Deepening the impact and effectiveness of humanitarian information

MapAction has begun an important and exciting programme of work funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (USAID BHA)USAID logo

The new grant, aimed at strengthening the sector, runs from 2021-2024. It will see MapAction working with local, regional and international organisations to ensure that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and information management processes are at the heart of humanitarian operations, including preparedness, anticipatory action and emergency response activities. 

This work builds on the achievements of a previous BHA-funded programme that took place from 2017-2021, which helped improve the use of GIS and spatial analysis across the humanitarian response sector through preparedness work and training with key partners.

Specifically, the new fund will help us to address the key data and information management gaps at regional and national levels, as well as working with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and urban authorities at the local level. This will enable us to build on localisation initiatives and establish context-appropriate surge capacity.

It will also allow us to continue our work to develop best practice for managing information in humanitarian contexts and enhancing the policy environment. 

It will be implemented by MapAction’s team of experienced and highly skilled staff and volunteers who will work closely with partner organisations to build on the relationships and foundations we have already established and develop new relationships with regional and national partners.

Our experience, skills and expertise, including in data science, means that we are uniquely placed to build on and share what works well in humanitarian information management, combined with the latest thinking in key areas related to data quality and preparedness.

By applying the best geospatial technologies to humanitarian problems, partner organisations can gain critical insights, enabling them to multiply their effectiveness.

Ultimately, this fund will mean that decision makers are better informed so they can more effectively anticipate, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

MapAction signs an MoU with the Asian Disaster Risk Reduction Network

MapAction has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Asian Disaster Risk Reduction Network (ADRRN) with a view to stimulate further cooperation between the two organisations and to leverage our collective knowledge in order to better anticipate and prepare for future emergencies.

This agreement demonstrates our commitment and desire to work with in-country Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to increase their readiness, capacity and visibility within the international humanitarian sector. 

ADRRN is a network of 46 NGOs operating in 20 countries right across the Asia Pacific region. Known as the civil society voice of Asia, it collaborates with national-level networks, global networks, regional multilateral stakeholders and UN agencies.

Together, our overall aim is to solve problems collaboratively and ensure the network has the most up-to-date knowledge and expertise in order to provide on the ground support and guidance. 

MapAction has extensive experience in Information Management in emergency situations so is already working with the network to develop and maintain a knowledge-sharing platform. This will allow members to share and access critical information, tools and tips in a secure environment, whilst boosting their efficacy and aligning their activities.

We also plan to work with members to increase data gathering, improve disaster responses and investigate how members can support anticipatory action. And to help facilitate ADRRN to attain an overview of CSO members, programmes and activities.

Longer term, we want to look into how surge capacity from international agencies and governments can integrate more seamlessly with local capacity. Along with creating an environment in which a range of tools for data collection, analysis and information sharing can support decision making for CSO’s disaster risk reduction, anticipatory action and response operations.

USAID logo
This work was made possible thanks to the generous support of the U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau for Humanitarian Affairs as part of a programme to improve cooperation in the humanitarian sector.

MapAction contributes to new health emergencies handbook

In Control hardback book

Over 50 authors, including two MapAction team members, have contributed their expertise and insight about working in health emergencies to a new handbook for humanitarian professionals.

Spearheaded by the Robert Koch Institute, In Control: A Practical Handbook for Professionals Working in Health Emergencies Internationally is aimed at preparing and supporting those deploying internationally during humanitarian crises.

Addressing the multi-faceted challenges of an international deployment, the book provides technical medical information as well as insights into the challenging environments volunteers often work in and the cultural differences that influence risk communication.

The book is divided into two halves, with the first providing an overview of the international architecture and inter-disciplinary environment within which health emergency responses occur. These include the organisations, principles, frameworks and themes that every health professional deploying aboard should be aware of. The second half of the book provides practical advice to help professionals survive and thrive during their mission. Chapters include how to prepare for a deployment, such as arrangements that should be taken care of ahead of departure, and suggestions on what to pack.

Infographic: coordinate system; units; source; triangulate; absent values; restrictions; date
Checks to incoming data can easily be remembered
using the acronym CUSTARD.

Information management & visualisation

As part of their contribution (in chapter 3, starting at page 200), MapAction’s Matt Sims and Alan Mills shared how important data visualisations are in making well-informed decisions and the importance of identifying information gaps to ensure those who may need assistance are not overlooked.

Also covered in their chapter are the questions that responders should be asking themselves when handling data, such as whether it identifies the location of vulnerable individuals or groups; how the data is stored and protected; and what will be produced from the data, among other considerations.  

Hard copies of the book can be requested by emailing the Robert Koch Institut.

MapAction strengthens partnership with CartONG

MapAction and CartONG, a French NGO specialised in humanitarian information management, have been working together closely on several projects in recent months.

Laptop screen displaying the front page of the MoU with MapAction and CartONG logos visible

Most recently, we have been providing support to CartONG to help deliver a global information platform for MSF and working with them to provide a national education dashboard for Mexico, as part of our joint long-term agreement with Unicef.

Our partnership has now been formalised by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by MapAction’s Chief Executive Liz Hughes and CartONG’s Technical Director Sandra Sudhoff. The new agreement sets out how we will work together in future to help each other achieve our charitable purposes.

Liz commented, “This agreement underlines our mutual commitment to collaborate even more in future so that we can strengthen and amplify each other’s work. Our charitable objectives are quite closely aligned, but we each bring different skill sets, relationships and expertise to the table. Collaboration is essential to everything MapAction does, so it’s great to be able to cement our partnership in this way.”

Montage of two photos, Liz Hughes doing a thumbs up to camera and Sandra Sudhoff signing the MoU at her desk, smiling to camera.

