Three members of MapAction, the humanitarian mapping agency, have had to cut short or postpone their Christmas plans as they drop everything to respond to the UN’s call for help in Kinshasa, DRC, to respond to deadly floods.
Experienced MapAction members Mark Gillick, Andrew Kesterton and Daniel Soares have deployed to DRC – initially for two weeks – to work alongside, and at the request of, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), a long-standing MapAction partner.
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo in southwest Africa, has experienced severe flooding caused by heavy rains. According to DRC authorities, at the time of writing, at least 169 people have died, nearly 39,000 households were flooded and at least 282 houses were destroyed, leaving many families homeless. Critical infrastructure has also been damaged or destroyed.
The United Nations Disaster Assessment & Coordination (UNDAC) team were asked to respond and they requested “long-standing partner” MapAction, the Oxfordshire-based humanitarian mapping charity, to support their initial emergency response coordination to the floods.
MapAction regularly sends teams to crisis-stricken areas alongside UN agencies to help ensure good data use and management in disaster response. Since 2002, MapAction has been part of approximately 130 similar emergency responses.
Our teams regularly deploy last-minute and spontaneously at the request of UN disaster relief agencies like UN OCHA and UNDAC. From the moment we receive a request for support, team members often deploy within 24 to 48 hours to the affected country to assist with management and analysis of data in response to any given emergency.
Getting good data into the hands of decision makers in the first days of any disaster relief response is vital. Access to high-quality data is fundamental in the chaotic aftermath of a humanitarian emergency, when data and maps are crucial to make rapid sense of the situation and plan the best response to save lives and minimise suffering.
In the early hours of a crisis, one of the first tasks facing our team is to produce standardised ‘core’ maps that will be used throughout the response. These provide contextual and reference information about, among other things, the local environment, population and infrastructure. Sometimes they are created under difficult on-the-ground conditions or with incomplete information. Once they are in place, they are used to create additional situation-specific maps by layering on top evolving information about the extent and impacts of the emergency and the humanitarian response.
Ready to deploy
In emergency response, every hour is critical. When floods strike, like the ones currently affecting DRC, and a UN agency requests our support, a call goes out instantly to MapAction volunteers to see who is available. Backroom support at MapAction will already have begun: tickets, visas, insurance and other logistics will be reviewed and finalised; software and hardware tested and customized for the situation. Equipment will be streamlined according to mission-aligned criteria, such as a country’s specific voltage, plug type and satellite phone coverage. Our geospatial department will begin to produce maps from the moment the news is reported. Dialogue between internal departments and with external partners will be continuous.
As the DRC-bound team works in-country alongside UN agencies, the wider MapAction team has already started collating and publishing key datasets for the affected area.
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.
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.
Perhaps the most striking change compared to the humanitarian sector 20 years ago when MapAction was founded is the shift away from global relief agencies towards local and national leadership for response, anticipatory action and preparedness. We recognised a while back that we will not always be the ones providing the maps; others will do so. That is why we are increasingly focusing on a strategy of ‘global localisation’: supporting regional and grassroots response capacity.
MapAction works with regional and local disaster relief bodies and civil society organisations worldwide to strengthen resilience and preparedness vis-a-vis any disaster. In Asia, we work with the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA Centre) – an intergovernmental organisation consisting of 10 southeast Asian nations – as well as the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR) in Central Asia.
In the Caribbean, MapAction works with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). Equivalent projects are also underway to create partnerships and opportunities for knowledge exchange among humanitarian data analytics practitioners in Africa.
We support organisations to streamline preparedness for any disaster through enhancing response with innovation and new ideas. That is why we are increasingly placing resources and energy into our InnovationHub, which identifies, prioritises and explores needs and opportunities in the humanitarian data analytics sector. Our ultimate goal is for no one to be left behind.
We see the potential of building communities of like-minded people to use geospatial and data analysis to help decision-making effectively. We wanted to globalise the wonderful data-crunching culture of MapAction, our own community of practice. Such communities can cross national boundaries working collaboratively and in solidarity to use data and tech to solve problems and answer questions
Looking to 2023
In 2023, we are already earmarked to work in Bangladesh, Burundi, Madagascar, Philippines and South Sudan on preparedness and anticipatory action, as well as on health microplanning. The calendar for next year in general is looking exciting.
