MapEx2024: MapAction completes disaster simulation with 100 personnel and partners

From June 7th to 9th, MapAction conducted its largest ever disaster simulation event with approximately 100 staff, volunteers, partners and observers taking part. The 48-hour simulation, held in the Peak DIstrict National Park, included – for the first time this year – elements on anticipatory action. Volunteers are split into teams and forced to process and visualise incoming data requests from various agencies. The resulting ‘map walls’ give decision-makers a clearer insight into affected communities and the impact of the disaster.

MapEx is designed to strengthen coordination among partners and volunteers and ensures MapAction’s teams, especially new volunteers, are fully immersed into the demands of managing and visualising information for decision-makers during a humanitarian crisis or while building an anticipatory action risk model. Watch the video to find out more.

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

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.

Meet Gemma and Charlotte on International Girls in ICT Day

Left: Head of Geospatial Services Gemma Davies. Right: Geospatial Coordinator Charlotte Moss. Image: MapAction.

International Girls in ICT Day, celebrated every April, aims to celebrate female leadership in ICT. “Women are nearly absent from software development, engineering, technology research, academia as well as at the highest levels of policy making. They also tend to leave science and technology jobs at higher rates than men,” states the commemorative day’s UN website. MapAction is nevertheless home to dozens of women staff and volunteers who are software developers, academics, data scientists or geospatial engineers to mention but a few specialisations. We spoke with two: Head of Geospatial Services Gemma Davies and Geospatial Coordinator Charlotte Moss about their passion for geospatial technology and maps.

GEMMA DAVIES, HEAD OF GEOSPATIAL SERVICES

Q: What made you want to get into working with geospatial information systems? 

Gemma: I’ve always loved logical problem solving and when I was first introduced to GIS at university I realised GIS was the perfect way to apply my logical analytical skills to the geography I was interested in.

Q: What is your official job title at MapAction?

Gemma: Head of Geospatial Services.

Q: What have you been working on recently?

Gemma: Most recently I have been working on improvements to our GIS training offer that will help equip people working in organisations like national disaster management agencies to make use of GIS in their work.

Q: What’s next on the horizon?

Gemma: In addition to training development, next on the horizon includes working with our innovation and technology team to automate consistent sourcing and processing of the datasets we most frequently use for emergency response.

Q: What do you like most about your job? 

Gemma: The job is really varied and you get to apply GIS very practically in a way that may positively impact people’s lives.

GIS is a powerful tool that aids understanding of the world around us and enhances decision-making.  Channelling this power in a way that uses the tools to benefit potentially at-risk populations is so important. 

Q: Why does GIS4Good matter?

Gemma: GIS is a powerful tool that aids understanding of the world around us and enhances decision making.  Channelling this power in a way that uses the tools to benefit potentially at-risk populations is so important. 

Three things you love about maps.

Gemma: They provide a virtual insight into places you are yet to explore; they bring information to life in new ways and they can help inform important decision-making.

READ ALSO: She survived a volcanic eruption and helped rebuild her island afterwards. Meet Lavern Ryan, a MapAction volunteer and GIS aficionado.

CHARLOTTE MOSS: GEOSPATIAL COORDINATOR

As a child I used to spend hours drawing treasure maps. Now I get to solve actual geospatial problems using GIS software rather than pencils!

READ ALSO: Putting children on the map in West and Central Africa through geo-spatial analysis

LEARN MORE: What is MapAction (video)?

Putting children on the map in West and Central Africa through geo-spatial analysis

UNICEF, CartONG and MapAction are announcing a new partnership in six countries: Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali and Nigeria. The ‘Reach the Unreached’ initiative aims to use analysis of geographic information (GIS) to find families that may be overlooked by those providing services such as birth registration and vaccination. 

Opening workshop in Senegal.

When traditional ways of identifying and registering people’s existence fail, such as government census and birth registration, children risk missing out on vital services like vaccination and receiving birth certificates. Africa is home to 91 million children under the age of 5 without a birth certificate, according to UNICEF data. In 2022 in West and Central Africa, 4.4 million children did not receive a single dose of vaccine, out of about 20 million children. Children lacking a legal identity risk not being included in planning for service provision. 

To address the problem, UNICEF is working with partners MapAction and CartONG, humanitarian GIS specialists, to help health ministries and their supporting national partners, make data-informed decisions to vaccinate children and ensure the necessary lifelong health assistance. 

READ ALSO: Ode to a geospatial humanitarian partnership and shared values

LIRE AUSSI: Partenariat Humanitaire Géospatial Et Valeurs Partagées : Un Hymne À L’action

UNICEF aims to provide the six countries with spatial data and GIS tools, namely maps and dashboards. This will help local authorities and stakeholders locate unreached children that do not access basic services. The data can then assist in decision-making for improving health planning, immunisation and birth registration.

Beyond mapping unreached children, the project will focus on different activities in each country. These will include spatial data collection and assessment, with a focus on health catchment areas, as well as the production of maps and data visualisation tools. The methodology will be documented throughout, alongside extensive capacity building, to enhance sustainability of the tools and methodologies developed.

A meeting of stakeholders in Cameroon. Photo: CartONG.

“We are thrilled to embark on this transformative journey, supporting efforts to light the way for the unseen and ensuring every child’s right to health and identity in West Africa through GIS innovation,” says Naomi Morris, Health Programme Manager for MapAction. 

“After several years of fruitful collaboration with UNICEF and MapAction, we are delighted to embark on this new project, which shows once again the transformative role GIS solutions can have in facilitating decision-making, especially in hard-to-reach areas,” adds Marie Beeckman, Project Lead from CartONG.

Once information is available, UNICEF works with local authorities to help the identified unregistered members of those communities to access birth registration certificates, life-saving vaccination and other services. 

So far the work has taken in scoping trips and landscape mapping of stakeholders in Cameroon. The next focus countries will be Côte d’Ivoire and Mali. Later in 2024, MapAction and CartONG will start similar activities in Chad, Guinea and Nigeria.

What is MapAction? Video

Cet article est également disponible en français grâce à notre partenaire CartONG.

Mettre les enfants sur la carte en Afrique de l’Ouest et du Centre grâce à l’analyse géospatiale

This work is supported by UNICEF.

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.

MapAction’s largest ever intake of new volunteers is latest commitment to building resilience

This weekend a total of sixteen new specialist data volunteers will be welcomed into MapAction’s volunteer cohort. It is the largest ever single intake by the expanding UK-based humanitarian mapping and information-troubleshooting charity.

MapAction staff and volunteers at an induction course for new volunteers this weekend. Photo: MapAction.

The new volunteers come from a panoply of sectors: healthcare, energy and higher education, to mention but a few. They will support MapAction’s work in emergency response, anticipatory action and health programmes, as well as developing data tools for training and innovation. 

“Our volunteers are not just skilled professionals; they are also compassionate and selfless people who generously commit their time, expertise, and energy to supporting disaster-affected communities around the world,” says Marina Kobzeva, director of programmes and partnerships at MapAction. “Their expertise in mapping and data analysis plays a crucial role in informing humanitarian response efforts during emergencies, enabling aid agencies to deliver assistance more effectively and efficiently. Their impact however extends far beyond the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Our volunteers are also deeply committed to building resilience and empowering communities to better prepare for future crises,” adds Marina. 

MapAction volunteers are often data specialists who want to make the crossover to humanitarian work. 

“I wanted to join MapAction because I wanted to actively be part of humanitarian solutions to disasters,” says software developer Elena Jung, who works for Octopus Energy. 

