seek solutions to reduce the impact of climate change. In October 2021, we signed the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organisations. The charter was developed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and guided by a 19-person strong Advisory Committee which included representatives of local, national and international NGOs, UN agencies and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, as well as academics, researchers and experts in the humanitarian, development, climate and environmental fields.

Signing that charter commits us to being a part of the solution and helping people adapt to a changing climate and environment. It will also help strengthen our own resolve and efforts to be environmentally sustainable. Most of all, it recognises that our efforts must be a collective endeavour – no organisation can tackle this alone.

Together with a growing range of partners, looking to engage ever more locally, we are using geospatial data, data visualization and data science to start laying the groundwork for climate resilience. The objective is to improve preventive actions and strategies in humanitarian response. 

Because what we map today we can mitigate tomorrow and in the future. That is why the science of how we source, analyze, shape, share and deploy data must be at the heart of all current and future discussions on adapting to climate change. 

For more info on MapAction’s work, please drop by our website

You can also follow us on Twitter or Instagram

If you haven’t yet done so, please do subscribe to our newsletter to receive regular updates on our work. 

MapAction aids UN flood response in The Gambia

Heavy rainfall in recent weeks has affected the majority of the country (particularly the West Coast, North Bank and the Greater Banjul areas), causing significant floods and flash floods which have resulted in casualties and widespread damage.

MapAction has sent a two person team of experts with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team to support the national authorities who are coordinating the response.

Recently, the country has experienced the heaviest rainfall in decades, which is affecting most areas. The resulting floods have caused multiple casualties and widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure. Some people have been displaced and many families are in need of urgent assistance. 

As a low lying country, dominated by the Gambia River, Gambia is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise and an increase in rainfall and temperatures, leading to droughts and floods. These are affecting the country’s economy, including the agricultural sector which is dominated by rain-fed agriculture, as well as the tourism sector.

MapAction will be supplying situational data analysis, visualisation and geospatial expertise. A remote team will also be helping with data gathering and map generation. This will support coordination and aid delivery decision-making.

Find our latest maps and data on this emergency when prepared here.

MapAction attends UN Global Geospatial Information Management event

MapAction’s Chief Executive, Liz Hughes, and senior geospatial expert member, Alan Mills, are at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. They are representing MapAction at the twelfth session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM), under MapAction’s official observer status.

The event, held from 3 – 5 August 2022 (side events from 1 August), comprises designated Member State experts and relevant international organisations. It seeks to promote international cooperation in global geospatial information management and provide an international forum for coordination and dialogue. 

Led by Member States, UN-GGIM sessions seek to address global challenges regarding the production, availability and application of geospatial information, including in development agendas and policymaking. This includes joint decision-making and setting directions towards nationally integrated geospatial information management within national, regional and global policy frameworks and development agendas.

MapAction’s Alan Mills presented and was a panel member at the ‘Geospatial Information and Services for Disasters’ side event on 1 August. He discussed the challenges and suggested ways to apply geospatial information across complex humanitarian problems. 

Disaster responses can take many forms and include multiple stakeholders, but he put forward that whatever the combination of these complex dimensions, reliable, consistent and well presented information, geographical information in particular, is essential. This will allow those involved to understand and identify the vulnerabilities and risks, what is happening, who has been affected and what resources people need to recover.

He drew on the experience MapAction has in supporting governments, international and regional agencies, civil society organisations and communities. He then outlined four brief scenarios that highlight the need for sharing timely, accurate, information, analysing it effectively and communicating through good visualisation. The intention was to show that UN-GGIM can and should provide the gold standard, allowing humanitarian and emergency response workers to relieve suffering and leave no one behind.

MapAction Chief Executive Liz Hughes said: “MapAction has been working to help manage global humanitarian crises for 20 years. We therefore have a lot of experience to share, in terms of how we have worked with governments, UN and other agencies and civil society organisations. We want to strengthen the system and are looking at ways to increase protection and reduce vulnerability. UN-GGIM provides a great forum to meet with other experts in the field and to jointly set the future agenda.”

Working with Civil Society Organisations to harness powerful information and data

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) deliver much of the world’s humanitarian aid, build resilience against disaster and advocate for many of the world’s poorest people. Enabling them to take advantage of information and data technology, in-line with other parts of the humanitarian sector, needs to be a priority. 