In January, MapAction will lead ‘geo-surgery’ sessions as part of the State of the Map Tanzania conference. In April, our annual disaster simulation Gilded will bring together more than 50 data professionals on the Isle of Cumbrae off the west coast of Scotland. Our InnovationHub will continue to collaborate with the Predictive Analytics team at the UN Centre for Humanitarian Data to push the boundaries of innovation.
As the final days of the year loom, I can honestly say 2022 was everything we anticipated. We end the year having achieved what we set out to do, with perhaps the strongest team that we’ve ever had. We will carry this momentum into 2023, fully aware that very real challenges lie ahead of the horizon. One of the greatest challenges we will face will be to secure the resources that we need to achieve the impact that we strive for. I know that MapAction will continue to work to fill this funding gap with determination, innovation and conviction.
All that remains for me to say is to wish all of our donors, partners, volunteers, members, staff, friends and followers all the very best for the festive season. Merry Xmas!
MapAction 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.
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.
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.
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.
One of MapAction’s aims is to help disaster management agencies around the world to use vital geospatial and data analysis tools in their work. By doing so we can deepen how effective and impactful the sector can be, both when emergencies strike or in advance by enabling regional communities and organisations to reduce their risks.
The initial training was in Tashkent – the first time MapAction has trained personnel in Uzbekistan. Three of our members – Alistair Wilkie, Katharina Lorenz and Richard Phillips – provided a week-long course of tailored basic training aimed to introduce and raise awareness of humanitarian and emergency mapping, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Information Management, allowing attendees to become familiar with some basic techniques.
In mid-May MapAction members Chris Ewing, Mark Gillick and Colin Spiller delivered training in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. As we have trained many CESDRR members in basic techniques over the past few years, this was a more advanced course exploring operational readiness and testing participants under time and pressure constraints in simulated scenarios.
Finally, at the end of May, Members Alistair Wilkie, Dominic Greenslade and Mark Gillick, delivered another advanced course for the regional and national offices of the emergency agencies in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where we have delivered several courses previously.
The courses were all well received and helped to cement and enhance MapAction’s long-standing partnership with CESDRR, and to strengthen valuable GIS skills that are crucial in disaster response and humanitarian aid distribution. Again with CESDRR, we are planning to deliver training in Tajikistan next year.
One of the Nur-Sultan course participants commented, “I would like to note the work of the best specialists in the field of QGIS mapping, wonderful MapAction (members) – Mark, Colin and Chris, who trained the participants of the training for 5 days, and distinguished themselves by their literacy, cognition, accessibility, professionalism, feedback, responsiveness and decency.”
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.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parts of the world came to a standstill. Workplaces and schools were forced to shut down in a bid to contain the spread of the virus. In Mexico schools were closed in March 2020 and as with many countries, students moved from time in the classroom to online learning and homeschooling.
As COVID restrictions were lifted, the Mexican Ministry of Education needed to track the progress of schools reopening across the country. A dashboard was required to show schools across the whole of the country gradually opening post-COVID restrictions.
During crises, data visualisation has a vital role in making sense of complex environments and needs. That’s why MapAction is increasingly being asked for different types of data visualisation and geospatial information tools, such as this dashboard.
Under a long-term service agreement between UNICEF, MapAction and CartONG, UNICEF Mexico requested support for the Mexican Ministry of Education for the system. Together we created the dashboard.
It was created to display and monitor real-time information on key education indicators for all elementary schools. This relied on over 200,000 individual schools uploading their data on a daily basis, and was the first time that this information would be collected and displayed at a national level.
Originally considered as a monitoring and decision-making tool for head teachers and officials, it was amended to be designed for the public, requiring changes to the underlying infrastructure.
The finished dashboard included the quantity of children and teachers returning and trend analysis. As no safe water assessments had been carried out on a country-level since 2013, it also included the supply of safe water facilities.
MapAction carried out the development, setup and support on all the Azure Cloud infrastructure (the back-end part of the development of the dashboard). In addition, MapAction also handled all technical communications with the Ministry of Education’s database engineers, and was in charge of running a series of key tests (Quality Assurance, User Acceptance test, automated system tests, etc.), with the support of CartONG’s team. Among the tasks carried out by CartONG was the development of the front-end of the dashboard. It was imperative for making it user-friendly so that it could be accessible for a diverse range of users. The collaboration between MapAction and CartONG meant that the dashboard was technically effective, whilst also being easy to use. The dashboard has proven a useful tool for the Ministry of Education, and allowed the transition back to school to be as smooth as possible. The overall feedback from both the Ministry and Unicef Mexico has been positive.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) deliver much of the world’s humanitarian aid, build resilience against disaster and advocate for many of the world’s poorest people. Enabling them to take advantage of information and data technology, in-line with other parts of the humanitarian sector, needs to be a priority.
MapAction is working with several CSO networks, exploring how we can share our knowledge of humanitarian mapping and information management. We held a session at Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW) which was intended to share our range of experiences, highlight learning and challenges and see more CSOs being supported in this way.
The session aimed to highlight the huge amounts of information management that the civil society sector does. It was also a space to learn about the barriers that prevent CSOs from gathering, using and sharing data, not just within the CSO networks but between them and governments, regional agencies and international humanitarian systems. We wanted to share our experiences of working with CSOs and to use this platform to advocate for more support to these valuable organisations.
It also considered how the humanitarian sector can better support CSOs and accelerate their adoption of new technologies for information management, mapping and data science etc, as we all grapple with a wide range of anticipation, programming, monitoring and evaluation challenges.
As well as looking at the bottlenecks, the session looked at some of the challenges, such as: how to access good information; avoid poor use; allow for easy and efficient information exchange; and how organisations might be able to do all this with already stretched funding and capacity constraints.
See the zoom recording of the session below
The Humanitarian Networking and Partnerships Week (HNPW) is run by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). It provides a forum to address key humanitarian issues. Throughout the three weeks, participants and partnerships shared their expertise and collaborated on best practices to address shared problems.
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.
A serious drought is affecting parts of East Africa. Three consecutive failed rainy seasons has meant crops are failing, livestock is being badly affected and cereal prices are rocketing.
A drought warning has already been issued for many parts of northern and eastern Kenya – a mainly rural area with already high rates of poverty. Forecasts indicate that the food security situation is only likely to get worse, meaning that many more households will soon be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.
MapAction’s support was requested by the Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL) Humanitarian Network – a group of more than 30 local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), community groups. Together with its partners (ACTED, Concern Worldwide and Oxfam), they are focused on the dry ASAL region of Kenya which has been particularly badly affected. More than 2.9 million people are at risk of going hungry and losing their livelihoods here, and thousands of young children are in urgent need of treatment for acute malnutrition.
A large part of the response has involved multi-purpose cash transfers to communities which are aimed to boost the local economy, and protect lives and livelihoods. So far it has reached over 5,000 affected households.
Since November 2021, MapAction has been supplying information management to the ASAL Humanitarian Network to support this response. We have provided tools to help manage their data on the response which then meant this information could be mapped. Once the information was on a map we could verify the data and this subsequently allowed the response to be presented at detailed village and ward level, rather than at regional level. This level of detail in our visualisations showed which partner was responding where, in which village location and what the response entailed.
MapAction also analysed and mapped the baseline drought survey commissioned by ASAL Humanitarian Network in November 2021. This survey assessment showed indicators such as the length of drought, and the impact of drought on crops, livestock and conflict. Mapping these indicators allowed the survey information to be visualised and compared across sub-counties highlighting key issues that the drought has impacted.
By mapping the drought response at various geographic levels, we were able to communicate the impact of the programme in a powerful way. This allowed ASAL Humanitarian Network to share these maps with partners, donors and within the network itself to explain and also help drive decision making.
As well as increasing prospects of drought, many of these very dry arid and semi-arid areas have been degraded from deforestation and overgrazing, which further reduces the productivity of these lands. This threatens food security, livelihoods and biodiversity. Early action from MapAction and other agencies aims to prevent loss of life and sustain livelihoods in these areas.
MapAction is grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for funding this work.
As well as many other things, MapAction provides UN and other international and regional agencies with the information and data they need, in the most useful visual formats, to enable them to be as effective as possible.
We are actively working to apply fast developing geospatial expertise to tackle some of today’s biggest humanitarian challenges, in collaboration with our partners around the world.
We have just welcomed our new Head of GeoSpatial Services, here she introduces herself and talks about what she’ll be doing.
Hi, I’m Gemma Davies and I joined the staff team at MapAction this month as the Head of GeoSpatial Services.
Prior to joining MapAction I worked for a long time as the GIS Officer at Lancaster University, applying GIS to a wide variety of research projects as well as delivering teaching and training.