Elena is one of six women who joins in this recruitment window, together with Monika Patel, who works with Ordnance Survey. 

“Throughout my career, I’ve successfully worked with and led many teams internationally and nationally delivering operational goals and products; gaining invaluable experience in data analysis, disaster/incident response, GIS and much more,” says Monika, who now brings this experience to support MapAction’s work. 

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

Data scientist Harry Matchette-Downes works in healthcare but has also worked as “a freelance cartographer and geospatial data scientist, using skills learnt during my physics degree and seismology PhD. I’ve always enjoyed field mapping, and I want to do good, so that’s why I joined MapAction,” says Harry. Land surveyor and GIS professor at University College London (UCL) Pippa Cowles says she was inspired to join by two of her students who are currently also MapAction volunteers. 

New volunteers talk with MapAction staff on Friday March 15th, 2024. Photo: MapAction

The MapAction Induction Course, spread over a March weekend each year, is the beginning of a six-month training programme that culminates in November: it prepares new volunteers to be deployable to the sites of major disasters or as support GIS or data officers in humanitarian contexts. The training covers tech and humanitarian protocols and includes several simulation exercises. 

WATCH ALSO: What is MapAction?

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

Meet a MapAction pioneer on International Women’s Day

She survived a volcanic eruption and helped rebuild her island afterwards. Meet Lavern Ryan, a MapAction volunteer and GIS aficionado.

Lavern Ryan in Cottesmore, UK, for HEAT training. Photo: Lavern Ryan

‘Be the change that you want to see in the world’ is a quote often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi but on International Women’s Day 2024, MapAction volunteer Lavern Ryan says it captures her thoughts. “I would like to encourage women and girls worldwide to do just the same. Whatever one sets their mind to, it can be accomplished with strength, determination and prayer,” she adds. 

Lavern is the living proof of her own words; her story reads like a triumph of willpower over circumstances. In 1995, Lavern was displaced from her home island of Montserrat due to a volcanic eruption.

Displaced by volcano

“I remember it like it was yesterday although it was 28 years ago,” Lavern recalled recently in a podcast with GeoMob. Lavern went on to recollect how many people on the Caribbean island of Montserrat tried to head north amidst the “chaos and panic” to get away from the erupting Soufriere Hills volcano. The current population of Montserrat is approximately 5000 people.

HEAR MORE: Podcast: Towards disaster resilience with CDEMA in the Caribbean

Lavern first moved to Antigua, the closest island to Montserrat, but found misfortune to have travelled with her. In September 1995, the Category 4 Hurricane Luis struck Antigua, meaning Lavern had now experienced two major natural disasters within three months. Lavern was 13 at the time.  She went on to complete her secondary school education in Antigua and then a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science in Trinidad and Tobago. She later also studied at Edinburgh University and the University of Dundee in Scotland.

GIS to the rescue

When Lavern did return to Montserrat a few years later, the southern part of the island – still inaccessible today – was covered in pyroclastic flows. Her newfound skills in GIS and remote sensing were serendipitous however, “to identify where the best places were to occupy the northern part of the island.” Timely work as the volcano has continued to erupt since 1995, making half of the island uninhabitable. 

Since 2002, Lavern has been the GIS Manager for the Government of Montserrat. She works closely with the Island’s disaster management authorities and cares for a broad portfolio: from leading hydrographic surveys and conducting aerial drone mapping to training the next generation of enthusiastic humanitarian mappers on the island.

“I really admire Lavern’s attitude to her life and work,” says MapAction’s Alan Mills, who has worked with Lavern for many years. “She not only juggles all her government duties on Montserrat with her priorities  to her family and friends, she still has time to advocate across her community, kids and adults alike, of  the importance of maps and geoinformation in everyone’s lives and apply all those skills with energy to spare.”

Lavern is interviewed by BBC Scotland at a MapAction simulation exercise in May 2023. Photo: MapAction.

So what has Lavern’s work entailed most recently? “The capturing and processing of drone aerial images in Montserrat was an important aspect which helped with the successful implementation of enumeration for the 2024 Montserrat population and housing census,” Lavern told the MapAction communications team. 

VIDEO: What is MapAction?

Never stop learning 

Despite having more than 20 years GIS experience under her belt, Lavern continues to refresh and broaden her skillset. During a recent visit to the UK, Lavern attended courses, training and talks at key institutes. 

At the UK Hydrographic Office in Taunton, Lavern had the opportunity to meet with other UK Overseas Territory delegates and engaged in discussions on hydrographic action plans, governance and marine spatial planning. There was also a focus on the need to upskill her use of software to conduct hydrographic surveys as part of Montserrat’s commitment to the International Convention on Safety of Lives At Sea (SOLAS). “This helps us to fulfil our international safety obligations,” says Lavern, the technical lead for conducting hydrographic surveys on the island of Montserrat.

READ ALSO: Gender in Maps, a MapAction report (2023)

“I also visited the Joint Nature Conservation Committee  (JNCC) offices in Peterborough,” adds Lavern. “My focus there was to wrap up a project we were working on with respect to storm surge modelling.”

Lavern also managed to squeeze in a refresher security course, a prerequisite for all MapAction volunteers who deploy. Lavern began to volunteer with MapAction in 2019 and has been involved in several remote responses to natural disasters in the Caribbean since 2020. She expects to be involved in more this year, often together with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). After all, the Caribbean has its own season, she told GeoMob: “Hurricane Season,” from June to November each year. Her skillset will forever be needed.

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

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

“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. 

READ ALSO: OFFICERS OF THE MES OF REPUBLIC OF KAZAKHSTAN AND THE MES OF KYRGYZ REPUBLIC IMPROVED THEIR CAPACITY IN THE USE OF GIS TECHNOLOGIES AND MAPPING IN EMERGENCIES

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 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.

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.

September 21. 10:55 UTC. UPDATE FROM MAPACTION TEAM LEADER CHRIS JARVIS ON THE LIBYA FLOOD RESPONSE TEAM

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.

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.

MapAction signs WHO partnership agreement underlining growing support for health emergencies

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

MapAction has signed the Standby Partnership Agreement with the World Health Organisation (WHO) which will allow the UK-based emergency response and disaster preparedness charity to have greater impact in health emergencies. 

The agreement will see MapAction volunteers ready on standby to deploy to any health emergency operations at the request of the WHO. This will help bring the organisation’s unique data-driven approach to saving lives in even more health crises worldwide. 

The Standby Partnership Agreement will streamline and simplify how MapAction can deploy to WHO emergency operations at short notice. The agreement states that MapAction will “maintain a roster of standby personnel….for the rapid mobilisation and deployment of pre-screened individuals…to WHO emergency operations.” 

“We will provide some surge support that will be relevant to WHO emergency operations,” MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes says of the agreement, noting that it is an important step to being able to deploy faster and more efficiently alongside WHO teams in emergency operations. “We have a growing knowledge of health needs through our own work” adds MapAction’s CEO. 

MapAction has already lent data management, geospatial and mapping support in 13 health-related emergency deployments worldwide since 2014. Teams of volunteers from the Oxfordshire-based charity were involved in providing support in the Ebola crisis in West Africa, as well as during the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. A team of MapAction volunteers is also currently working on a project to reduce the impacts of cholera in Malawi. 

MapAction personnel have also contributed to a leading sector title on how to respond to health emergencies (In Control: A Practical Handbook for Professionals Working in Health Emergencies Internationally).  