MapAction is working with several CSO networks, exploring how we can share our knowledge of humanitarian mapping and information management. We held a session at Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW) which was intended to share our range of experiences, highlight learning and challenges and see more CSOs being supported in this way.

The session featured panel speakers as follows:- Alan Mills – MapAction (Chair), Takeshi Komino – Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), Mayfourth Luneta – Center for Disaster Preparedness Foundation (CDP) and ADRRN, Gemma Davies – MapAction, Elise Belcher – Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR), Primož Kovačič – Spatial Collective, Surya Shrestra – National Society for Earthquake Technology, Nepal (NSET) – ADRRN and GNDR).

The session aimed to highlight the huge amounts of information management that the civil society sector does. It was also a space to learn about the barriers that prevent CSOs from gathering, using and sharing data, not just within the CSO networks but between them and governments, regional agencies and international humanitarian systems. We wanted to share our experiences of working with CSOs and to use this platform to advocate for more support to these valuable organisations.

It also considered how the humanitarian sector can better support CSOs and accelerate their adoption of new technologies for information management, mapping and data science etc, as we all grapple with a wide range of anticipation, programming, monitoring and evaluation challenges. 

As well as looking at the bottlenecks, the session looked at some of the challenges, such as: how to access good information; avoid poor use; allow for easy and efficient information exchange; and how organisations might be able to do all this with already stretched funding and capacity constraints.

See the zoom recording of the session below

The Humanitarian Networking and Partnerships Week (HNPW) is run by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). It provides a forum to address key humanitarian issues. Throughout the three weeks, participants and partnerships shared their expertise and collaborated on best practices to address shared problems.

USAID logo

MapAction’s work in this area is supported by USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs.

Further mapping and data analysis support provided to the Ukraine humanitarian response

Map - Reports of damage in Ukraine (6.4.2022).
Sources: Admin divisions: UN GIS and State Scientific Production Enterprise “Kartographia”, Media reporting: VIINA/ Violent Incident Information from News Articles.

MapAction continues to support humanitarian efforts relating to Ukraine. Most recently this has been through the Information Management and Analysis Cell (IMAC) at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) headquarters in Geneva.

We have seconded a team member to map and analyse data and information relating to the many humanitarian needs and responses in Ukraine. This includes refugee movements to and from neighbouring countries. The work feeds into IMAC situational analysis briefings.

The IMAC supports better decision making around how, when and where limited humanitarian resources are most effectively used. It is set up during major crises where the picture is likely to be complex and fast moving. IMAC partners include the United Nations country response teams, the Inter-Cluster Coordination Group (ICCG), UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). MapAction are also working with Data Friendly Space.

Map of displaced people and refugees in Ukraine (22.4.2022).
Data sources: Refugees: UNHCR (20.4.2022), IDPs: IOM 17.4.2022, Border crossings: Multiple sources, Administrative divisions: UN GIS and State Scientific Production Enterprise “Kartographia”.

MapAction are very grateful to RenaissanceRe for funding this important work, as part of the new funding partnership formed in 2021.

MapAction uses mapping and analysis to aid the Ukraine crisis

The escalation of the conflict in Ukraine has resulted in a steep rise in humanitarian needs as civilians flee the fighting into other parts of Ukraine and surrounding countries. MapAction’s range of mapping, data visualisation and analysis skills can obviously be of great help to humanitarian coordinators who need to make the best decisions for affected people.

The UN estimates that 12 million people inside Ukraine will soon need relief and protection, while 4 million Ukrainian refugees may need protection and assistance in neighbouring countries over the coming months.

MapAction is already supporting several long standing humanitarian partners, including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). We have one team of three already physically deployed to the region and others standing by and working remotely. We are in conversation with several other partners and will provide further updates soon. 

We anticipate that immediate MapAction support will be met from within existing budgets but if, as appears likely, this crisis will require extended or wider support then we will need to seek urgent additional funding. 

View some of our maps created to support the crisis.

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

MapAction responds to drought and food crisis in Kenya

Source: ASAL Humanitarian Network Drought Response


A serious drought is affecting parts of East Africa. Three consecutive failed rainy seasons has meant crops are failing, livestock is being badly affected and cereal prices are rocketing.

