Updates*: “Early recovery actions” underway in Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and Cayman Islands after Hurricane Beryl

The island of Carriacou, Grenada, after Hurricane Beryl. Photo: Lavern Ryan.

Last updated: July 17th, 12:50 UTC

  • Hurricane Beryl leaves near total-destruction in one Caribbean island before striking Jamaica on July 4th, Mexico on July 5th, 6th and 7th. Struck coast of US on July 8th: seven reported casualties (18 total for Hurricane Beryl, July 9th)
  • It made landfall on Carriacou Island in Grenada on July 1st as a Category 4/5 hurricane (readjusted to Category 4 on July 3rd; Category 2 on July 8th) bringing damaging winds, heavy rains and casualties
  • 80,000 people affected and 60,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance on devastated islands in Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines (July 10th, UN)
  • MapAction launches Emergency Humanitarian Mapping Response Appeal to cover costs of predicted future mapping support missions during ‘hurricane season’
  • 11 casualties already from Hurricane Beryl in the Caribbean, according to July 8th media reports
  • The BBC reports seven casualties caused by Hurricane Beryl in the US as it struck Texas and Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane (July 9th)
  • Thousands of Grenadians have taken refuge in 11 emergency shelters
  • The winds, torrential rains and flash flooding could put at least 3 million children in the Caribbean at risk, according to UNICEF estimates. (ReliefWeb, July 3rd)
  • 98% of housing on Union Island, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, destroyed (ReliefWeb, July 3rd)
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada worst affected, although damage in Jamaica and Cayman Islands too
  • Hurricane Beryl is the first major hurricane of the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season. It is already the strongest July hurricane on record.
  • “Hurricane Beryl impacted several countries in the southwestern Caribbean. CDEMA continues coordinating the response efforts, supported by National Emergency Management Coordinators. Various forms of support are being provided to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and its dependents. Assessments have commenced to determine the response level. Additionally, a Level 1 response is ongoing in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Lucia, and Dominica.” Relief Web (July 2nd).
  • For specific map and data products, please also check our data and maps repository: maps.mapaction.org.
  • Find out more about MapActions’ previous 140+ emergency response support missions here.
  • The response is being coordinated by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). MapAction and CDEMA have been partners for more than 15 years. Find out more about the partnership in this podcast
  • MapAction humanitarian mappers are in the Caribbean to support CDEMA response
  • Want to know more about MapAction’s work? This short video gives an overview of what we do. 
  • For further useful information on ‘hurricane season’ in the Caribbean, try our partners at CDEMA.
  • More MapAction maps and data products relating to Hurricane Beryl
  • *This blog is not regularly updated in the evenings or on weekends

Hurricane Beryl updates

July 17th, 12:50 UTC: Map of humanitarian deliveries helps identify need for future vital aid

This map of post-Hurricane Beryl humanitarian relief deliveries on Carriacou and Petite Martinique, both in Grenada, helps humanitarian agencies understand which communities have already received basics like food and water and which communities are most in-need for future deliveries.

July 16th, 14:40 UTC: Map of structural damage in Grenada highlights severity and access

This map of structural damage in southeast Grenada helps decision-makers and emergency responders, like MapAction partner the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), focus their resources and time during a response on the most at-risk communities. The map colour codes areas with particularly high levels of damage, while also highlighting human settlements nearby, as well as main and secondary roads to illustrate access.

July 15, 16:45 UTC: MapAction’s Appeal

Providing the insights and maps that help decision-makers respond more effectively to emergencies, like Hurricane Beryl, is expensive. If we are to continue to respond to future emergencies in what is expected to be a busy ‘hurricane season’, we need your support. Can you or somebody you know support our appeal?

July 15th, 16:45 UTC: Where MapAction goes, the tech trunk follows

July 15th, 16:45 UTC: MapAction mapping Lavern Ryan to continue to support CDEMA from Barbados office

MapAction member Lavern Ryan (right) was today airlifted from Carriacou to Grenada, before travelling to Barbados where she will continue to work with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) on the response to Hurricane Beryl. She travelled with CDEMA’s Executive Director Elizabeth Riley (centre) and Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) Interim Executive Director Dr. Lisa Indar.

July 15th, 16:30 UTC: Jamaica maps combine key access routes and population data at parish level

These four parish maps from Jamaica help decision-makers understand the baseline population in each parish, as well as basic access by road or railway. This helps those planning the recovery after Hurricane Beryl to zone in to specific affected parishes and plan tailored responses for those areas. 

July 15th, 08:55 UTC: Hurricane Beryl affected 10 CDEMA member states. Focus now on Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica and Cayman Islands to inform “early recovery actions” (CDEMA)

“Hurricane Beryl has moved out of the area and is no longer a threat to Caribbean States that are a part of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management (CDEMA) System. Following the passage of Beryl and its impact on ten (10)Participating States, the focus is now on assisting Grenada and its Grenadines of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, and the Grenadine islands of Bequia, Union Island, Canouan and Mayreau in St. Vincent. Assessments continue in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands to determine damage and inform response and early recovery actions.” Read the full July 12th update from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) here.