Besides deployments to emergency health crises, MapAction has also developed, with partners, the Integrated Humanitarian Data Package (IHDP) tool, designed to aid final mile vaccine delivery planning and logistics. It contains selected data sets, information explaining the data (‘metadata’) as well as GIS and coding tools which allow users to easily develop situation-specific items such as maps and other graphics. 

The IHDP was trialled during the roll out of COVID-19 vaccines in South Sudan.

It was adapted in Burundi in late 2022 to combat the impacts of malaria. 

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 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. 

InnovationHub

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 helps combat malaria in Burundi with data

MapAction’s work has always applied its geospatial and data expertise in order to provide information on humanitarian needs. Now, due to the changing world around us, we are expanding our focus on issues such as health and in other areas. Our activities will increasingly aim to use data and geospatial information to combat major health challenges that affect vulnerable populations. 

We have previously used our expertise in health related areas during the Covid-19 crisis and are now turning our focus to other challenges, the first being malaria. Malaria is one of the leading causes of death, suffering, poverty and underdevelopment globally. Every year 500 million people become severely ill from malaria and more than a million people die, the great majority of them women and children in sub-Saharan Africa.

We know that data and geospatial information and good knowledge management can help reduce these figures. Our IHDP tool (Integrated Humanitarian Data Package) was designed to aid vaccine delivery planning and logistics. It contains selected data sets, information explaining the data (‘metadata’), and GIS and coding tools which allows users to easily develop situation-specific items such as maps and other graphics.

Having trialled the IHDP in South Sudan for Covid 19 vaccine delivery planning, we are now testing it in a second country, and with malaria. In Burundi malaria cases have almost doubled since the early 2000s, reaching 843,000 cases per million inhabitants in 2019.  

To kick-off our programme of work, two MapAction team members travelled to Burundi to meet with partners from the Programme National Intégré de Lutte contre le Paludisme (PNILP – the National Integrated Malaria Control Programme). Our aim was to support them with digital data collection and to assess the need for more support.

The PNILP team distributes long-lasting insecticide treated bednets to households across the region. In the past, they have used a paper-based survey to estimate the number of bednets needed but they want to use a digital survey to make the process more effective.

The two teams discussed how we might work together and the MapAction team demonstrated how KoBo – a software app for mobile data collection and management – could be used for future surveys.

MapAction volunteers, Daniel Soares and Chris Jarvis, provided KoBo training to 12 members of the team. The participants already had a foundational knowledge of KoBo, which meant that MapAction could work with the team at a faster pace.

The training session looked at how to design KoBo forms for the survey teams who will be using smartphones, and how to then upload the collected data for analysis and planning.

In addition, the session also covered how to make data collection more secure and effective, by restricting access to the data and ensuring privacy, and how to streamline the data collection process for faster data analysis.

PNILP were interested in digital data collection for other activities too, and the focus is now on continuing to support the PNILP team with specific technical needs when necessary.

USAID logo


We are grateful to USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance for supporting this work. 

One volunteer’s experience of her first preparedness training mission

A significant part of what MapAction does as an organisation is making sure other agencies around the world are ready to respond when crises arise and can use vital GIS tools in their work. 

One of our volunteers, Yolanda Vazquez, talks about her experience of training with the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team in Peru.


UNDAC team training, Peru

For a week in June, my MapAction colleague Darren and I supported the training of almost 30 members of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team, which is part of the international emergency response system for sudden-onset emergencies. 

The training event was held in Lima, Peru which not only meant a long flight but everything, including the training, was in Spanish. As a native speaker, this was ideal for me! Having also just undertaken MapAcion’s ‘Operational Readiness Course’, it felt like the perfect time to go on my first official ‘deployment’ as a MapAction volunteer. 

MapAction often works with UNDAC during emergencies, so it was a great opportunity to make some contacts and meet others in the humanitarian sector, often people from different backgrounds and with a wide range of experiences. It was really beneficial for me to understand the way in which UNDAC works, and for me to ascertain the levels of knowledge of the new trainees in terms of GIS and the data that needs to be collected. 

Sunday was all about introductions and ensuring the team knew about MapAction, how we work and how we support UNDAC in emergency situations. Monday saw the start of a three-day and three night simulation exercise which involved delegates being split into four teams and ‘travelling’, along with ourselves, to a ‘country’ that had just experienced an earthquake. 

Darren and I had dual roles; we participated as MapAction and supported all of the teams in the geospatial elements of the simulation, we were also part of the exercise coordination team. From the data collected during the exercise, Darren and I developed a number of GIS products and maps that helped identify humanitarian needs and tell the unfolding story of the crisis. Although they were long days, being part of the team 24/7 meant that we made some really strong bonds.

As well as it being great for my personal and professional development, and confidence building, I now feel more confident that I can handle the pressure of a deployment to a humanitarian crisis. 

Aside from volunteering, I work as a Geospatial Consultant at the Satellite Applications Catapult and I am part of a team focused on ensuring that the International Development & Humanitarian sector is maximising the opportunities that satellite-enabled geospatial data and technologies can provide.

This first ‘deployment’ has also allowed me to travel around Peru and visit some extraordinary places such as Machu Picchu. It was a very valuable experience and I now feel ready to deploy when an emergency happens. 


USAID logo

MapAction is grateful to the US Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) who funded this work.

This piece by MapAction Volunteer Yolanda Vazquez forms part of a series of blogs which highlight our disaster preparedness training programme.

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.

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 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

Mapping COVID crises with GIMAC

So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has reportedly caused 214 million illnesses and killed nearly four and a half million people worldwide (Google statistics). The impact on the poorest and most vulnerable people is immense, especially where populations are already facing several humanitarian crises. 

Maps and charts showing a breakdown of the number displaced individuals in private accomodation, camps, critical shelters or unknown in Iraq as at 30 August 2020

MapAction has been working with GIMAC (the Global Information Management, Assessment & Analysis Cell) which was set up by several UN agencies and other international bodies to coordinate, collate, manage and analyse COVID-19 related information. The organisation also established a ‘field support’ mechanism, available to 25 countries currently implementing a Humanitarian Response Plan. On the ground, this meant providing technical support to a number of countries already facing significant ongoing humanitarian problems and keen to update their plans in light of Covid-19.

MapAction’s role was initially funded by the H2H network, and saw us assimilating the rapid data collection to provide GIS mapping and spatial analysis to support good decision-making. To do this, one of our team was seconded to the programme for two days a week. 

As well as helping to gather initial data, we also used our GIS skills to provide mapping and other visualisations to countries on an open source basis. 

Our work on the programme is now coming to a close but throughout our time on the programme, we provided extensive geospatial analysis and data visualisation support. Overall we produced and provided around 60 maps and graphics on the impacts of the virus and any secondary shocks, alongside the ongoing humanitarian crises. These included baseline populations, food security levels, public security and educational accessibility.

Fawad Hussain, GIMAC Coordinator, OCHA, said, “MapAction has provided exceptional support to GIMAC and the country teams and it has been a pleasure to work with Matt and other MapAction colleagues.” 

Map showing the variety in the number of commodities being sold in market places in Ethiopia January 2019 to April 2020.

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.

Training moves online for emergency responders in Central Asia

GIF showing process of selecting a map layer

During April and May, MapAction is providing online training in mapping and data tools and techniques to emergency responders in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

This is part of an ongoing programme of work with the Central Asian Center for Emergency Situations & Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR) to improve and expand disaster preparedness, relief and recovery activities across Central Asia through mapping and information management. The learning is being used, among other things, to support search and rescue operations and document regular situational overviews of emergencies, enabling more effective responses.