A drought warning has already been issued for many parts of northern and eastern Kenya – a mainly rural area with already high rates of poverty. Forecasts indicate that the food security situation is only likely to get worse, meaning that many more households will soon be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

MapAction’s support was requested by the Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL) Humanitarian Network – a group of more than 30 local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), community groups. Together with its partners (ACTED, Concern Worldwide and Oxfam), they are focused on the dry ASAL region of Kenya which has been particularly badly affected. More than 2.9 million people are at risk of going hungry and losing their livelihoods here, and thousands of young children are in urgent need of treatment for acute malnutrition.

A large part of the response has involved multi-purpose cash transfers to communities which are aimed to boost the local economy, and protect lives and livelihoods. So far it has reached over 5,000 affected households.

Since November 2021, MapAction has been supplying information management to the ASAL Humanitarian Network to support this response. We have provided tools to help manage their data on the response which then meant this information could be mapped. Once the information was on a map we could verify the data and this subsequently allowed the response to be presented at detailed village and ward level, rather than at regional level. This level of detail in our visualisations showed which partner was responding where, in which village location and what the response entailed.

MapAction also analysed and mapped the baseline drought survey commissioned by ASAL Humanitarian Network in November 2021. This survey assessment showed indicators such as the length of drought, and the impact of drought on crops, livestock and conflict. Mapping these indicators allowed the survey information to be visualised and compared across sub-counties highlighting key issues that the drought has impacted.

By mapping the drought response at various geographic levels, we were able to communicate the impact of the programme in a powerful way. This allowed ASAL Humanitarian Network to share these maps with partners, donors and within the network itself to explain and also help drive decision making.

The maps produced from this programme can be seen here.

As well as increasing prospects of drought, many of these very dry arid and semi-arid areas have been degraded from deforestation and overgrazing, which further reduces the productivity of these lands. This threatens food security, livelihoods and biodiversity. Early action from MapAction and other agencies aims to prevent loss of life and sustain livelihoods in these areas.

MapAction is grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for funding this work.

MapAction Madagascar teams handover at Heathrow 

After two weeks in Madagascar responding to multiple cyclones MapAction’s humanitarian mapping team flew into Heathrow on Wednesday February 23. They had a handover meeting with our next team who are now en-route to Madagascar to replace them. Normally these handovers are in-country but travel challenges mean it was impossible this time.

They will join up with the United Nation Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) surge capacity team in Nairobi and fly to the island of Reunion, working from there for a while before joining the wider UN team in Madagascar until 6 March. 

Madagascar is still reeling from storms Ana and Batsirai and has now been hit by yet another tropical cyclone – Emnati. The MapAction team will continue to provide situational data analysis, data visualisation and geospatial expertise. The crises will continue to be supported by a remote MapAction team in the UK who will gather, process and check data and create products.

View previous posts on our deployment to Madagascar

Volunteering with MapAction

One of our volunteers, Steve Hurst, shares his experience…

When I went travelling back in 1996 with my now wife, I had the realisation I wanted to somehow be involved in humanitarian work. For many years, this never came to fruition as I liked my hometown in Dorset and was enjoying (and continue to enjoy!) a fulfilling career in software development at the OS.

However, in 2015 when you could argue my mid-life crisis kicked in, I began looking for a volunteering opportunity within a charity. I wanted to find somewhere I could apply software skills I had acquired through project work here at OS.

I came across MapAction and, after discovering their long-standing relationship with OS, it was obvious; MapAction was the perfect fit.

At this point in time, I was delighted to discover that MapAction needed experts in GIS (Geographic Information System) and geospatial software development. I applied and, after a rigorous selection process and interview, I joined MapAction in March 2016 as part of their small Software Development Group.

MapAction GIS screenshot
Training weekends are typically held on a farm or at a college and you must bring your own accommodation.

Every month there is either a team training weekend or a development day. They cover soft skills, GIS techniques, software skills, information management and first aid. However, I’ve also been taught how to negotiate with the military and heard from guest speakers representing organisations such as Save the Children, the World Food Program and UNOCHA which offers updates on crises around the world from people ‘on the ground’ with first hand perspectives.