Having had a long-term interest in working within the humanitarian sector, I joined MapAction in 2020 as a volunteer and have loved being part of such a great team and getting involved in a variety of response and preparedness work.
As I step into this new role I look forward to working alongside the team to grow and develop the geospatial support that we can provide to our growing range of international partners. I also want to ensure that emergencies are sufficiently supported with GIS capability and am keen to help evolve MapAction’s Geospatial offers.
It looks set to be an exciting year full of new challenges and opportunities.
MapAction’s collaboration with CDEMA and its participating countries through training and building capacity, enables better integration of geospatial technologies into disaster risk management.
The new MOU will support CDEMA’s capacity to provide geospatial expertise to its deployment teams, allow for GIS training across participating states and provide geospatial mapping and technical support upon request.
Executive Director of CDEMA Elizabeth Riley stated, “The renewal of our MOU supports our vision of a digitally transformed CDEMA, essential to positioning CDEMA for the future. We are committed to the integration of digital technology into all areas of CDEMA’s operations and we thank MapAction for supporting us on this journey.”
Climate change and it’s growing impact in the Caribbean is well documented. Liz Hughes CEO, MapAction said, “We know the Caribbean region suffers particularly from extreme weather conditions as a result of climate related changes around the world and we recognise that we will all need to work together to support CDEMA in the challenging role of leadership through this. This past year alone, we have done just that on the St Vincent and Grenadines, Suriname and Guyana emergencies demonstrating the possibilities of remote support even where emergencies have become increasingly complex.”
Recently MapAction has worked with CDEMA to implement a successful simulation exercise, undertake training courses and create a multi-faceted virtual platform that hosts risk management data and information that’s accessible to stakeholders to facilitate analysis, research, greater awareness of risk management and climate change adaptation in the region.
We look forward to the opportunity to learn from CDEMA and share the experience, knowledge and skills in the region to partners worldwide.
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.
On 17-19 September, MapAction held it’s largest annual training event, a realistic simulation of a humanitarian emergency, with colleagues from partners including the British Red Cross, Insecurity Insight, Save the Children and Tearfund.
This exercise provides an opportunity for MapAction team volunteers and staff to hone skills, share learning, test protocols and embed new systems and technologies in a challenging but safe environment. It’s also a chance to catch up with friends and strengthen team relationships. Due to COVID-19, this is the first major training exercise of this kind we have held since June 2019, so it was great to be back in the thick of it again.
MapAction has been involved in the response to the earthquake that took place in Haiti on 14 August, helping our partners with data processing, analysis and mapping. This has helped those coordinating operational teams to understand what types of aid are needed in different locations and what other organisations are already doing to help. At the time of writing, this work is ongoing.
At the end of August, we scaled up our support to the UN Disaster Assessment & Coordination (UNDAC) and other responding organisations. Two MapAction volunteers traveled to Haiti to provide in-person assistance, supported remotely by our wider team. As well as using their annual leave to do this, both were required to self-isolate for 10 days after returning to the UK, in accordance with COVID rules. We are grateful to them both for their invaluable efforts.
This StoryMap looks at some of the maps that have so far been created during the response to the earthquake and how they have been used to help the situation on the ground.
COVID-19 has been tough for all of us but the development of COVID-19 vaccines should offer a lifeline to the whole world. However, for many, especially those in the world’s poorer countries, it’s yet to make an impact.
As part of the drive to provide equitable access to vaccines, international agencies involved in COVAX need to ensure that countries are ready to accept delivery and coordinate the roll-out.
With this in mind, MapAction, with funding from the Calleva Foundation, partnered with expert geospatial colleagues from CartONG, OpenMap Development Tanzania, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Afrimapr/LSTHM, Mapbox and Esri, to create a novel concept called the Integrated Humanitarian Data Package (IHDP). This aims to give quick and easy access to key geographic data that underpins the planning and delivery of vaccination programmes.
The single package contains not only selected data sets, but also information explaining the data (‘metadata’), together with a set of GIS (geographic information system) and coding tools to easily develop situation-specific items such as maps and other graphics, depending on user-need. This will give organisations managing vaccine delivery in vulnerable countries a running start, once vaccines become available.