CESDRR logo banner

Earlier this month, around 40 participants from the Ministry of Emergency Situations of Kazakhstan took part in a three-day online course including videos, exercises and live interactive sessions, culminating in a disaster simulation exercise providing an opportunity to test out new-found skills. This was the first time this course, which is designed to give participants an understanding of what geographical information systems (GIS) are capable of and how to use the open source QGIS platform, has been delivered online and remotely. A substantial amount of work was involved in converting the course content into an digital format and translating it into Russian.

Screen shot of live online training session

In May, MapAction is running Advanced Humanitarian Mapping training for a select group of emergency management professionals from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan who have previously completed our introductory course and are ready to deepen their skills. The week-long, online course will cover data management, data preparedness and the different types of maps to use in particular emergency scenarios and phases.

We’re grateful to USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) for funding this work, which is bringing great benefits to humanitarian response across Central Asia.

Find out more about MapAction’s training and preparedness services >>

MapAction and HeiGIT partner to further geoinformation innovation

The Heidelberg Institute for Geoinformation Technology (HeiGIT) and MapAction have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) outlining their plans to collaborate in a number of areas.

Both organisations share a common vision to support humanitarian mapping by providing innovative geoinformation services for humanitarian response, mitigating risk, anticipatory action and economic development. This includes developing up-to-date disaster maps based on OpenStreetMap (OSM).

In order to fulfil these objectives, HeiGIT and MapAction will work together on various activities involving research and development, teaching, outreach and fundraising.

Examples of current and emerging services we plan to jointly develop include OSM analytics such as Humanitarian OSM Stats, which provides detailed statistics about humanitarian mapping activities in OSM, as well as OSM data-quality assessment and improvement. Here, the ohsome quality analyst is of particular interest, which provides end users such as humanitarian organisations with information on the quality of OSM data for a specific region and use-case.

Further tools may include apps for crowdsourcing, data collection, navigation, routing and logistics services and machine-learning-based methods for data processing and enrichment.

We will also share knowledge, with MapAction contributing experiences aligned to HeiGIT’s teaching curriculum, and HeiGIT, in return providing teaching materials and research results to MapAction.

MapAction partners to support COVID-19 vaccine delivery

Administering billions of shots of COVID-19 vaccine around the world is a logistical challenge of unprecedented proportions. It is even more complex in countries lacking basic healthcare infrastructure, cold storage or comprehensive transport networks, or where accurate population information is not available.

Understanding how geospatial analysis can help, MapAction is partnering with other geographic information specialists to help coordinate the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in 15 low-income countries with acute humanitarian needs. 

The Geographic Information Management Initiative for COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery (GIM Initiative), which launches today, aims to help local partners tackle critical issues such as the selection of distribution sites, the planning of healthcare workers’ journeys to remote locations when no up-to-date maps exist, how to record doses and follow up with vaccinated people, and challenges around accessing the most vulnerable communities, including settlements that aren’t yet mapped. 

MapAction is joined in the GIM Initiative by Alcis, CartONG, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and iMMAP.

Moonshot part 2: the slow data scramble

By Juan Duarte, MapAction Technical Director

When MapAction triggers an emergency response, the first step is for a team of staff and volunteers to begin what is known as a “data scramble”. This is the process of gathering, organising, checking, and preparing the data required to make the first core maps that emergency response teams will need, which will also be used as the basis for subsequent situational mapping.

Traditionally, the aim was to complete this data collection as quickly as possible, to get as much data as possible that was relevant to the emergency. However, due to the time-sensitive nature of this work, the team is often unable to dissect in detail the different data source options, processes, and decisions involved as they ready the data for ingestion into maps.

What if they weren’t constrained by time during the data scramble? What if they could deconstruct the procedure and examine the data source selection, scrutinise the processing applied to every data type, and explore the ways that these steps could be automated? To answer these questions, the volunteers at MapAction, with support from the German Federal Foreign Office, have been tackling a stepping-stone project leading towards automation, dubbed the “slow data scramble”. We called it this because it is a methodical and meticulous deconstruction of a rapid data scramble as carried out in a sudden-onset emergency.

Data gaps

As part of our Moonshot, MapAction is looking to automate the creation of nine core maps that are needed in every response, freeing up vital time for volunteers during an emergency, and, perhaps more importantly, identifying data issues and gaps well before the onset of an emergency. Towards this end, we have just released version 1.1 of our software MapChef, which takes processed data and uses it to automatically create a map. However, even with MapChef up and running, there is still a large gap in our pipeline: how do you get the data in the first place? How do you make sure it’s in the right state to go into the map? And which data do you actually need?

The volunteer team created and led a project intended to answer precisely the above questions, with the goal of scoping out the pipeline. This would include writing the code for completing the above operations, although not yet packaging things together in a smooth way – that is saved for a future pipeline project.

Selecting the right components

The first step was to determine what data is required to produce the core maps. The volunteers identified a list of 23 ingredients that make up these maps, which we call “data requirements”. These range from administrative boundaries to roads, and from airports to hillshading (a technique for creating relief maps). To complicate matters, each data artefact had multiple possible sources. For example, administrative boundaries could come from the Common Operational Datasets (CODs, distributed by the Humanitarian Data Exchange), the Database of Global Administrative Areas (GADM), or geoBoundaries

“The scale and extent of data available for just a single country administrative area alone is staggering.”

James Wharfe, MapAction volunteer

Next, the team needed to address how to obtain the data and ready it for further processing. Normally, when volunteers make maps by hand, they go to the website associated with each artefact, manually download it, and tweak it by hand until it is ready to be used in a map. However, with the pipeline this all needs to be automated. 

To approach this considerable undertaking, the team divided up the work into small, digestible tasks, meeting fortnightly to discuss progress, answer each other’s questions, and assign new tasks. This work continued diligently for seven months, at the end of which they had a functional and documented set of code snippets capable of automatically downloading and transforming the data required for all artefacts. 

Overcoming challenges

There were numerous challenges along the way that the team needed to overcome. Understanding the differences between the various data sources proved a significant hurdle. “The scale and extent of data available for just a single country administrative area alone is staggering,” noted volunteer James Wharfe. (Indeed, this data landscape is so complex that it merits its own post – stay tuned for a blog about administrative boundaries as part of our upcoming “Challenges of…” series.)

One particular data source that seemed to crop up everywhere was OpenStreetMap (OSM). Almost all of the data requirements in the slow data scramble are available from OSM, making it a key data source. However, given the sheer detail and size of the OSM database – 1,37 terabytes as of 1 Feb, 2021(source) – there are several difficulties involved when working with the data.

For the download step, the team decided to invoke the Overpass API, and create a Python method to abstract the complex query language down to some simple YAML files with OSM tag lists. Next, the downloaded data needed to be converted from the OSM-specific PBF format to a shapefile, which is the type of data expected by MapChef. Several solutions for this exist: to name a few, Imposm, PyDriosm, Osmosis, OSM Export Tool, and Esy OSM PBF. For this project, we decided to use GDAL, however, we certainly plan on exploring the other options, and hope to eventually host our own planet file. 

Code control

Even though the goal of the slow data scramble was not to produce production-quality code, the team still used Git to host their version-controlled code. According to Steve Penson, the volunteer leading the project, “The collaborative and explorative nature of the project meant Git was incredibly useful. With each volunteer tackling significantly different challenges, establishing a strong code control setup made our weekly reviews far easier.”

The team also used the opportunity to extend their Python skills, with a particular focus on GeoPandas, which enables some of the more intricate data transformations that are normally performed by mainstream desktop GIS tools. 

Additionally, the group used this work to explore the concept of DAGs, directed acyclical graphs.  This term refers to the building blocks of any pipeline: a recipe, or series of steps, that you apply to your data. There are scores of packages available to assist with pipeline development, but to start, the team decided to use a simple workflow management system called Snakemake. Snakemake works by using Makefiles to connect the expected input and output files across multiple pipeline stages. Although, in the end, the team decided it was not the best solution for scaling up to the real pipeline (which is now being developed with Airflow), they agreed that using Snakemake was a great stepping stone to becoming familiar with this key concept. 

Working together

Finally, before COVID-19 hit, MapAction’s dedicated volunteers were accustomed to meeting in person once a month – a commitment that led to many enjoyable shared moments and close friendships. This positive and much-loved aspect of being a volunteer at MapAction has unfortunately been hindered by the pandemic. Although still conducted fully remotely, the slow data scramble offered the chance to regularly meet, share expertise, motivate and encourage each other, and work together. Volunteer Dominic Greenslade said it well:  “MapAction volunteers are amazing people, and the ability to spend so much time getting to further these friendships was a great bonus”.

Mapping people who are moving

December 18 marks The United Nations (UN) International Migrants Day, recognising the efforts, contributions, and rights of migrants worldwide.  In light of this, we decided to share some of the work we did this year during the Syria crisis to highlight some of the challenges of meeting the needs of migrant populations, and also explore the role that maps can play when people are displaced from their homes.

MapAction was asked by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) to send a team to Turkey. Their mission: to help humanitarian teams there and in Northwest Syria supporting almost one million people – 60% of them children – that arrived in the region during January-March 2020, following an upsurge of fighting in Aleppo. 

A population displacement of this scale and speed results in great vulnerability for those involved, as well as many unknowns for humanitarians about people’s access to essential things like food, water, sanitation and shelter. And that’s before you factor in the added complication of COVID.

MapAction was asked to support two groups of humanitarian organisations collaborating to manage around 1,000 refugee camps – the Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster, and the Shelter /Non-Food Item (SNFI) Cluster

Camps vary enormously, from just a few tents to the size of a small city, and from temporary to long-term settlements. Some are isolated, while others are grouped together. Getting clean, up-to-date data about them is essential for the Clusters to coordinate life-saving aid. 

MapAction’s aim was to grant the Cluster coordinators a ‘single source of truth’ about the locations and sizes of the camps, to enable them to understand their population density and meet the needs of the people arriving and living in them. The imminent threat of COVID-19 made this even more urgent and important – not to mention more difficult. 

‘Data cleaning’ is a vital part of the process. Camp data is often captured by collectors with varying levels of training, network connectivity and other obstacles. Sometimes geographical coordinates are estimated from a central location instead of using GPS, or transcribed manually, introducing human errors. The same data might be captured several times by different organisations, with different results. All of this can make it difficult to pinpoint the exact locations of camps and could cause them to be missed or double counted, resulting in delays or complete omissions in aid delivery. 

Camps vary enormously, from just a few tents to the size of a small city, and from temporary to long-term settlements. Some are isolated, while others are grouped together. Getting clean, up-to-date data about them is essential for the Clusters to coordinate life-saving aid. 

The MapAction team compared a core list of 700 sites against a further list of 600 camps, and used GIS analysis to deduplicate against location, site name and then visually against the latest satellite imagery, to confirm locations. Over three iterations, they were able to support the CCCM Cluster to improve the core list from 700 to around 1,000 sites. 

To aid this process in Syria, our team created two data tools. One helped to identify anomalies in the camp location coordinates. The other automatically performed location analysis, determining in which Administrative District each camp was situated. As a result of creating these tools,  they were able to save 60-70% of the time it took to manually clean and assess camp location data – around half to one day of a Cluster team member’s time, once or twice a week – freeing them up for higher value tasks. They also enabled faster identification of unrecorded camps, speeding up the delivery of aid to people in need.

Next they drew polygons of the camps, mapping their size and extent. This major task, involving creating digital maps of most of Northwest Syria using OpenStreetMap imagery, gave context to the coordinates. It hadn’t been done before and was described by the Clusters as “fantastically helpful”. 

Migration mapping resources

The above describes the outputs of one MapAction mission in support of displaced people. To support the various aid agencies we work with, we also publish resources about the types of maps that can be helpful in different humanitarian situations, and information about their use. 

These resources include: core maps; maps to help with work in humanitarian clusters, and specifically, where there is vulnerability or access problems during a response (e.g. food, shelter, water and sanitation, etc.); and maps that are produced in response to a particular hazard such as armed conflict. 

In the case of migration, population maps, including baseline population, languages and population displacement maps, are often the most relevant. These maps may be produced in response to extensive population displacements driven by natural disasters, political unrest or a complex emergency situation. They are both strategic and operational in nature and can help all responders coordinate camps and aid response planning, including effective communication with affected people. 

Map of migration within and via West and Central Africa, including towards Europe: key drivers and routes

When it comes to migration, there are some things to bear in mind when mapping. For example, where migration is because of political persecution or war, recording camp boundaries and tagging them on a widely available map could pose a serious security risk. In these instances, it is common for some camp locations not to be shared. 

Thought should also be given to the most effective way to depict on maps the movement of groups who may go through different phases of displacement. In these cases, infographic methods of sharing the data may be more suitable than maps, showing summary information and key issues without publishing sensitive locational data.

Cluster maps are used in conjunction with core maps and can specifically show where there is a particular or probable vulnerability or access problem during a response, e.g food, shelter, hygiene facilities. Within this, the camp coordination or camp management cluster helps inform planning and operation of camps. They may show camp population figures, infrastructure, hazards or resources. Planning of camp locations is driven by many spatial factors including safety and access to resources.

According to the UN Office for the Commissioner on Human Rights, an estimated 258 million people, approximately 3% of the world’s population, currently live outside their country of origin, with an increasing number being forced to migrate due to a complex mix of issues including poverty, water, food and housing. We will continue to seek and develop ever more effective mapping and geospatial data tools to support our partners who are working tirelessly to help people caught up in any situations that cause them to leave their homes. 

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.

Hurricanes Eta & Iota – how maps are helping

by Jon Hanson, Head of Grants Income at MapAtion

This StoryMap explains how some of the over 100 maps MapAction created following Hurricanes Eta and Iota in Central America in November 2020 are being used to help get aid to people that need it. Click here to view it in full screen.

Emergency support for hurricane-hit Guatemala

A three-person MapAction team is today travelling to Guatemala following extreme flooding and catastrophic landslides in 12 of 22 of the country’s administrative departments caused by Hurricanes Eta and Iota. Ten departments have declared a state of emergency and the Guatemalan government has requested foreign assistance. Around one million Guatemalans are estimated to be directly affected and at least 53 people are known to have died.

The devastating storms have come on the back of social and economic hardship caused and exacerbated by COVID, unemployment and population displacement. The flooding has caused widespread destruction of crops and livestock and around 5,000 wells have been contaminated. There is a high risk of disease outbreak and many people are in urgent need of shelter.

Map of Guatemala showing populations potentially exposed to high and very high impact based on multi-hazard forecasting

The MapAction team, which is deploying at the request of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), will be helping to gather and map information about the evolving situation on the ground, as well as the aid being provided by different agencies, so that gaps can be identified and addressed.

This mission brings the total number of MapAction personnel working with OCHA teams on the impacts of Eta and Iota in the Central American region to nine, with additional support from across our wider team. In addition to the Guatemalan team, a five-person MapAction team has been providing full remote emergency support to OCHA’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (ROLAC) since 6 November and another team member has been seconded to ROLAC full time since September to assist with hurricane preparedness and other humanitarian issues across the region.