July 11th, 14:25 UTC: MapAction team in Jamaica produce set of baseline maps

Experienced humanitarian mappers Alistair Wilkie and Kirsty Ferris are in Jamaica working with the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) team in Kingston on situation maps (e.g. locations of shelters), assessment maps (e.g. damage to critical infrastructure) and population products.

July 11th, 11:30 UTC: Map of impassable roads in Carriacou, Grenada, designed to help humanitarian agencies deliver aid, and evacuate at-risk communities to shelters, more efficiently

The map below, made by our team working on Grenada, shows which roads have been made impassable by Hurricane Beryl on the island of Carriacou. This helps needs assessment teams to identify the fastest route to deliver humanitarian aid and the easiest way to evacuate people to shelters, while adding to the overall assessment on damage to core infrastructure.

July 11th, 09:30 UTC: IOM has 51 emergency shelters in Jamaica

The MapAction map below, made by our team on the ground in Jamaica, outlines the location of more than 50 emergency shelters established by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in response to Hurricane Beryl.

July 11th, 08:15 UTC: 80,000 people affected in Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines

“Over 80,000 people were potentially affected by Hurricane Beryl across Grenada and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, including more than 44,000 in Grenada, and 40,000 people in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, based on the number of people hit by wind speeds of 120 km/h or above, according to the Pacific Disaster Center (PDC Global). The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance is estimated to be nearly 60,000 people.” July 10th statement from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

July 10th, 10:00 UTC: More photos of devastation from Carriacou, Grenada

Photo: Lavern Ryan.
Photo: Lavern Ryan.
MapAction deployed mapper Lavern Ryan on Carriacou with the coastguard. Photo: Lavern Ryan.

July 10th, 09:15 UTC: Nearly 1000 people remain in shelters in St Vincent and the Grenadines

12,000 people are estimated to be in need of basic services, including 3,500 children, between Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines as of July 10th, according to the latest update from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

July 9th, 14:45 UTC: Needs assessment with CDEMA continues

MapAction members Tony Giles and Elena Field talk about the current situation on St Vincent and the Grenadines with Elizabeth Riley (3rd from right), executive director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) as they cross paths in transit at the airport.

July 9th, 13:05 UTC: WFP delivers emergency food to St Vincent and the Grenadines to feed 4500 people for 10 days

July 9th, 11:00 UTC: MapAction launches Emergency Humanitarian Mapping Response Appeal

If you haven’t seen our appeal to be able to continue to respond and provide vital map and data support to regional agencies in the Caribbean during this ‘hurricane season’, please see it below. Do you know a friend, contact or company that could help? Get in touch!

“CDEMA and MapAction have been working together for many years responding to disasters while learning to be able to better respond to future disasters. When an event like Hurricane Beryl happens, CDEMA makes the call to MapAction because they will deploy specialist teams that understand what we need, and can make an immediate impact on how CDEMA and its regional and international partners provide aid to disaster affected countries.”

Renee Babb, GIS Specialist, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)

Appeal: MapAction Emergency Humanitarian Mapping Response Appeal

July 9th, 10: 50 UTC: Meet Lavern Ryan, who is in the Grenadine Islands supporting CDEMA with mapping

Lavern Ryan in Carriacou after Hurricane Beryl.

Lavern, from Montserrat, told her own personal story of displacement following a volcanic eruption on her home island in 1996 on our podcast with Geomob. We also featured Lavern this year on International Women’s Day.

READ ALSO: Meet a MapAction pioneer on International Women’s Day

July 9th, 08: 50 UTC: What is GIS? Explainer

“To make sense of the immense amount of data in today’s world, we can map it.” Still wondering what geospatial means and why we map things? This explainer scroll from ESRI does a good job for anyone curious to learn more about this use of technology.

July 9th, 08: 15 UTC: MapAction ‘Map Wall’ is a compass in a crisis

MapAction ‘Map Walls’ give decision-makers a holistic overview of key data in a crisis. Below, MapAction mapper Elena Field showcases the most recent iteration of the map wall for Hurricane Beryl. The wall covers the basics: what is the population in each part district and who is affected? Where are the emergency shelters and working health facilities? What damage has been incurred to buildings and key infrastructure?

July 9th, 08:15 UTC: Nearly 1000 people in 41 temporary shelters on St Vincent

The MapAction map below shows where the shelters are on St Vincent and what the occupancy breakdown is by adults and children. This helps organisations focused on child health to offer tailored, additional support to children displaced by the hurricane.

July 9th, 08:05 UTC: Seven reported casualties in the US

Seven people have lost their life in the US to Hurricane Beryl, reports the BBC. Nearly three million people in Texas and Louisiana were without power last night.

July 8th, 15:15 UTC: Satellite image of Union Island helps needs assessment team inspect and verify damaged buildings

MapAction would like to acknowledge the support of imagery company BlackSky, who allowed us to task their satellite and source remote imagery of the affected islands as part of data for the map below.