The team

MapAction volunteers are not only trained in GIS, but also in how the humanitarian system works. Many aid agencies have their own GIS experts, but they can’t always deploy in the first response phase. Even if they are in-country, they are there to support their own organisation’s needs first, whilst MapAction provides a mapping service to anyone who needs it be that charities, government agencies or relief organisations. MapAction is often the lead mapping cell for the central response coordinator.

As well as responding to sudden onset events, MapAction provide training courses and simulation exercises by providing mapping support and humanitarian mapping workshops to other humanitarian organisations. To name a few, this year MapAction teams have empowered regional and national agencies to be better equipped by providing preparation training in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Thailand and the Caribbean.

My role

Presenting the improved GIS tools.

When I joined MapAction my children were a lot younger, so I have only recently marked myself as ‘deployable’. So although I haven’t deployed yet (which makes me feel slightly like an imposter), I am happy knowing the work I have been able to do from this country has been beneficial to the overall cause.

I have extended and improved MapAction’s GIS tools, meaning that the deployed teams are more effective in the field.

I have developed a menu-driven automated map generation tool. This builds on an existing structured ‘crash move folder’ containing standardised layers of data. Using pre-defined definitions from the MapAction’s Map Catalogue, it builds base maps in seconds rather than hours.

I’m particularly proud of this and am delighted to say there has been a great deal of enthusiasm from the team. One volunteer said they’d been wanting it for years and another sent an email to say how awesome it was. It was because of my work on this tool that I was given the ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award in 2019. It’s been incredibly rewarding.

Screenshot showing the results of the MapAction Automation tool.

There are so many positives to being a MapAction volunteer. It’s long been recognised that volunteering improves one’s mental health and being a MapAction volunteer gives employees a chance to boost their own wellbeing by giving something back by using skills gained in the office.

This article was written by Steve Hurst and originally published on the Ordnance Survey website.

MapAction has received long term support from Ordnance Survey (OS) since 2006. In addition to donations, OS also allows its employees to take 10 days volunteer leave.

MapAction and OS have also worked closely on influencing the international agenda at the UNGGIM (United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management), successfully lobbying for the availability of crucial geospatial data in the aftermath of a humanitarian disaster.

MapAction wins Lloyd’s Market Charity Award

MapAction has been awarded £25,000 by the Lloyd’s Market Charity Awards in recognition of our disaster response and preparedness work. 

The award will be used to enhance MapAction’s operational capability to help different regional and national emergency management bodies prepare for future humanitarian emergencies, and to help with responses to shocks and emergencies when they occur. 

We were selected to receive this generous donation thanks to the efforts of MapAction volunteer and Trustee, Chris Ewing. He applied for the award on our behalf in his role as Head of Client Management at Impact Forecasting, the catastrophe model development centre of Aon Reinsurance Solutions. It’s one of a handful of awards that the Lloyd’s Market hand out every year in response to individual efforts of those who work across the Lloyd’s Corporation and market.

Over the past 12 months Chris has helped produce drought indicator maps for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), as part of a larger UN project using satellite imagery and machine learning to quickly identify areas for pre-emptive funding. He also volunteered through MapAction on a COVID-19 dashboard project with UNICEF and the Mexican Government Ministry of Education. 

Chris said: “This award is really fantastic, quite unexpected and we’re really very very grateful for it. I know how crucial every penny is for MapAction and this will help our efforts to mitigate and to respond to crises.”

How maps helped the response to the Haiti earthquake

MapAction volunteer Chris Jarvis and a colleague from the Americas Support Team.

MapAction has been involved in the response to the earthquake that took place in Haiti on 14 August, helping our partners with data processing, analysis and mapping. This has helped those coordinating operational teams to understand what types of aid are needed in different locations and what other organisations are already doing to help. At the time of writing, this work is ongoing.

At the end of August, we scaled up our support to the UN Disaster Assessment & Coordination (UNDAC) and other responding organisations. Two MapAction volunteers traveled to Haiti to provide in-person assistance, supported remotely by our wider team. As well as using their annual leave to do this, both were required to self-isolate for 10 days after returning to the UK, in accordance with COVID rules. We are grateful to them both for their invaluable efforts.