We’re grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for supporting our response, as well as to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UK FCDO and Rotary clubs around the UK for their continued support of MapAction’s response capacity. 

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:

Speakers

  • 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.

What does ‘Data’ mean to MapAction?

What is MapAction’s ‘humanitarian data landscape?’ At MapAction, we’re working to put data at the centre of how we provide products and services to the humanitarian sector. MapAction’s data scientist, Monica Turner, recently posted  about the work she does in this new role. However, data is a big (and sometimes loaded) term. So what does ‘data’ mean to MapAction? We asked Hannah Ker, MapAction’s Data Scientist whilst Monica is on maternity leave, to explain. 

During a humanitarian crisis, it is vitally important for responders to have information such as which areas are most affected, where vulnerable populations exist and where relevant infrastructure & services (such as healthcare facilities) are located. MapAction provides information products (such as maps) to our partners to help them address these information needs. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of data that we work with at MapAction is geospatial. We aim to use geospatial techniques, such as cartography, to make complex data rapidlly accessible to those responding to humanitarian crises.

The ‘Layers of data’ page (see diagram below) from our Example Product Catalogue provides a useful framework for thinking about how many different datasets are processed and combined into a meaningful final product.

Firstly, we can think of the data that is input to our basemap or initial reference map of a given area. This data often reflects features such as administrative boundaries, land elevation, settlements, and transportation infrastructure. Secondly, we have baseline data that provides demographic information about the area of interest, such as population numbers and numbers of schools. 

Our last data layer includes situational information that is relevant to the humanitarian context at hand. The kinds of data relevant for this layer can vary significantly depending on the circumstances. This data is also likely to be the most dynamic and temporally sensitive. For example, it may be used to show change over time as a crisis evolves.

All of this data can come from a variety of sources. The Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX), developed and maintained by the UN OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data, is a repository that holds over 17,000 datasets from more than 1,300 different sources. These datasets come from what we might think of as ‘authoritative’ sources of information, such as the World Bank or the World Food Programme.

In particular, MapAction frequently uses the Common Operational Datasets of Administrative Boundaries (COD-AB) that are published and maintained by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). It can be challenging to access complete and up-to-date administrative boundary data, so the CODs attempt to provide standardised, high quality data that can be used to support humanitarian operations.

OpenStreetMap (OSM) also provides a valuable source of geospatial data. This ‘Wikipedia of maps’ is an entirely crowdsourced map of the world. In theory, anyone, anywhere in the world (with an internet connection) can contribute to OSM. At MapAction, we use OSM as a source of data for features such as settlements and transportation infrastructure. MapAction is a partner of the Missing Maps project, hosted by OSM which seeks to crowd source the gaps in maps in available maps.

So why can’t we just use maps that already exist, like Google Maps?, one might ask. Why all these complex data layers? Why spend so much time finding data when it’s already all there?

Platforms such as Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps are commonly used as day-to-day navigation tools for people in many parts of the world. However, such existing tools do not provide the flexibility that is often required when managing and presenting geospatial data in humanitarian scenarios. As these tools are privately-developed, individuals and organisations do not always have the ability to manipulate or style the underlying data to suit their needs. These platforms were not created specifically for humanitarian use-cases, and so may not always include the information that meets the operational requirements of humanitarian contexts, such as locations of damaged buildings or the extent of a flood.

OSM’s Humanitarian map style, for example, shows some of the unique data styling that may be required in humanitarian contexts. Moreover, there are many parts of the world with human settlements that are not present (or poorly represented) on existing maps, as is demonstrated by efforts from organisations such as the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and the Missing Maps initiative. These challenges mean that there is no existing ‘one size fits all’ mapping platform that is capable of providing and presenting all of the information that is needed in humanitarian contexts. 

Finding high quality geospatial data is an ongoing challenge for us at MapAction. Geospatial data quality is a multifaceted concept, and includes dimensions such as up-to-dateness, positional accuracy, logical consistency, and completeness. The image below, for example, shows a geometry problem that we often face with administrative boundary data. Notice the gap in the border between Chad and the Central African Republic. Lack of standardisation in this data between different countries and organisations, or out of date data can result in such misalignment. Due to the political sensitivity that is associated with boundary data, it is important to ensure that the data that we use is as accurate as possible. 

Our ongoing work around the Moonshot project seeks to develop tools that can help us to automatically detect and address quality issues such as these. Keep an eye out for future blog posts where we will address some of these technical challenges in greater detail. 

At the end of the day, we’re working to make complex situations better understood. Humanitarian crises are incredibly complex, and accordingly, can be associated with complex datasets and information. By selecting high quality datasets and visualising them in clear and accessible ways, we intend for our humanitarian partners to be able to make informed decisions and deliver effective aid to those in need. 

MapAction’s Data Scientist is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO), but the views and opinions above do not necessarily represent those of the GFFO.

Ten tips for making simple, informative maps in a pandemic

MapAction has been collaborating for a number of years with French NGO and fellow humanitarian information management specialists CartONG.

Four people participating in an online meeting, two from MapAction, two from CartONG

In addition to our operational activities, we thought it would be worthwhile to pool our collective knowledge to create an informative article. The ten-minute read aims to give some helpful tips for people creating maps intended to assist humanitarian responses to the Corona virus and other pandemics.

Between us, we have a lot of experience of using geospatial analysis and visualisations to inform decision-making in this and previous epidemics, such as Ebola, as well as the current pandemic. We wanted to share this knowledge more widely and felt that, by working together, we could create something really useful and reach more people. Although it was written with pandemics in mind, many of the points apply to all kinds of map making.

You can read the article on the CartONG blog below.

https://blog.cartong.org/2020/09/28/simple-informative-visually-coherent-maps-strong-allies-in-pandemic-10-tips-to-deliver/
AFD, H2H Network and UK aid logos

This project was co-funded by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the H2H Network’s H2H Fund, the latter supported by UK aid from the UK government.

How data science can help release emergency funds before a crisis

head shot of Monica Turner smiling to camera

Although data science is still a relatively new field, its potential for the humanitarian sector is vast and ever-changing. We caught up with one of MapAction’s Data Scientists Monica Turner to discover how data science is evolving, the impact of COVID-19 on her work and how predictive modelling could see disaster funding being released before a disaster has occurred. 

Interview by Karolina Throssell, MapAction Communications Volunteer

How did you get into data science?

I have a background in Astrophysics but wanted to transition into data science, so I started volunteering with 510 global which is part of the Netherlands Red Cross. This was my first experience in the humanitarian sector, and I was immediately hooked. After working briefly as a data scientist at a technology company, I began working at MapAction in March 2020. As part of my work, I am seconded to the Centre for Humanitarian Data in the Hague, which is managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

What is the role of data science at MapAction?

Even though one of MapAction’s primary products is maps, these are created by combining different data sets. So, while the explicit presence of a data scientist at the organisation is new, MapAction has fundamentally always been doing data science on some level. With this new role, the hope is to both formalise the current data science practices, and expand our analytical capability, ultimately shifting our role from data consumer to having an active role in the development and improvement of humanitarian data sets. 

As a data scientist, you often have to wear many hats – from data cleaning to model development to visualisation. With the Moonshot project, we are looking to automate the creation of seven to nine key maps for 20 countries. One of my first tasks is to design and build a pipeline that downloads, transforms, and checks the quality of all the different data sets that make up these key maps. The details of this pipeline will be the subject of a future blog post. 