Nick McWilliam, IHDP project lead at MapAction said, “High quality mapping and data analysis are key to understanding how many people need vaccinating, where they are, and how and where the vaccines can be safely stored and delivered. We know that access to good data is a major issue in many countries. Even where data exists, it’s frequently patchy and not in a format that is usable by most people, as well as lacking crucial information about the local context. The IHDP concept is intended to remove barriers to good information that are otherwise likely to hinder vaccine delivery.”
The pilot project focused on creating an IHDP for South Sudan, however, the lessons learned are applicable across many other countries where population information is often too poor for effective logistics.
The IHDP is designed to be used by non-GIS experts with coordination and management responsibilities and ensures that they can easily use good quality data in a readily usable format. It’s also designed to reduce the time and effort needed, removing barriers for responders so they can quickly understand and respond to often complex situations.
“The COVID-19 pandemic created unprecedented demand for data in the humanitarian sector, but persistent data gaps remain. With every country in the world affected by COVID-19, the disparity in data availability in countries experiencing humanitarian crises became more clear.”
The State of Open Humanitarian Data, 2021: Assessing Data Availability Across Humanitarian Crises. OCHA Centre for Humanitarian Data and Humanitarian Data Exchange
We are also sharing this information amongst the humanitarian community and international agencies involved in the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.
See a video interview with Nick McWilliam, IHDP Project Lead.
The centre recently ran a series of virtual sessions which provided the opportunity for graduate members of ASEAN’s Emergency Response and Assessment Team (ASEAN-ERAT) the chance to hone their technical skills and consult with experts. The programme also refreshed members’ memories and enhanced their technical competencies.
MapAction ran a session on response mapping which included guided tutorials and self-paced learning on how to make use of Excel and Google Earth in an emergency. Participants learned how to use the tools and techniques quickly and efficiently in the early stages of a response and how they might also support decision makers in the response teams. These techniques were built on during the other sessions led by AHA staff on data collection and analysis, data visualisation and developing information management dashboards. The sessions were tested during a four hour online simulation exercise.
The online course was composed of eight people from across the ASEAN region including Brunei, Laos, the Philippines and Indonesia who had graduated from previous courses.
MapAction and the AHA Centre have signed a Memorandum of Intent with each other which formalises our joint efforts to help build mapping and information management capacity among humanitarian actors in the ASEAN region, as well as helping them prepare for disasters by putting in place essential geospatial information and resources. This training forms part of this ongoing activity.
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.
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.”
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.
As well as learning the principles of disaster mapping for response and resilience and OpenStreetMap data entry, the participants are practicing effective use of the GeoCRIS. This is the new regional repository for geospatial data needed for risk and hazard mapping, disaster preparedness and response operations. As MapAction was involved in setting up the GeoCRIS, we are well placed to design and deliver this training.
The month-long course also includes a disaster simulation exercise in which the students will have the opportunity to deploy their newly acquired skills in a realistic emergency scenario. Additionally, two members of MapAction’s Caribbean volunteer team who have both recently been involved in the response to the La Soufrière volcanic eruption will be running a live session to share their real-world experiences of emergency mapping in the region and answer questions.
We’re grateful to USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) for funding this activity as part of our ongoing programme to improve the ways in which geographical information systems (GIS), mapping and spatial analysis are used in humanitarian emergencies.
MapAction’s strategy to 2023 aims to use geospatial technology and insight to bridge the gap between humanitarian need and available resources. We are doing this by, among other things, helping local, regional and global civil society networks to conduct their own geospatial analysis, and bolstering the resilience of urban communities to different types of crises.
As part of our programme of work funded by USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), we are currently working with the Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR) towards these two strategic objectives. GNDR is also midway through a BHA-funded programme entitled ‘Making Displacement Safer’ and we have aligned our targets in order to collaborate around our shared goals.
In the first phase of our collaboration with GNDR, MapAction intern Kelly Rutkowski targeted practical application of her research project within her Master of Science in Disasters, Adaptation, and Development to create a system framework for examining urban preparedness. She also mapped two case studies for GNDR in Khulna, Bangladesh and Garut, Indonesia.
We are now in the second phase of our collaboration, in which we are providing advice and support to GNDR’s civil society partners in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal and Niger for geographical analysis and mapping. The learning gained both supports GNDR’s programmes in urban areas and increases MapAction’s knowledge of how we further our own urban and civil society programmes.
“Alert Check: Volcanic Eruption St Vincent and the Grenadines, please sign up your availability.” Those were the words which greeted me as I checked my MapAction email. Simple words, but so profound for me. They really hit hard, and hit home! I could not ignore that call for action. I signed up for remote deployment. It turned out to be my first official response deployment as a MapActioner!
Like many people within the region, I have been observing the volcanic dome growth in St Vincent and the Grenadines since late 2020. As it grew, magma continued to fill the space around the old 1979 dome, as depicted in the images below.
A period of elevated volcano-tectonic (VT) earthquakes, which began on 23rd March, 2021, indicated to scientists that the situation at La Soufrière had deteriorated. An evacuation order was issued on April 8, 2021 by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
The very next day, on April 9, 2021, La Soufrière Volcano erupted! The eruption was very visible to people around the world due to the prominence of posts on social media. It was easy to see live feeds and video posts as the action unfolded. Images of the massive mushroom plume created by the eruption brought back so many memories for me. It was beautifully dangerous!
Having experienced the eruption of our very own Soufrière Hills Volcano in Montserrat and having lived with an active volcano for the past two decades, I empathised with the residents of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Being displaced from one’s home to live in a shelter is no easy feat. Having to leave behind the beloved island you call home is even more challenging. I knew the road ahead for many people would be long and difficult. Hence my conviction to help in the best way I knew: – by providing geospatial support.
It was great news to discover that Mike was also selected as a member of this remote deployment team for the St. Vincent Response. Mike and I were recruited at the same time in 2019 to form part of the Caribbean Section of MapAction. The picture below is a throw-back to June 2019 in Trinidad. We had several days of intense conversion training sessions. In retrospect, those days really set the foundation for our ability to deliver during this response.
Our team was led by Matt who resides in New Zealand. He is very knowledgeable and has significant experience in deployments. We also received additional support from another volunteer, Pip, who is located in the UK. We supported the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) for a period of three weeks. Subsequently, another two volunteers, Ant and Jorge, were deployed to support the environmental work of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) response. We represented different time zones and locations from across the globe.
This unique team selection, worked out very well, as it offered 24 hour coverage for the St. Vincent response. Mike and I, being located in the Caribbean region, were uniquely placed to attend briefing meetings in our local time zone and follow up with any new developments; while Matt provided another level of support from New Zealand, as his day began when ours was coming to an end. No sleep lost – I guess! Our daily briefing meetings allowed us to report our findings during that day and to strategise the allocation and completion of tasks.
MapAction has mastered the ability to use different tools to share and work together in a remote working environment. In my opinion, the COVID-19 pandemic has only strengthened this area. The image below highlights some of the main tools we used to ensure smooth deployment coordination.
One of the major needs of any emergency response is geospatial data. The ‘data scramble‘ as the term is coined, involves the researching, collating and organising of all the spatial data available for a particular location, ensuring that it is fit for purpose. The data collected was prepared by transforming it into the correct projected coordinate system to allow for overlay and integration between different datasets. Datasets included administrative boundaries, such as parishes, census districts, shelter locations, elevation data, transportation networks, buildings, land use, hazard zones, and health centres, just to name a few. These were placed in appropriately themed folder locations so that it would be easy for deployed members to find them during the response.
Coordinating with CDEMA, MapAction provided mapping support to to aid in visualisation of the situation on the ground.
One of the first maps prepared is a reference map of the area. I consider this to be one of the most important maps to be prepared, as it gives context to the area of interest. Everything else is built upon this.
The basemap shown on the left below is detailed with settlement locations, roads, parishes, village names, rivers and elevation data. The baseline map sown on the right, highlights the population figures of St.Vincent derived from the most recent 2012 census survey. This allowed us to understand how the population is distributed throughout the affected areas.
To provide further understanding, situational maps were prepared. Data being shared through situation reports from the Emergency Management Agency allowed us to create visual representations of what was happening on the ground. The map on the left, shows movement of displaced people from affected communities in the red, orange and yellow zones. The map on the right shows the location and status of the shelters.
Additionally, a 3D webmap was created showing the key volcanic events and hazards of the La Soufrière volcano. This dynamic map allows you to explore the data which was used to create the maps above and offers a better understanding of the risk posed by the volcanic eruption in St. Vincent.
Working so closely with the data from St. Vincent during this period of time, allowed me to become very familiar with areas and village locations on the island. Seeing feeds on social media allowed me to identify quickly with where things were happening. Names such as as Chateaubelair, Troumaca, Byera, Owia and Fancy stood out to me!