Post event imagery allows decision-makers to see which buildings have sustained damage. The actual imagery has a ground resolution of one metre which allows for inspection, verification and planning. This helps those making decisions to quickly understand which buildings have been destroyed and where. #geospatial4good

Union Island. Photo: Tony Giles

July 8th, 14: 25 UTC: Jamaica: 2 deaths, 250 roads blocked and 1800 people in shelters

The latest bulletin on Hurricane Beryl’s damage to Jamaica as it passed through the island on July 3rd from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

There was extensive damage to utility poles and downed powerlines
across parishes. Impacts across the island also included Fallen Trees,
Wind damage to infrastructure and roofing, Flooding and Storm Surges.

July 8th, 13:50 UTC: Podcast: “I don’t know if it is because we are perfectly or imperfectly positioned”

Earlier this year, the folks from Geomob, in a co-production with MapAction, sat down to discuss the Caribbean with CDEMA’s GIS Specialist Renée Babb and Montserratian MapAction volunteer Lavern Ryan. You can listen to the podcast here. Below is an excerpt from CDEMA’s Renée Babb on why the Caribbean is so prone to natural disasters.

July 8th, 13:25 UTC: MapAction publishes 3D visualisation of affected islands

A 3D fly-through of the Grenadine Islands of Union, Mayreua and Canouan. Imagery Credits: Esri, Maxar, Earthstar Geographics, and the GIS User Community

July 8th, 09:10 UTC: CDEMA deep into response and rapid assessment in St Vincent

Video of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in action as their Rapid Needs Assessment Team (RNAT) works in St Vincent and the Grenadines. 98% per cent of infrastructure and housing on Union Island was reportedly destroyed by Hurricane Beryl. Rasheed Pinder, CDEMA’s programme officer, outlines the response so far. Video courtesy of CDEMA and CBC TV 8.

Video courtesy of CDEMA.

July 8th, 08:15 UTC: MapAction team in St Vincent to provide support to CDEMA Rapid Needs Assessment Team (RNAT)

MapAction members (centre) with the CDEMA Rapid Needs Assessment Team (RNAT) in St Vincent over the weekend. Photo: CDEMA.

July 8th, 08:10 UTC: Hurricane Beryl strengthening again to Category 2 hurricane as it approaches Houston, USA.

The storm left devastation in several Caribbean islands last week, causing 11 deaths. Mexico was impacted by storms and strong winds over the weekends, reports Reuters.

July 5th, 09:45 UTC: IFRC: “New reality for the Caribbean”

“This unprecedented early-season hurricane underscores the new reality of the climate crises that Caribbean small island nations face: storms are more likely to rapidly intensify and become stronger, causing severe destruction and giving communities less time to recover in between shocks. The hotter-than-normal water temperatures in the southern Atlantic and Caribbean are acting as fuel for storms, causing them to intensify very quickly into major hurricanes –category three or superior.” More in a statement on Hurricane Beryl from the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

July 5th, 08:25 UTC: Coast of Mexico (Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Cancún), hit by strong winds and heavy rains

July 5th, 08:20 UTC: Rebuilding of Union Island a “herculean” effort, say UN agencies on the ground doing damage assessment

July 4th, 19:35 UTC: Cayman Islands avoid the worst from Hurricane Beryl

Despite reported damage to building and infrastructure, the government of the Cayman Islands has issued an all-clear statement, meaning Hurricane Beryl did not wreak the havoc expected there.

July 4th, 19:30 UTC: MapAction members en-route to St Vincent

July 4th, 14:25 UTC: Cayman Islands, Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Mexico and USA could still be affected by Hurricane Beryl

An update on the projected path of Hurricane Beryl from the National Hurricane Center and the Central Pacific Hurricane Center states that the Cayman Islands, Belize, Mexico and areas of the USA can expect strong winds and storms caused by the hurricane in the coming days.

July 4th, 12:15 UTC: Satellite images show the extent of the damage to homes and infrastructure caused by Hurricane Beryl as it surged through the Windward Islands

July 4th, 12:08 UTC: Good news for St Lucia at least as businesses reopen

July 4th, 12:06 UTC: Cayman Islands braced for Hurricane Beryl

“Residents of the Cayman Islands should prepare for worsening conditions as Hurricane Beryl continues to approach. The storm’s current trajectory brings it dangerously close to the islands, with the potential for significant impacts,” states the latest July 4th update from the Cayman Islands government.

July 4th, 10:05 UTC: Hurricane Beryl moves on from Jamaica having caused further devastation

July 4th, 10:00 UTC: 11 emergency shelters operating in Grenada, according to the national disaster management agency (NaDMA)

July 4th, 09:15 UTC: Up to 3 million children at risk, says UNICEF

The winds, torrential rains and flash flooding could put at least 3 million children in the Caribbean at risk, according to UNICEF estimates released yesterday.

“UNICEF and partners have pre-positioned life-saving supplies in several countries in the Caribbean Basin, including medical kits, educational kits, essential water supplies, sanitation and hygiene materials (such as water tanks, large bottles and water purification tablets), and key equipment such as high-quality tents, which will be deployed as needed,” adds the release on ReliefWeb.

July 4th, 08:00 UTC: Union Island suffers “near-total devastation” as Hurricane Beryl strikes Jamaica

“Carriacou and Petit Martinique, part of Grenada, saw most buildings, including schools and petrol stations, damaged or destroyed,” states an update from ReliefWeb on July 3rd. “Union Island, part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, suffered near-total devastation, with 98% of housing destroyed, no sanitation facilities, limited water, and extensive damage to its airport and power plant. Evacuations to St. Vincent are ongoing despite limited accommodation due to the Vincy Mas carnival.” 