How has COVID-19 impacted on your work?

One of MapAction’s strengths is the field work that we are able to do during an emergency as well as the remote support we provide. However, as COVID-19 has limited the ability to travel, the paradigm has shifted and we need to rethink how we respond to emergencies overall. In particular, we are working to expand the types of products that we offer to our partners, as the demand increases for more remote-oriented products such as web-based dashboards. 

At the Centre for Humanitarian data, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, we’ve been developing a model relating to the spread of COVID, to help low- and middle-income countries plan their responses.

A female medic wearing a facemask takes the temperature of a smiling man before he enters a clinic
Photo: Trócaire 

One of the main challenges of modelling COVID-19 is the novelty of the disease. Since there is no historical data, model validation becomes much more challenging. Additionally, the number of cases and deaths is a crucial input to the model. With higher income countries, more testing is done so the data we need is there, however the availability and quality of this data in low- and middle-income countries poses a further hurdle. Nevertheless, even with these caveats it is still very valuable to provide low- and middle-income countries with a tailored scenario-building tool for developing their COVID response.

Where is data science heading?

Predictive analytics will play a much larger role in the future of data science. The UN is currently working on a huge project to provide funding for predictive models that will enable it to release funding from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), to help communities prepare and protect themselves from disasters before they occur. After a successful pilot project in Bangladesh, we plan to extend our model validation to other types of disasters such as cholera and food insecurity.

At MapAction, the Moonshot will lead a shift towards preparedness and enable us to develop methods to assess the completeness and quality of the data going into our maps. Our hope is that with this emphasis on data analysis, we will be able to provide meaningful contributions to a wide array of humanitarian data sets. Additionally, we are hoping to build an analytics team, and will be recruiting data science volunteers in early 2021, so check our website and sign up to our newsletter to find out how you can apply. And if you can contribute in other ways to our data science work, please contact us!

MapAction’s Data Scientist is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

MapAction’s Moonshot – origins and ambitions

By Juan Duarte, Technical Director, and Monica Turner, Data Scientist, MapAction

Close up of left hand side of the moon
Photo: Adam Scott

History will always underscore how landing on the moon represented a significant milestone in the space race, yet what is often less spoken about is the number of technologies that might not have ever made it without space travel.

These include the all-important ability to take pictures on our phone, thanks to the technology originally created by a team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the technique used to develop diamond-hard coatings for aerospace systems that can now be found on scratch-resistant spectacles. Inventions that originally started life with a bigger purpose but have filtered down into solving some of the challenges in our everyday lives.

This brings us onto MapAction’s own Moonshot initiative – an ambitious programme of work encompassing step changes in the way we use different technologies in the course of our work. This includes things like how we triage, assign and manage the requests for support we receive, and how we can automate certain repeat activities. 

One of the first projects we are working on within the Moonshot programme will enable us to produce seven to nine key maps for 20 of the world’s most vulnerable countries automatically, using technology we’re developing that will provide benefits for many years to come. This is being funded through our partnership with the German Federal Foreign Office.

In the humanitarian sector, a perennial challenge is access to high-quality data. This need is even more acute 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, regardless of the nature of the emergency. 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.

As MapAction has made maps in hundreds of emergencies, it has become apparent that, in creating these foundational core maps, there are many repeatable, generalised tasks that could be handled much more quickly by a machine, achieving in seconds what used to take hours. This would give humanitarian decision-makers the orientation information they need immediately, and free up our specialist volunteers for actively assessing and engaging with the situation at hand and performing the mapping tasks that only humans can do. 

Moreover, by shifting the focus from reactive to proactive data sourcing and map production, we can ensure we provide the best maps possible – not just the best maps, given the time and data available and the prevailing circumstances in the midst of a humanitarian emergency. 

Many countries, particularly low and middle-income countries, are likely to have data gaps, and they are often also the countries that may have the least resilience to emergencies such as droughts or earthquakes. Identifying and addressing these data gaps in advance is a big part of the Moonshot project, and something that will have benefits for the humanitarian sector as a whole. 

Like the proverbial needle in the haystack, important data can exist within a subset of a much larger dataset and accessing it can be tricky. Finding a gap is even more difficult, as you’re looking for an unknown entity that isn’t there. The technology we’re developing for the Moonshot will help us to identify the hard-to-see data gaps and quality issues that currently exist. By discovering these, we can pinpoint what information will be needed to ensure a complete map and then work with partners around the world to proactively put in place missing data or improve what currently exists. 

The initial goal of the Moonshot is to publish 180 core maps (nine for each of the 20 vulnerable countries identified at the beginning of the project). The same processes will then be applied to other countries and, eventually, to other types of automated maps beyond these core ones. This means we will ultimately be in a position to expand our understanding and quality assessment processes for more data types. New opportunities and routes of travel are likely to emerge as the project develops.

The ambition is big, but the possibilities that will result from achieving this goal will fundamentally change the way we approach map creation in the humanitarian sector in the future.

In a series of blogs over the next few months, we will share the story of this work as it unfolds, as well as diving down deeper into specific elements of it.

Helping WHO with mapping in Libya and Chad

MapAction volunteers have been supporting the World Health Organization (WHO) in Libya and Chad to process and map data about health and sanitation services, in order to support the response to COVID-19.

The volunteers have been working remotely, alongside each country’s health cluster (networks of WHO partners that work together to relieve suffering and save lives in humanitarian emergencies). They have been helping to identify and map what healthcare, water and sanitation services and aid are being provided, by whom, when and where. This is known as 4W mapping and is important to help identify gaps and avoid duplication.

We are now looking at providing similar assistance to WHO in other parts of North and Central Africa.

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.

COVID-19 government measures dashboard

We’ve helped ACAPS to put together a dashboard showing government measures being taken around the world. Data can be filtered by region, country, type of measure and timeframe.

Screenshot of government measures dashboard

We will be updating this twice a week. In the meantime ACAPS, MapAction and other organisations are looking at further topics to develop analysis for. 

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.

Colour in mapping

By Jo Pratt, MapAction’s Communications Lead

March 9-10 is Holi, an ancient Hindu festival celebrating the arrival of spring with a riot of colour. To mark the occasion I asked the MapAction members for their interesting tips, facts, examples and experiences – anything they felt moved to share – about the use and importance of colour in mapping.

A few people sent me examples of maps they’ve created in which colour was particularly important in communicating and differentiating between different layers of information. Colour can be used to increase the amounts and types of information a map contains without reducing its readability. Divergent colours are often used to differentiate between types of data shown, while sequential colour scales can show degrees of prevalence of a particular feature.

MapAction’s Geospatial Services Coordinator, Matt Sims, shared with me a map of South Sudan he produced in 2014 for our partner ACAPS. He used divergent colours to differentiate between layers of information including data about food security, health and internally displaced people (IDP) movements. At the same time, a sequential colour scale gives an immediate visual indicator of the severity of the food insecurity in each county.

In this colourful 2017 language map of Borno, Eastern Nigeria (below), MapAction volunteer Mark Gillick used divergent colours to show at a glance which groups of IDPs were in locations with a local language other than their own. The map also shows the size and location of each community.

“This is the most colourful MapAction map I’ve made.”
MapAction volunteer, Mark Gillick

Mark also flagged up the use of divergent colour to enhance communication in the London Underground map and the map below from 1895 of different nationalities in Chicago, USA.

1895 map of nationalities in Chicago

MapAction’s Head of Training and Learning Emma Mumford pointed me to a lovely looking and rather fascinating thematic map of age demographics in Switzerland created by mapping blogger Timo Grossenbacher. The sequential colour scale shows how different age groups are clustered in certain areas. It also demonstrates why yellow is generally taken to be a highlight colour, as the yellow and orange areas stand out against the purples.