This StoryMap looks at some of the maps that have so far been created during the response to the earthquake and how they have been used to help the situation on the ground.

MapAction supports response to deadly earthquake in Haiti

Over a thousand people have died and many more have been injured in a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit on 14th August which has brought devastation to the Caribbean nation whose population is already highly vulnerable due to political and civil unrest.

The epicentre of the earthquake was near the Northern coast of the Southern peninsula where it has caused significant damage to infrastructure such as hospitals, ports and roads in areas such as Jérémie and Les Cayes. 

Initial estimates show that the earthquake has caused over 700 buildings to collapse and damaged nearly 4,000 homes, resulting in many seeking refuge in shelters and many more that have been displaced. Search and rescue teams have been deployed to find any people still trapped under the rubble.

Along with partners, including ACAPS, REACH and UNOSAT, MapAction is supporting the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) with a small team who will collect data and provide remote mapping and other visualisations of the situation to its Assessment and Analysis Cell. UN OCHA will be relying on it’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC) to coordinate its on the ground response. 

Haiti is due to be hit by Tropical Storm Grace on 17 August which will make it more difficult to reach those affected by the earthquake with shelter, food and water.

See our maps once they’re prepared.

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

Training Caribbean disaster managers

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.

Screenshot of GeoCRIS
Screenshot of the GeoCRIS showing a map of part of Western Haiti with several map layers selected

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.

MapAction supports response to Equatorial Guinea explosions

Map showing areas of evacuation and damaged building in Bata, Equatorial Guinea as at 13 March 2021

Following a series of explosions on 7th March at an armoury of the Nkuantoma Gendarmerie and military barracks in Bata, the economic capital of Equatorial Guinea, The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) reached out to MapAction to support the response. Over 100 people were reported to have been killed and 700 injured in the blasts which caused significant damage to buildings and infrastructure.

Using learning and expertise from previous missions, including the major explosion last August in Beirut and a similar incident in Brazzaville in 2012, MapAction will be on hand to help remotely as long as needed.

We are working with the UN Assessment & Analysis (A&A) Cell to provide impact and situational mapping of the explosion areas with a focus on shelter, health and water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH). A&A cells are responsible for the coordination of needs assessments and analysis during sudden-onset emergencies to inform humanitarian partners, such as governments, aid agencies, NGOs etc.

UKAid logo

This response is being supported by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). MapAction’s response capability is also supported by the Netherland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Guatemala – video report from the airport

In this video, MapAction volunteer Emerson Tan gives a report from the airport on his way home from Guatemala.

MapAction was mobilised to help the international response to the catastrophic impacts of Hurricanes Eta and Iota which have caused tremendous suffering across Central America, on top of the COVID pandemic.

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.


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.

MapAction contributes to webinar on emerging urban challenges

Aerial view across the suburbs of a city to the sky scrapers of the central business district on the horizon.

Two MapAction members contributed to a one-hour discussion of how use of collaborative networks and advances in geospatial technology can improve humanitarian outcomes in urban settings. Professor Melinda Laituri of Colorado State University and the Secondary Cities initiative was Chair of the event, with talks from Alan Mills and Chris Ewing, both of MapAction.  

Entitled Cities, humanitarianism and using geospatial analysis to mitigate risk, the online event looked at collaborative approaches to addressing global humanitarian issues.

Alan Mills and Chris Ewing shared insights gleaned from their work aimed at supporting urban resilience and emergency preparedness and response, in particular through working with, building, supporting and mobilising civil society networks. They also discussed recent technical innovations such as automated mapping.

This was followed by a question and answer session exploring some aspects further as questioned by the audience.

Chaired and Hosted by:


  • Chris Ewing, MapAction Trustee and Volunteer – a keen physical geographer, Chris has over 10 years’ experience in the (re)insurance and engineering sectors. In his day job at Aon Impact Forecasting, Chris helps organizations better quantify natural catastrophe risk. He has volunteered with MapAction since 2007.
  • Alan Mills, MapAction Consultant and Volunteer – a volunteer since 2005 and former trustee, Alan also leads on building data preparedness partnerships. He has his own consultancy business specializing in GIS and remote sensing in international development and has 30 years experience in operations.

The full one hour Webinar can be viewed below.

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 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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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

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