July 3rd, 18:55 UTC: MapAction deployment scale-up planned 

Following meetings today with both the Caribbean Dissaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as well as the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination Office (UNDAC), it is extremely likely that MapAction’s response to Hurricane Beryl will be scaled up and potentially last until the middle of August (if resources allow).

A team of three humanitarian MapAction mappers is in Barbados with CDEMA. Onward deployment to Grenada and St Vincent & the Grenadines is expected.

LISTEN: Podcast. Towards disaster resilience with CDEMA in the Caribbean

UNDAC are also planning to deploy a team to Jamaica as they are expecting significant damage and humanitarian impact there. MapAction are planning to support this UNDAC response with two further MapAction members. This would be an initial two week deployment, starting as early as this weekend.

July 3rd, 17:00 UTC: Remote team of mappers supporting CDEMA

A team of three experienced MapAction mappers is providing 24-hour remote support to CDEMA. See some of the maps published below.

Published Maps – MapAction have already published a growing range of downloadable baseline and reference maps for Grenada, The Grenadines & St Vincent, and now Jamaica. These cover Critical Infrastructure, Emergency Shelters, Baseline Population and Country Overview Maps. They can be found on our website at mapaction.maps.org, as well as on ReliefWeb. Due to some sporadic technical issues with our system all maps are currently also being uploaded to the Virtual OSOCC.

What exactly does MapAction do? Find out more in the short video below

July 3rd, 10.45 UTC: MapAction to support CDEMA in response

Three expert MapAction mapping and information management volunteers are en-route to Barbados, in response to Hurricane Beryl. Two have left the UK and they will be joined in Barbados by a third, from Montserrat. From Barbados they will coordinate with the response team at long term MapAction partners, CDEMA (Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency).

Hurricane Beryl rapidly intensified over the weekend to become the first major hurricane of the 2024 Atlantic hurricane season. It made landfall on Carriacou Island in Grenada, on July 1st as a Category 4/5 hurricane, bringing damaging winds, heavy rain, and a storm surge. Beryl has already caused significant damage and loss of life in Cariacou, St Vincent and The Grenadines, and Venezuela, and is already the strongest July hurricane on record.

Beryl is projected to travel through the central Caribbean, buffeting Haiti, before potentially impacting Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, before entering the Gulf of Mexico, approaching the Yucatan Peninsula later in the week, remaining a major hurricane throughout.  

MapAction was initially contacted by CDEMA on Sunday June 30th, and the team was ready to deploy within 24 hours. Meanwhile MapAction also has three further team members supporting remotely, offering 24 hour support as they are respectively currently situated in Taiwan, Colombia and the UK. Further team members are standing by. CDEMA will be liaising with both national governments and with UN Regional Office for Latin America and Caribbean, with whom MapAction also has a long record of support.

We believe this will be a large multi-country response, drawing significantly on both emergency response personnel availability and cash resources.

Thank you to our donors. Our initial work on the response will be funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

MapAction will also be launching an appeal, to ensure that we can immediately and effectively respond to Hurricane Beryl, and to hurricanes and crises later in the year. If you value MapAction’s work, please make a donation. Even when it is provided by MapAction’s expert volunteers, providing this vital support costs money.

Further updates will follow as this response develops.

Video: Urban risk model piloted with partners in Ecuador

In May 2024, MapAction, together with USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, the Ecuadorian Secretariat for Risk Management (SNGR) and the Decentralised Autonomous Government (GAD) of Manta, held a workshop in Manta – a coastal city in western Ecuador – to pilot an urban risk model based on the INFORM RISK INDEX methodology. The model provides disaster response managers and anticipatory action planners with a tool to understand the risk before, during and after disasters for specific urban communities. The workshop participants were civil society organisations working in the disaster risk reduction sector in Manta.

MapAction’s internal and external capacity building programmes are funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).

MapAction team of mappers in Belize to support country’s response to wildfires and drought

MapAction team members are supporting the Belize national disaster management agency NEMO to get a clearer understanding of the extent and impact of wildfires that continue to spread through southern and western Belize, causing damage to infrastructure, crops, land and livelihoods.

MapAction’s Edith Lendak works with Director of Toledo District Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Gustavo Requena (right) and NEMO GIS Officer Luwin Tzib (left) to confirm the location of local community settlements in fire-impacted districts. Photo: MapAction

Drought and a lack of rainfall have caused severe ongoing wildfires in the Central American country of Belize. As of May 28th, 10,000 hectares of land and 200 homes had been destroyed, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). Damages as of end of May 2024 totalled more than $8 million. 

The response to the wildfires is being coordinated by Belize’s national disaster response agency, the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), one of 19 CDEMA members. CDEMA, a long-time MapAction partner, requested MapAction’s support to assist local authorities in getting a clearer understanding as to the extent of the crisis. 

MapAction volunteer members Sam Gandhi, a GIS specialist, and Edith Lendak – who works for green energy company Orsted – are in Belize assisting the Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) and disaster assessment teams out of the National Emergency Management Organisation’s (NEMO) various country offices. MapAction volunteer member Indigo Brownhall, a researcher with the Space Geodesy and Navigation Laboratory (SGNL) at University College London (UCL), is providing remote support. 

MaAction volunteer member Sam Gandhi.

The team’s focus will be on the worst affected areas: the southern region of Toledo, before moving north to focus on Cayo District, where the country’s capital, Belmopan, is situated. 

“This shows the effectiveness of our partnership with CDEMA,” says Darren Dovey, head of emergency response for MapAction. “We were able to quickly understand their needs and advise that sending a MapAction team to Belize would be the most effective way to support them, working with their own GIS teams and supported by the wider MapAction membership remotely,” adds Dovey. 

Head of Emergency Response Darren Dovey.

The maps produced so far cover a range of key data points: the baseline population in each district, disaggregated by age, sex and gender; key ecosystems of Belize, as well as landcover per area. More maps will be created for decision-makers in the next few days and weeks. 

MapAction helps decision-makers get an overview of an emergency by mapping the key data about the extent and impact on communities, land and infrastructure. This helps emergency responders act faster, more efficiently and provide support to at-risk communities.

Each map is created to help decision-makers act faster and more accurately. Some maps are key to search-and-rescue operations – knowing where to send rescue personnel, which areas have been searched and which have not. Other maps might help plot a path for emergency aid to those who need it most, using the fastest and most accessible routes. Another map might outline where people are moving; how a wildfire is spreading or where the largest human need is. 

LISTEN ALSO: Podcast: Towards disaster resilience with CDEMA in the Caribbean

This work is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Video: Mapping impact in The Gambia

In 2022, MapAction, at the request of longtime partner UN OCHA, provided GIS and data support and training to The Gambian National Disaster Management Agency. Watch the video below to find out why the mission mattered and what the impact was.

This work is made possible with funds from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

“We see real outcomes.” MapAction impact in Central Asia in partnership with CESDRR

MapAction has delivered 15 workshops to disaster managers in Central Asia in the last five years in partnership with the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR). Widespread use of GIS and humanitarian information management tools means local disaster managers are evermore prepared for present and future hazards.

Disaster managers attend a training event with CESDRR and MapAction in June 2023. Photos: A Wilkie.

When a fire broke out in a “large” warehouse last year in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest urban center, Dusyembaev Bagdat, the officer on duty at the time in the Department of Emergency Situations for the city, didn’t panic. 

“I drew a map of the scene using QGIS, indicating the distance from the nearest fire station to the place of the fire,” says Bagdat, 34, recalling how he was able to deploy the mapping skills he had acquired during MapAction co-led workshops with the regional Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR). Maps like these help decision-makers fast track solutions in crises situations; those decisions can then dramatically reduce human suffering, economic losses and environmental or social risks. 

READ ALSO : How maps can save lives when disasters strike 

Bagdat had previously attended two MapAction workshops on mapping for emergencies: one in the Kazakh capital Astana in 2022 and another in the former capital Almaty in 2023. These professional development seminars were part of more than half a decade of cooperation between MapAction and CESDRR. 

In 2016, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan established the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR), headquartered in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The organisation’s objective is to “ensure effective mechanisms to decrease the risk of emergencies, to mitigate the consequences, to organise a joint response.”  In order to further strengthen regional cooperation, CESDRR established the Central Asian regional high-level dialogue platform for DRR — the Regional Forum-Meeting of the Heads of Emergency Authorities of Central Asian countries, adding Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan to the framework. In 2018, MapAction and CESDRR signed an agreement to work together.

The agreement envisaged, among other clauses, an “exchange of technical information, including samples and standards,” as well as “technical assistance,” and support in “professional development” for representatives from member states. 

READ ALSO: MapAction Data Science Lab: the story so far

Since then, MapAction has continued to provide support “in GIS and mapping in emergencies.” Nearly six years and more than a dozen key encounters later, the impact is multifold. 

MapAction volunteer Lukasz Gorowiec with Central Asian disaster managers at a CESDRR/MapAction training event in June 2023 in Almaty.

“Real outcomes of our work

“Today we see real outcomes of our work” says Bakhtiyar Ospanov, a senior expert with CESDRR. “We have been cooperating with MapAction since 2018 and during this period of time we have conducted 15 training courses, trained 320 officers of emergency authorities of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan,” Ospanov told MapAction. Nearly a dozen MapAction staff members and volunteers have been involved in organising seminars on humanitarian information management and mapping for/in emergencies during the 60-month+ engagement. 

The impact is mushrooming. Many of the disaster managers seconded by their organisations in the past to learn GIS tools and practices for humanitarian response have since become trainers in their own right, passing on what they learned to colleagues. This domino effect has created a cohort of GIS-savvy disaster managers in the region. 

They face no shortage of challenges. “Central Asia is an extremely disaster-prone region, suffering annually from the consequences of natural disasters. In addition to earthquakes, the region is constantly threatened by landslides, floods, mudflows, droughts, avalanches and extreme air temperatures,” noted Minister of Emergency Situations of the Kyrgyz Republic Major General Azhikeev Boobek at a regional summit in late 2023. In Kazakhstan alone, on average “3,000-4,000 emergency situations happen annually with 3,000-5,000 thousand victims” states UNICEF in a recent report on disaster resilience. Fires continue to be a major hazard in the Kazakh Steppe, a large area of natural grassland.

Fighting fires with GIS

Mapping solutions is key. “There is a group of officers who improved their skills and knowledge at MapAction’s last training in Almaty (June 2023) and who are about to become national trainers,” CESDRR’s Bakhtiyar Ospanov, who works alongside six other staff members at CESDRR’s HQ, told MapAction by email. 

PODCAST: Towards disaster resilience with CDEMA in the Caribbean

Bagdat, who helped map a solution to extinguish the fire at the warehouse in Almaty, is one of them. He now trains other members of his team of 10 who all work in the disaster management department for Kazakhstan’s largest city, and former capital, Almaty. Some of the maps created support search and rescue operations. Others can help identify a solution in a dangerous situation. 

Bakhtiyar from CESDRR shared with MapAction three sample maps, made to strengthen disaster preparedness, created by reps from member states who attended MapAction’s humanitarian mapping seminars in recent years.

A map produced during a workshop in Almaty in 2023.

One envisages key scenarios in the event of an earthquake striking Almaty; another shows the location of the rescue helicopters of the Kazakhstan Air Rescue Service, by province/oblast. Yet another envisages a potential situation in the area around the Kapchagay Reservoir – just north of Almaty – should its dam be damaged/broken. 

Maps for such emergencies – even if only simulated – always seek to mitigate risks. 

Domino GIS effect

“What is very important is that after the training our specialists are able to share their knowledge and teach new employees,” Zaginaev Vitalii, 36, a former division head in the hazard monitoring and forecasting department at the Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, tells MapAction. “I shared the knowledge gained (ed: from MapAction workshops) with my colleagues. Now they also know how to work on this program (Ed: QGIS – free mapping software). We use this program in the case of large fires or emergencies where there are victims or casualties. Also, during various search and rescue or emergency rescue operations, we use the QGIS program for a visual concept of the location of an emergency or incident,” Vitalii, who is now applying his experience in the academic sector, told MapAction. 


Less than a decade old, CESDRR still has big plans. While the intergovernmental organisation does not do emergency response per se and essentially “is a bridge between Central Asian national disaster agencies and the international community,” as per Bakhtiyar, the team is equipped with drones and operators as well as UAVs “and can be involved in transboundary or resonant disaster rescue.” 

Looking ahead, Bakhtiyar from CESDRR says a shared digital atlas of hazards is on the horizon for CESDRR members, inviting MapAction to take a key partner role for that future initiative. Long may the partnership live.

“We look forward to continuing to build the strong relationship we have with CESDRR to further strengthen disaster preparedness in the Central Asian region through the provision of more GIS and humanitarian IM support,” says MapAction’s CEO Colin Rogers.

READ ALSO: MapAction excited to announce Colin Rogers as new Chief Executive

Central Asian risk atlas

There is work to be done still. “In Central Asia, there is no unified geographic information system that includes a digital atlas of natural and man-made transboundary hazards and reflects basic data on existing risks,” says Ospanov. 

READ ALSO: Strengthening disaster resilience and accelerating implementation of Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Central Asia 2019-2023 – Final Report

“The development of a unified geographic information system reflecting interactive maps of the Central Asian countries and applying information on existing risks in the form of blocks (layers) on them will make it possible to provide the subjects of emergency situations with reliable information about potential sources of emergency situations and the causes of their occurrence, ensuring control over the state of sources of emergency situations, early forecasting of possible emergency situations and their management,” says Ospanov. 

Bakhtiyar’s comments point to an increasing emphasis on anticipatory action. A fire extinguisher puts out fires; a fire alarm helps prevent them. Preparedness is key. 

All of MapAction’s work in supporting CESDRR has been funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA).

WATCH MORE: Animated video about what we do at MapAction


Podcast: Towards disaster resilience with CDEMA in the Caribbean

Renee Babb, GIS specialist with the Caribbean Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) – a longterm MapAction partner – and Lavern Ryan, a GIS specialist with the government of Montserrat and also a MapAction volunteer, talk with MapAction’s Alan Mills MBE on the GeoMob podcast about CDEMA and MapAction’s decade-long relationship.

Find out why they say there is a fifth season in the Caribbean: “Hurricane Season.”

READ ALSO: MapAction renews partnership with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency

A longer version of this podcast was originally broadcast by GeoMob here.

This work was kindly supported with funds from USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance.

CoP 28 : Good use of data is key to mitigating the climate emergency 

MapAction urges world leaders and stakeholders gathered at COP28 to promote data-driven solutions to improve the lives of people on the front lines of climate change. (A version of this article was first published before CoP27 in Egypt in 2022. It was updated for CoP28 in November 2023. )

In recent years we have seen a large increase in the number of natural disasters worldwide. 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: MapAction

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 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,” said Nick Moody, MapAction’s chair of trustees, before CoP27 in 2022. “At CoP27 there was 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 140 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. 

READ ALSO: MapAction urges wider adoption of GIS for disaster resilience at UN Expert Meeting

Our 70+ 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 2023 alone, MapAction has provided data products, volunteer mapping teams or experts to support emergency response, anticipatory action programmes or capacity building in a dozen countries in five continents.

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

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.

READ ALSO: Why we must address the gender gap in humanitarian data

“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,” Daniele Castellana, former lead Data Scientist at MapAction, commented before CoP27. “Through our collaborations with the Centre for Humanitarian Data and the Start Network, MapAction has been working on this flourishing component of humanitarian aid.” MapAction launched its own InnovationHub in 2022.

READ ALSO: MapAction Data Science Lab: the story so far

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; Insurance Development Forum is also a partner in this work. START Network brings together 55 international non-governmental organisations and 7,000 partners worldwide. MapAction is also working with INFORM to support updating forecast and risk models with select national disaster management agencies worldwide.

READ ALSO: 7 Country Missions Completed Successfully as Part of Phase 1 Programme for Anticipatory Action and Disaster Risk Reduction

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, LinkedIn or Instagram

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

A version of this article was first published before CoP27 in Egypt in 2022. It was updated for CoP28 in November 2023.

MapAction’s work in geospatial is funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), UNICEF, Calleva Foundation and other foundations, private individuals and companies. Learn more here.

MapAction looking for volunteers to unlock information management barriers in humanitarian sector

MapAction is looking to fill six new volunteer positions with candidates who have the right skills to support work in the following fields: geospatial, development of geospatial training content, data science, data visualisation, software development and data engineering. Help MapAction and the humanitarian sector mitigate climate change and health emergencies through innovative use of software, geospatial technology and training, visualisations and data solutions.

Every day we hear news of how climate change is having devastating consequences for communities worldwide. As the effects become more clear and prominent – floods, droughts, hurricanes and natural disasters  – it is easy to feel helpless before the mitigation task at hand. 

At MapAction we are working to strengthen early warning systems, anticipatory humanitarian action, so that communities exposed to climate change and health emergencies can be more prepared and resilient. 

Frontline communities affected by a health or climate emergency depend on humanitarian agencies getting decisions right. These decisions, in turn, depend on good use of data. 

At MapAction, we are always looking for innovators who can bring their skills and experience to create data solutions that can support saving lives in humanitarian disasters. That is why we are inviting a software developer who can unlock information management barriers with innovative data solutions, a data engineer who can unlock devops challenges and review data and code hygiene issues, as well as a data scientist who can design innovative data-delivery breakthroughs for humanitarian agencies and partners. The geospatial volunteers will help us to continue to place the benefits of mapping and geospatial analysis at the service of humanitarians. 

Data scientist and data visualiser

The data scientist performs statistical analysis of geospatial data and helps us create data visualisations and dashboards. They review literature, collaborate with partners and help design and provide internal and external training. The data visualiser, on the other hand, will maintain the highest standards for visual communication, produce and test reports and dashboards, as well as charts and infographics. Each of these roles will work closely with the others. 

IN IMAGES: MapAction conducts simulated volcanic eruption response exercise on Isle of Cumbrae

Each role, however, is designed to streamline the work MapAction does: delivering a more efficient and data-driven humanitarian operations field, to support decision-makers in getting it right, so that lives are not needlessly lost or negatively affected. For a data engineer this might mean running a prototype environment to review how MapAction integrates software projects alongside mapping/data projects. It might mean cleaning script redevelopment – code hygiene – or deploying source controlled python scripts into a project workspace. For a data scientist, it might mean working with a software engineer or a specific disaster model or a tool to support early warning or relief decisions. Data and software engineers will also review coding standards and guidelines. 

Geospatial specialists

For a geospatial volunteer, it might be one map that opens up a huge aid solution or unlocks critical early funding for a CSO or humanitarian resilience network. In 2023 alone, our geospatial volunteers have responded to major crises alongside the UN in Turkiye, Libya, Kosovo and Peru. As a geospatial training content developer, you might engage in any number of activities: from providing support to CSOs in Southeast Asia or Southern Africa, to working with regional partners like the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) or developing simulation for specific disasters, such as hurricanes. 

Many of these roles will entail opportunities to travel and work with some of the world’s leading humanitarian organisations: from the UN, WHO or WFP, to regional disaster response coordinators in four continents. 

READ ALSO: MapAction disaster mapping volunteers supporting UN on response to floods in Libya

Working closely with MapAction’s inhouse tech and geospatial departments – which include software engineers and data scientists –  as well as the UN’s Centre for Humanitarian Data in the Hague and other global partners, whoever fills these roles will get the opportunity to develop software, maps, training programmes, visualisations and data solutions that will broadly impact the humanitarian sector, as well as regional and national disaster relief agencies. These will pave the way for long-term impact and resilience. Working closely with national disaster agencies through the Start Network and INFORM, our innovation and tech team review national disaster models and preparedness worldwide, with a frontrow seat to enact sustainable change.

It is an opportunity for people with the right tech skills to see how the wider humanitarian system operates from the inside and where data and geospatial solutions play a role:  a front row seat to understand global trends and pressures driving world events and their consequences on people

Volunteers also provide vital support to UN agencies and other partners in emergency operations centres worldwide, both in-person and remotely. MapAction has been involved in more than 140 emergency responses worldwide in the last 20 years. 