Thematic map of age demographics in Switzerland

Colour considerations and cautions

I had an interesting chat with MapAction volunteer duo Becky and Andy Kervell. As well as flagging up ColorBrewer as a useful mapping resource, they talked me through some of the issues to bear in mind when thinking about colour choices.

  • Colour blindness – this is quite a common problem. Most people with colour-vision deficiency have difficulty distinguishing between red and green. ‘Red-green’ deficiency affects one in 12 men and one in 200 women globally and can make it hard for them to tell the difference between reds, oranges, yellows, browns and greens. They may also have difficulty distinguishing between shades of purple and may not be able to tell red from black. ‘Blue-yellow’ deficiency – affecting vision of blues, greens and yellows – is another form of colour blindness that is much rarer. This Brilliant Maps blog explores what maps look like to people with colour-vision deficiency.
  • Format, use and context – colours look different on screen compared to paper, so the ways in which a map is distributed and used should affect colour choice. If a map is intended to be desktop printed, questions around the quality and availability of printers and inks arise. If a colour map is printed in black and white, will it still be fit for purpose? If a map is shown via a projector, will details be visible?
  • Cultural significances – colours have different meanings and associations in different parts of the world. For example, in some cultures, death is associated with black; in others, with white. Red can be associated with danger, good fortune or grief and death, among other things, depending on where you are. This is one good reason why team diversity, as well as awareness of and consideration for different cultures, is important in mapping – as elsewhere in life.

Another interesting fact I learned in the course of compiling this blog is that mappers use up a lot of blue ink. Because – oceans. According to MapAction’s logistics manager Andy Punter, who looks after all the kit used by our teams on deployment, we get through three or four times as many cyan ink cartridges as any other colour. So, if you ever come across a map with feathering around a land mass to denote the sea instead of a solid block of blue, thriftiness could be the reason.

This is the first in an irregular series of blogs in which we use an international event such as Holi, as an excuse (as if one were needed) to celebrate the diversity of mappers, maps and mapping.

MapAction and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team formalise partnership

MapAction's LIz Hughes and Tyler Radford of HOT signing an MoU

This week, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formalise our ongoing working relationship with our partner Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) at Humanitarian Networks Partnerships Week in Geneva.

HOT is an international team dedicated to humanitarian action and community development through open mapping. MapAction and HOT have been collaborating for some time to ensure that humanitarian teams have the maps they need to locate and assist people affected by emergencies, particularly in remote places.

MapAction's LIz Hughes and Tyler Radford of HOT shaking hands and smiling at each other
MapAction’s Liz Hughes and Tyler Radford of HOT

In 2017, MapAction became a member of Missing Maps, a joint venture founded by HOT, the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross and Médicin Sans Frontières to map the most vulnerable places in the world. In 2019, we worked with HOT during the responses to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. You can read more about our joint activities in this article by MapAction volunteer Steve Penson.

We look forward to many more years of fruitful collaboration together.

Diversity and MapAction

Video interview

Earlier this year, MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes blogged about diversity in the humanitarian and technology/GIS sectors and why it’s important. Since then, we’ve been working to evolve our practices in this area.

MapAction volunteer Bel Hewitt has been involved in shaping our diversity and inclusion policy and helping us to work towards our objectives. The policy outlines MapAction’s commitments, accountability and actions on all aspects of diversity.

Bel lives in the Philippines, so we took the opportunity to catch up with her for an informal chat about where we’re at with it and where we want to get to when she stopped by our UK office on a holiday visit today.

UN On-Site Operations Coordination Centre course in Estonia

Two MapAction members are currently in Tallinn, Estonia, participating in and helping to facilitate a course for UN On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) Assessment and Analysis Cell teams. Participants are looking in detail at ways in which data and analysis can inform fast-moving and chaotic emergency situations.

MapAction’s CEO Liz Hughes is also in Tallinn this week, taking part in a meeting of the International Humanitarian Partnership.

Thanks to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.

INSARAG earthquake simulation in Azerbaijan

Earier this month, three MapAction volunteers provided mapping and data support to an International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) earthquake simulation exercise in Azerbaijan, known as the Africa-Europe-Middle East (AEME) Regional Earthquake Response Exercise (ERE).

Thanks to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.

UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination training

At the end of October, two MapAction volunteers participated in a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) refresher training course in Neuhausen, Germany. As well as presenting to participants on humanitarian mapping, they supported the simulation exercise with mapping.

These regular training courses enable all involved to enhance and update their skills and knowledge and share insights from disaster responses.

One MapAction participant described the course as a “fantastic week”, while the other described the UNDAC trainees as a “Really dedicated team with interesting first hand experiences from Idai and Dorian.”

We’re grateful to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.

Responding to floods in Lao PDR

At the end of August and beginning of September, Tropical Storm PODUL and Tropical Depression KAJIKI caused heavy rain in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. This resulted in flooding in six provinces in the southern part of the country. 1,658 villages across 47 Districts have been affected.

A MapAction volunteer is currently working in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Emergency Operations Centre in Jakarta to support our partner the AHA CENTRE as they assist the response. He is supporting the Emergency Response Assessment Team by mapping the evolving situation on the ground, conducting geospatial analysis to compare with 2018 flash flooding in the region, and helping to identify gaps in coverage to help get aid where it’s most needed. This also involves establishing information management and GIS systems and templates for Lao that will be useful beyond the current emergency.

We’re very grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for supporting this work.

MapAction on the Mapscaping podcast

Podcast

One of MapAction’s longest-serving volunteers, Kathrin Renner, recently spoke to Daniel O’Donohue, presenter of the Mapscaping podcast series, about how MapAction provides geospatial support for humanitarian emergencies.

They chatted about how MapAction supports first responders and disaster management teams to make the best possible decisions and what it’s like to be a MapAction volunteer.

You can hear their conversation here (it’s a 22 minute listen).

More GIS training in Central Asia

Last week a MapAction team was back in Kazakhstan continuing our collaboration with Central Asia’s Center for Emergency Situations & Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR).

We were training emergency responders from Shymkent, Kyzylorda, Turkestan & Jambyl in GIS, mapping and data management.

The event appeared on local TV news: https://youtube.com/watch?v=OJ5qVpjiH64 (in Kazakh).

This week, the training continues with a new group of emergency responders in Kyrgyzstan.

We’re grateful to the US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for supporting this work.

More training for Caribbean disaster management teams

Two MapAction training courses are in progress in Trinidad & Tobago this week.

Three MapAction team members are privileged to be working with members of civil protection response teams from Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Surinam. We are collaborating to share geospatial skills and experiences to support readiness for response to communities.

In the region, hurricanes and storms are a key concern, but several countries also respond to a multitude of different concerns affecting their citizens including earthquakes and other seismic risks.

We are very grateful for the support of The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management of Trinidad & Tobago for their support. This is part of an ongoing joint programme we are carrying out with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). We have already run humanitarian mapping courses with CDEMA in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados and Jamaica. This important work is funded by US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).

Training MapAction’s latest recruits

Also in Trinidad & Tobago this week, the newest members of MapAction’s Caribbean section are being put through their paces on our Conversion Course which, through a combination of theory and practical exercises, prepares our GIS expert volunteers for deployments to humanitarian emergencies.

The week-long course covers numerous topics including sources and collection of humanitarian data, mapping in emergency conditions, priority needs and the timeline of a response.

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