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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Earlier this year we embarked on a round of volunteer recruitment to find mapping and geographical information system (GIS) experts living and working in the Caribbean. The aim was to expand our small team in the region to ensure we are always well placed to help prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies across the Caribbean, working with our close partner the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). This includes pre-positioning personnel when necessary to provide mapping and data support in the event of severe tropical storms.
We are delighted to now welcome three exceptionally high-calibre volunteers who bring a tremendous amount of additional knowledge, expertise and energy to an already very strong Caribbean team.
Deanesh lives in Trinidad and is a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Maritime and Ocean Studies (CMOS) of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. He teaches GIS and remote sensing and has recently worked on a multi-agency research project funded by NASA, using drones for studying coastal ecosystems. His work has been published in international and regional journals and he is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
My interest in MapAction began after the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. The response by MapAction volunteers to it, as well as to other Caribbean disasters since then, inspired me to join the humanitarian effort.
Deanesh also volunteers as a mentor for the Caribbean Youth Science Forum (CYSF), the longest standing non-formal STEM education programme in the region, as well as for a local non-profit organisation called Restore a Sense of I Can (RSC) which seeks to effect change through technology and education. In his free time he enjoys travelling, meeting new people, swimming and yoga.
Lavern is from the beautiful Caribbean island of Montserrat where she lives and works as a GIS Manager. She loves travelling, meeting new people and learning about new cultures. She especially loves star gazing!
Following the events of the 2017 hurricane season, I wanted to use my skills more to help mitigate against the impacts of disasters. When the call came for Caribbean GIS professionals to join MapAction, I was further inspired. I am passionate about GIS and I want to use my knowledge and skills to help people when they are most in need and to help to save lives. MapAction provides the platform for me to do just that!
Mike is currently the Hazard Mitigation and GIS Specialist within the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies (DDME), Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an Urban and Regional Planner by profession and holds a Masters degree in Built Environment with a specialisation in Geomatics. He joined the Disaster Management Team in 2016 and that same year was part of the CDEMA Regional Response Mechanism that was deployed to the Bahamas following Hurricane Matthew, which was when he first encountered MapAction.
Prior to joining DDME, Mike was a volunteer in Damage and Needs Assessment (DANA) as well as lead facilitator for them. Outside of Disaster Management, Mike is happily married with three girls. He enjoys carpentry and coaching basketball.
“Ever since Hurricane Matthew, I was eager to be a part of MapAction. I look forward to serving in this new capacity and being a part of the MapAction family.”