MapAction helps create UK COVID strategic planning system

The Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCS EP) is leading a collaborative initiative to establish a UK-wide coordination system for civil society organisations and charities participating in the country’s domestic response to COVID-19. It aims to provide support to people in vulnerable situations who aren’t able to get help locally. The initiative, which is backed by the UK government, is a huge undertaking and draws on expertise from a broad range of people and organisations.

The concept is based on a number of ‘tactical cells’ located around the four countries of the UK and made up of experts from across the voluntary and community sector.

These cells will oversee, coordinate and represent the voluntary and community sector’s response to Covid19. Each cell aims to identify the unmet need of people in the most vulnerable situations by linking information gathered from teams delivering front-line support to strategic decision makers. This rapidly changing information is used to ensure resources go to where they are most needed, for example by identifying where demand for support outweighs the local capacity available, or where needs are of a particularly specialist nature.

A four-person MapAction team has been supporting the VCS EP to set up, test and run the information flows and coordination systems for the tactical cells. Our input was solicited because of our team’s experience and knowledge of the challenges of creating and delivering a robust information management process across multiple countries in a complex and rapidly evolving crisis situation.

The VCS EP is co-chaired by the British Red Cross and the National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA).

The new system is being rolled out this week and will be in place for the rest of the spring and summer. 

MapAction provides GIS support for MSF’s COVID response

MapAction’s partner Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides rapid-response medical teams to assist in conflict zones, natural disasters and epidemics. On any given day, its staff treats tens of thousands of patients for a variety of illnesses in its medical programmes around the world.

MSF is very concerned how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect people in countries with already fragile health systems. In many areas where its teams work, there are few medical organisations in a position to respond to an overload of patients.

In order to provide the best medical aid as fast as possible, MSF is working with its technical partner CartONG to create a single repository for all the information its operations personnel need to rapidly respond to the COVID crisis, including information about travel restrictions, flights, cargo transport, availability of supplies, etc. A MapAction team member has been seconded to this technical task force in the role of GIS coordinator. As well as bringing technical expertise in data and content strategy, he’s helping to define and prioritise the information needs of MSF teams and create content for the new platform.

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.

Sharing insights at INSARAG meetings in Chile

This week, a MapAction volunteer has been participating in discussions and strengthening relationships with our partners at the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Information Management Working Group and Team Leaders meetings in Santiago, Chile. These conversations enable us to continuously improve how we visualise data collected by INSARAG teams.

Thanks to the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting our participation, as part of our joint programme to improve the ways in which geographical information systems (GIS), mapping and spatial analysis are used in humanitarian emergencies.

Assessing communities’ needs in Afghanistan

After years of conflict, natural disasters and drought, a large proportion of communities in Afghanistan are in crisis and many people have fled their homes in search of safety and security.

Since last year, MapAction has been working with partners including REACH and ACAPS in Afghanistan to support country-wide assessments of humanitarian needs, including hard-to-reach areas.

Two MapAction volunteers have spent the past two weeks in Afghanistan working with the local REACH team to support REACH’s largest needs-assessment survey of the year across the whole of Afghanistan. They have been collaborating to analyse and present assessment findings and help plug information gaps. This will greatly help those working to assist communities that are caught up in what is one of the most complex humanitarian emergencies in the world.

We’re grateful to the UK’s Deprartment for International Development for supporting this important work.

Internal displacement crisis in Iraq

A two-person MapAction team is currently in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), working with the humanitarian information initiative REACH. We are supporting REACH to increase understanding of the region’s internal displacement crisis and the needs of those caught up in it.

Since the end of military operations, around 4 million people have returned to Iraq. Around half of these have been unable to return to their homes and are living at over 100 camps for internally displaced people. Since 2014, REACH has been carrying out assessments and providing information to support the humanitarian response.

Over a three-week period, the MapAction team is supporting REACH’s own international GIS team to optimise its data management and update overview maps of the camps. In the final week of the mission, the focus will be on analysing assessments of 13,000 camp households.

Thanks to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for supporting this activity.

GIS training for disaster preparedness in Kazakhstan

A programme of training for disaster management teams across Kazakhstan has been continuing this week. Employees of the Department for Emergency Situations of Almaty, the East Kazakhstan and Pavlodar regions have been learning about geographic information systems (GIS), data management and mapping on a course jointly provided by MapAction and the region’s Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR).

The training is part of an ongoing programme of work which sees CESDRR and MapAction collaborating to enhance the use of mapping and information management to improve and expand disaster preparedness, relief and recovery activities across Central Asia. We’re very grateful to US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) for funding this work.

Three MapAction volunteers are currently in Ust-Kamenogorsk in East Kazakhstan. Next week they will move to Atyrau in the West of the country to repeat the course with another group of local emergency management personnel. In August, two further courses will take place in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Read about our other recent activities in Central Asia.

Humanitarian mapping training in the Caribbean

Together with our partner the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA), members of MapAction’s Caribbean and European teams are providing humanitarian mapping training to local disaster management teams from the Eastern and Central regions of the Caribbean this week and next .

Pictures by CDEMA

Disaster management personnel from nine Caribbean nations, as well as CDEMA staff, are attending one of two courses, one in Antigua & Barbuda and the other in Barbados. These courses follow on from similar workshops that took place last year: a regional one at CDEMA’s headquarters in Barbados and one for the North-Western Caribbean in Jamaica. 

Participants are improving their GIS (geographical information system) skills and we are working with them to help understand their national data and information management needs and capabilities, where the gaps are and how MapAction can help to ensure they are filled. This will assist them to effectively prepare for and respond to disasters.

This is part of our ongoing joint programme of work with CDEMA and is funded by US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA).