How MapAction is using data to reduce human suffering in Madagascar

For more than a decade, MapAction has provided support to Madagascar’s national disaster management agency, managing and visualising key data to support decision-makers, during tropical storms and cyclones. Now the focus is on strengthening the island’s preparedness for any future disasters. This includes a nationwide review of overall information management capacity and gaps, training of stakeholders, tools to automate processes and a data-driven anticipatory action plan to reduce future suffering.

MapAction’s Head of Data science, Daniel Soares, at a workshop in 2024 in Antananarivo, Madagascar.

“Those who have good preparedness will be safe from danger.” So reads the maxim of Madagascar’s national disaster management agency (Bureau National de Gestion des Risques et des Catastrophes – BNGRC), whose job is to develop and implement contingency plans for natural disasters. 

No easy feat. Madagascar is one of the 10 poorest countries in Africa, meaning resources for this kind of work are stretched. Chronic malnutrition affects nearly 40 percent of children, according to data from the World Food Programme (WFP). More than 90 percent of the 28 million people who live in Africa’s largest island subsist on less than $3.10 p/day, according to the same source. Regular natural disasters add to the chronic food insecurity.

“The south of Madagascar is affected by a recurrent drought and the southeast is prone to recurrent cyclones and flooding,” states a report by WFP. “In these regions, up to 1.31 million people face high levels of acute food insecurity.” 

The BNGRC and partner agencies have a huge challenge to maximise resources for at risk-communities. 

MapAction has been working in Madagascar since 2012, providing maps and information management services for emergency respondents during four natural disasters: Tropical Cyclone Freddy (February 2023), Batsirai (February 2022), Enawo (March 2017) and Tropical Storm Irina (March 2012). These efforts were a combination of in-person responses with UN agencies and partners, as well as remote support. 

MapAction: Intro animation video 2023 from MapAction on Vimeo.

Fighting the climate emergency

In recent years, with natural disasters on the rise due to the climate emergency, humanitarian data use is changing. With the right understanding of risk and data-backed mitigation scenarios, disaster managers and partners in countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency, like Madagascar, can reduce future suffering. Anticipatory actions help save lives by ensuring local disaster managers have the data, tools and capacity they need to mitigate the worst effects of FUTURE disasters. A fire extinguisher puts out fires; an alarm helps prevent the worst flames. 

Data v. future disasters

For several years MapAction has been helping local disaster agencies to adopt the specialist and complex data standards that are required to use anticipatory action tools. This helps them access vital early funding based on pre-agreed ‘triggers’ signalled by data. These tools combine local knowledge of risks with things like climate data, enabling money and resources to be used to protect at-risk communities shortly before a disaster strikes.

In 2023 MapAction created a dedicated Anticipatory Action team and started contributing to the European Union designed INFORM Subnational Risk models, initially in Eswatini and most recently in Madagascar. MapAction’s Daniel Soares and Piet Gerrits co-led a consultation workshop with more than 40 stakeholders from UN agencies, government, academic institutions and civil society organisations in Madagascar in early 2024, in a process co-led by BNGRC, UNDP and UNICEF. 

The main outcome was the agreement on the so-called Madagascar INFORM Framework and the initial data collection. In total, 195 indicators – which cover hazards and exposure, vulnerability and coping capacity – were identified, with 88 flagged as very relevant.  These are all standard indicators for disaster scenarios. UNICEF also facilitated the inclusion of indicators designed to identify at-risk children. 

The data modelling work was preceded by extensive mapping of the disaster response landscape, as well as professional development events for stakeholders in Madagascar, to strengthen the country’s overall capacity to use geospatial and information management tools.

In 2022, MapAction decided to increase its focus on Madagascar, resulting in a spate of new programmes. That same year, MapAction joined Start Network, a network of 90 local and international organisations whose “mission is to create a new era of humanitarian action that will save even more lives.” 

READ ALSO: MapAction supports the Start Network to improve early action in humanitarian response | Start Network

Mapping training & food security

In 2023, MapAction conducted a training programme for staff from Start Network member organisations in Madagascar: team members from our organisation provided hazard data analysis and mapping training for tech representatives from civil society organisations within Start Network. 

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

Tool to automate maps in disasters

Since then, longtime MapAction team member Ant Scott has supported Start Network in developing processes to allow the Vulnerability Assessment Tool (video demo) to be shared and published online. The tool was developed in Madagascar, designed for GIS (Geospatial Information Systems, or mapping/spatial analysis tools) professionals at civil society organisations and local disaster managers. It’s a predictive model to understand which districts are most at risk in a cyclone, storm or hurricane. 

A screenshot from the Vulnerability Assessment Tool.

This vital information helps decision-makers to get an overview of a crisis: the places and communities most affected or exposed; the threats to health, wellbeing and security. The work MapAction has been supporting, using the Felt mapping platform, allows the results of the tool to swiftly be disseminated online and combined with other data in a way that gives easy access to everyone involved. 

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

Research: gaps & opportunities 

Other work has focused on identifying strengths and weaknesses in the country’s overall information management and geospatial sector. MapAction’s Anticipatory Action Analyst, Orla Desmond, met with dozens of stakeholders from government, NGOs and the academic sector in early 2024 in the Madagascar capital Antananarivo, part of a comprehensive ‘mapping’ of the disaster stakeholder landscape. The emphasis was on GIS strengths and weaknesses and anticipatory action. Discussions were held about GIS data sources, the quality and accessibility of data, and the types of data required by organisations carrying out anticipatory actions. Opportunities for improvements were then shared with Start Network in Madagascar as part of a 27-page comprehensive report. 

MapAction’s Orla Desmond at a meeting with stakeholders and partners in Madagascar.

Next steps

Our team also conducted training in parallel on developing baseline maps in a crisis – Who, What, Where maps (known in the industry as the ‘3Ws’) – a fundamental trio for any decision-maker in an emergency. 

Yet our work in Madagascar is far from finished. GIS consultant Ant Scott and data scientist Carola Martens are returning to the island in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on 17th June 2024 to conduct further training and hands-on workshops in GIS and data management skills. These will be for key personnel identified during the research and other local staff involved in disaster management and anticipatory action planning. The impact will be to strengthen the country’s overall response and planning capacity for disasters. 

Stay tuned for more risk models

Meanwhile, MapAction’s work building INFORM RISK Subnational models – data sets to mitigate hazards and disasters and protect at risk-communities – continues worldwide. 

“The partnership between INFORM and MapAction greatly increases our capacity to support countries to develop INFORM Subnational risk models,” says Andrew Thow, Programme Manager at the UN, an INFORM partner. “These models help countries understand their risks and inform planning and programming to better prevent and prepare for crises and disasters,” adds Thow. 

READ ALSO: Strengthening disaster preparedness country-by-country with the INFORM Risk index

THIS WORK IS FUNDED BY THE GERMAN FEDERAL FOREIGN OFFICE

The work is also supported by the Insurance Development Forum.

For partnerships

(EN) MapAction works with disaster management authorities and networks worldwide to strengthen data quality and humanitarian information management preparedness. If you would like to discuss a potential partnership, please contact our Head of Programmes and Partnerships Marina Kobzeva: mkobzeva@mapaction.org    

(FR) MapAction travaille avec les autorités et les réseaux de gestion des catastrophes dans différentes parties du monde pour renforcer la qualité des données et la préparation à la GI humanitaire. Si vous souhaitez discuter d’un partenariat potentiel, veuillez contacter notre responsable des programmes et des partenariats Marina Kobzeva: mkobzeva@mapaction.org    

(PT) A MapAction trabalha com autoridades e redes de gestão de desastres em diferentes partes do mundo para fortalecer a qualidade dos dados e a preparação para a gestão da informação humanitária. Para discutir uma possível parceria, entre em contato com nossa Chefe de Programas e Parcerias, Marina Kobzeva: mkobzeva@mapaction.org    

Strengthening disaster preparedness country-by-country with the INFORM Risk index

MapAction is supporting national and local disaster management authorities to reduce and address the multiple risks faced, provide better early warning systems and facilitate risk-informed development. We kickstarted our work in Eswatini

MapAction team members Daniel Soares and Anne-Marie Frankland, left, in blue t-shirts, together with representatives from UNDP, NDMA and other Eswatini agencies and ministries during the INFORM handover workshop in December 2023.

For nearly 20 years, in 140+ emergencies, MapAction has supported countries in mitigating disasters. Since July 2023, in partnership with the European Commission’s INFORM Risk Index, MapAction is working to support national and subnational disaster managers to update or rebuild their disaster forecasts, mitigating tools and risk atlases.

INFORM subnational risk models are an important source of information for anticipatory action, development and preparedness projects. Making sure that the models are high quality, with the best available data – and readily maintained, is essential.

In October 2023, MapAction began working with disaster authorities and international partners to build a risk and disaster model for Eswatini, a country in southern Africa with a population of just over one million. Building the risk model involves four technical processes: data collection, data processing, data calibration and data validation. All contribute to data quality control and the ‘authority’ of the model. 

MapAction’s Head of Data Science Daniel Soares meets disaster management authorities and stakeholders in Eswatini, southern Africa. Photos: MapAction.

“We are really pleased to currently work with four regional disaster management agencies across Asia and Africa, as well as working with many national disaster management authorities,” says MapAction’s CEO Colin Rogers. “Working with regional and national structures is core to our approach in strengthening global humanitarian geospatial capability,” adds Rogers. 

Fire extinguishers put out fires: fire alarms help prevent them. This risk assessment work is in partnership with various national and international partners, including: the Eswatini National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), UNDP and German technical development agency GIZ and will serve as a basis for the future SADC regional model also developed by UNDP, GIZ and SADC country members.

“Address multiple risks”
“UNDP Eswatini is committed to working… to reduce and address multiple risks we are facing, provide better early warning systems and facilitate risk-informed development to progress towards aspirations and goals set in the National Development Plan,” said UNDP’s Eswatini Deputy Resident Representative Nessie Golakai, outlining the UN agency’s goals on anticipatory action, in December 2023.

Eswatini: risk overview

An INFORM Subnational risk index shows a detailed picture of risk and its components within a single region or country. It covers not only hazards exposure (e.g. earthquakes, floods and conflicts) but also a country’s vulnerabilities, such as diseases prevalence and poverty, as well as its coping capacity. Of particular interest for Eswatini are droughts and associated food insecurity issues. In 2023, 238,000 in Eswatini faced “acute food insecurity,” according to an IPC study reported on ReliefWeb. Eswatini also has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

READ ALSO: Eswatini, Climate Change Knowledge Portal

Four key data processes

For the first phase of strengthening Eswatini’s risk model, a consultation workshop took place in August 2023 bringing together national partners, SADC representatives, GIZ and UNDP. During the workshop, the model framework was defined, covering which indicators are most relevant for Eswatini and other SADC countries. A total of 87 indicators from 49 data sources were identified, including data from public international agencies such as the WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Bank, as well as national ministries, agencies and databases. 

Then comes the data processing. Data comes in different formats such as spreadsheets, pdf reports and geospatial vectors and rasters. The processing can be as easy as finding a given value for the adult literacy per region on a report or as complicated as manipulating several geospatial rasters and administrative boundaries to compute exposed population to flooding per sub-region.

Making data comprehensible 

The data then needs to be calibrated. Values have different ranges and units, such as number of casualties, corruption index, immunisation rate or health facilities density. To be able to aggregate these values on a single index, a normalisation is needed, such as dividing all values by the maximum within a country or region. Once indicators are expressed in a common format (a value between 0 and 10) we can aggregate them to have one index per dimension (Hazards, Vulnerability and Capacity) and finally a single index per subnational zone.

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

These three steps all produce margins of error; in the final phase the data is reviewed and validated. In this phase, indicators are verified and where necessary, corrected. Partners from Eswatini made vital contributions to validate the overall results and methodologies and suggest improvements.

Handover and sustainability 

The work was presented to partners at a two-day handover workshop in Eswatini in December 2023 by MapAction’s Head of Data Science Daniel Soares, Senior Meal Advisor Samuel Asimi and Volunteer Anne-Marie Frankland. This handover workshop was intended for NDMA staff to take ownership of the model, while also validating it to identify improvements. The two-day event also incorporated professional development components pegged to the INFORM methodology with a practical focus on data collection, processing and calibration. 

On a practical note, three ways also emerged from the event as to how the model would be used going forward. 

  1. To support decision making on disaster preparedness, early action, disaster response and recovery.
  2. To determine the level of exposure and vulnerability of localities for improved policy recommendation and more effective DRR measures
  3. To coordinate data collection, storage and sharing in order to strengthen reporting and decision making based on scientific evidence. The data will be updated according to the agency’s needs, although MapAction’s recommendation is a complete update every 24 to 36 months. 
MapAction’s Head of Data Science Daniel Soares presenting with local partners in Eswatini.

MapAction’s work in Eswatini is part of a larger project supported by the German Federal Foreign Office to strengthen global anticipatory action frameworks at local level. MapAction will work with several countries on new subnational models for disaster preparedness in the course of the next 18 months. 

Work has already begun on developing a new subnational risk model for Saint Kitts and Nevis. We are also currently scoping new collaborations for early 2024 in Madagascar, Vanuatu, Fiji and Lebanon.

Sustainability

A key part of the work MapAction does is to ensure the sustainability of various interventions we carry out across the globe. We do this through identifying and unblocking barriers in a collaborative way with our partners. The aim of this is to encourage the building of sustainable systems to outlive MapAction’s support to these partners who may be state or non-state actors.

In addition to the above, within MapAction’s Anticipatory Action programme, we seek to ensure longevity and sustainability by establishing effective evaluation frameworks and sharing lessons learned with the wider community.

During the 2023 December Workshop, one session on Sustainability was hosted by Samuel Asimi, who highlighted the sustainability components for the INFORM Eswatini Risk model.

He noted that the handover workshop was the first of three components of the sustainability plan. The other two which will follow are the planned sustainability landscape mapping and the co-creation of an action plan. This initiative will be led by the NDMA and supported by MapAction.

This work was kindly supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Insurance Development Forum (IDF)

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. 

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

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

MapAction supports the Start Network to improve early action in humanitarian response

As part of a growing trend, humanitarians are now anticipating crises and acting prior to their onset, enabling faster, more dignified and more cost-effective humanitarian responses. Using data and analytical approaches we can now predict humanitarian shocks brought about by extreme weather, conflict and a range of other sources with increasing confidence. 

Geospatial data, data visualisation and information management are critical to this type of anticipatory action. As a trusted leader in these fields MapAction has been selected to partner with Start Network to assist with their programmes of anticipatory and early action. 

MapAction will use its expertise to provide hazard data analysis, real time hazard data, base maps and vulnerability analysis to the network. Together, we aim to provide locally led anticipatory action to enhance the coordination of disaster risk nationally.

The three year programme will see MapAction providing Start Network with data for eight vulnerable countries where it is implementing anticipatory finance projects. This will involve MapAction providing local information and visualisations for critical early decision making as well as implementation support. 

Liz Hughes, MapAction’s CEO, said, “We are very excited to be working on this project as we believe it can make a real and lasting difference for disaster affected populations. MapAction will provide Start Network and its members with a combination of historical and real time hazard data analysis, vulnerability analysis, maps and more. By converting all of that into usable situational information and visualisations for critical early decision making, we can enable better informed humanitarian decisions, and ultimately save lives and reduce suffering.”

This work is being made possible by a consortium of partners including members of the Insurance Development Forum and Swiss Re Foundation, who aim to improve global risk understanding in order to help create equal opportunities and sustainable growth.