Like what you’ve read and want to get involved? Please click here to see the full list of roles and to apply.

This work is made possible with funds from USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA)

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

Key facts (October 03 08:50 UTC)

  • More than 4,000 dead and 10,000 people missing in floods in eastern Libya caused by Storm Daniel, according to UN OCHA. Estimates of the number of deaths vary, according to different sources: they range from about 4,000 to double or triple that amount, according to the International Medical Corps
  • Two dams collapsed on Sunday September 10th due to torrential rains and flooded the city of Derna, 300 kilometres east of Benghazi
  • 250,000 people affected
  • 100,000 people food insecure
  • MapAction humanitarian mappers were working alongside UN teams in Cairo and Tunis to support the response
  • MapAction’s Libya flood-related maps repository outlined which roads were passable, accumulated rainfall, and affected areas in the governorate of Derna, among other key data points
  • $19 billion is the estimated infrastructure damage caused by the floods in Derna
  • Read about our ongoing Humanitarian Response Appeal here
  • UNICEF: 17,000 children displaced by the floods
  • SEE ALSO: Morocco earthquake response maps here
  • Read the latest MapAction newsletter or subscribe
  • *This blog will no longer be regularly updated.
An image of the devastation caused by floods in Derna. Photo: UN OCHA.

October 3. 08:50 UTC: OCHA delivers comprehensive assessment of Libya floods, supported by MapAction

The latest update from UN OCHA, MapAction’s UN partner on the Libya flood response, outlines some key data points and highlights the devastation and damage caused by Storm Daniel.

250,000: people affected

40,000: people displaced

63%: Partially or non-functional hospitals or health facilities

125,000: people reached

100,000: people in need of food

An infographic published by UN OCHA on October 1st.

September 28. 11:35 UTC: “This was a complex mission.” MapAction team leader

“This was a complex mission that required a lot of snap decisions and flexibility, but that’s what we do. We’ve managed to work alongside our UNDAC and NGO partners to determine how people are affected, where they are, and what they need with nearly 600 key informants providing information on their areas,” said MapAction volunteer and Libya response team-leader Chris Jarvis.

September 28. 11:20 UTC: “…mighty MapAction volunteers.” We second that ode to our volunteers! Nice and humbling to receive such positive feedback from partners.

SEE MORE: MapAction Libya repository of flood-related maps

September 28. 08:00 UTC: MapAction mappers return to UK after supporting UN response to floods in Libya

Our team of humanitarian mappers has now reverted their attention to previous projects, having worked on the response to the floods in Libya alongside the UN for the last two weeks. We will be bringing you some of their final thoughts today.

September 26. 18:25 UTC: 50%+ of all health facilities in Libyan regions affected by floods damaged or non-functional

September 26. 10:30 UTC: Devastating images from Derna

Damage caused by the floods in Derna. Photos: Courtesy of UNDAC

Damage caused by the floods in Derna. Photos: Courtesy of UNDAC.

Thank you very much Tonbridge Rotary Club. If you’d also like to support our work, you can make a donation below. Or read about our Humanitarian Emergency Response appeal here.

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

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

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

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

(The below is from a UN OCHA press release)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

READ ALSO: MapAction supports Cyclone Idai response

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

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

September 21. 12:10 UTC.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 19. 09:15 UTC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MapAction responds to Morocco earthquake, deployment team on standby

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

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

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

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

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

READ ALSO: MapAction working to build disaster resilience globally

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

Podcast: “Adds value to humanitarian response”

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

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

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

MapAction’s internal and external training is supported by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

Why we must address the gender gap in humanitarian data

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

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

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

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

Needs differ, even in a disaster

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

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

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

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

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

Women most affected

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

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

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

Data challenge

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

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

Culture and politics play a role

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

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

More SADD, please!

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

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


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

Gender in Emergencies, Care Emergency Toolkit

Oxfam Minimum Standards for Gender in Emergencies, Oxfam

A Little Gender Handbook for Emergencies, Oxfam

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

This work was made possible with funding from USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of an emergency

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

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

SEE ALSO: MapAction Peru floods maps

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

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

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

“Clear way to identify most impacted areas”

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

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

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

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

“Shaping of a clear situational picture”

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

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

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

READ MORE: How maps can save lives when disasters strike

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

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

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.

Roberto 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 humanitarian mappers supporting UN response to heavy floods in Peru

Key facts (April 26, 2023):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

READ ALSO: How maps can save lives when disasters strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lean and green event

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

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

New recruits

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

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

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

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

United community

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

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

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

Always ready

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

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

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

This work is made possible with funds from USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA)

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.

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

(This work is funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A collapsed building in Kahramanmaras.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile office.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, southeast Turkiye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mapping aid solutions.

You can read more about our earthquake appeal here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experience with earthquakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MapAction’s team in training for disaster response.

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

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

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

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

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

MapAction: 11 earthquake responses

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

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

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

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

This work is funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

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.

This work is funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

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. 

This work is funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance.

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.”

MapAction’s work in geospatial is funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), UNICEF, Calleva Foundation and other foundations, private individuals and companies. Learn more here.

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 www.lavernrogersryan.com.

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