During my remote deployment, some acronyms were mentioned frequently during our briefing meetings. I eventually got the hang of them! These all form part of the response mechanism which helps the crisis on the ground to be addressed. Each of the teams highlighted below, played a very important function in being able to get supplies into St. Vincent, assessing the needs of the population and understanding the impact of the disaster on the island.
A number of other international organisations responded to the crisis in St Vincent and the Grenadines by activating their disaster response mechanisms and programmes. The links below provide additional insight into their response activities.
Satellite images like the ones below were captured as time progressed and further mapping and analysis was carried out. Derived information proved useful to responders on the ground.
MapAction is known to respond in-person during an emergency response deployment. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has limited this, my experience through this remote response deployment has shown that MapAction’s involvement is still significant in providing geospatial information to support the humanitarian needs of people in crisis. I do look forward to future deployments with MapAction!
This article was first published on Lavern’s own blog on 24 May 2021.
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.
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.
In March 2020, MapAction and the UN OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Centre for Humanitarian Data embarked on a new level of collaboration by sharing a Data Scientist’s time between the two organisations. Both teams had a lot to offer and learn from each other, with MapAction bringing its geospatial expertise to the Centre’s Predictive Analytics (PA) team. Predictive analytics is a form of data science that uses current and historical facts to predict future events. For MapAction, this collaboration also constituted an important aspect of our Moonshot, which sees us transitioning from being a passive data consumer to an organisation that actively contributes to humanitarian datasets.
Looking back on our work over the past year, we can see how this collaboration has benefitted both organisations in many ways, with numerous positive repercussions more widely. Ultimately, the fruits of our joint working are examples of how data science can help to reduce suffering and save lives in humanitarian initiatives.
“Your input leap-frogged us forward. It is amazing to me how quickly we were able to do this together. A round of applause for your work and its contribution to unlocking critically needed aid for Ethiopians.“
Josée Poirier, Predictive Analytics Technical Specialist, Centre for Humanitarian Data
In the latter part of the year, a MapAction team of volunteers helped the Centre’s PA team develop analysis for a drought-related anticipatory action framework which was designed to trigger mitigation activities ahead of a predicted drought crisis. The PA team aimed to better understand the reliability of various indicators used to predict potential food shortages caused by drought in Somalia and Ethiopia. These indicators were then used to trigger an early release of funds from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The MapAction team reviewed past literature, evaluated available satellite images, and created a prototype drought model in Google Earth Engine (a platform for visualising and analysing satellite imagery of Earth). These inputs helped the PA team to flag an upcoming crisis in Ethiopia and trigger an activation for a humanitarian response. In the words of Josée Poirier, Predictive Analytics Technical Specialist from the PA team: “Your input leap-frogged us forward. It is amazing to me how quickly we were able to do this together. A round of applause for your work and its contribution to unlocking critically needed aid for Ethiopians.”
The MapAction and PA teams also collaborated to implement and validate an approach for mapping flooding from satellite imagery. MapAction’s Data Scientist has been working with the PA team to help evaluate the impact of recent anticipatory action in Bangladesh which took place in July 2020 and was the fastest-ever allocation of CERF funds. To better understand how this aid was helpful to those affected, the PA team needs to know exactly when, where, and for how long flooding occurred. Contributing to this work also has direct benefits for MapAction’s own work, enabling us to add a new data processing method to our disaster-response toolbox. We then had the opportunity to test this methodology in our response to the devastating impacts of Hurricanes Eta and Iota in Central America.
Both organisations have made commitments to assist in the global pandemic response. The Centre PA team and MapAction Data Scientist have, in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), developed a model to forecast the number of cases, hospitalisations, and deaths due to COVID-19 for six countries, tailored to each country’s specific humanitarian needs. Named OCHA-Bucky, the model offers sub-national projections, and takes into the account the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions. Presently, MapAction is participating in a pilot project to aid vaccine rollout in vulnerable countries by surveying the current data landscapes and identify gaps in order to address the logistical challenges inherent in such tasks. Along a similar line of work, the Centre PA team and APL are planning on adding vaccination strategies to the OCHA-Bucky model.
There is substantial overlap between the broad technical goals of the two organisations. The Centre’s Humanitarian Data Exchange (HDX) contains over 18,000 datasets and it has created several automatic pipelines (software that carries out a series of data-processing steps) to systematically ingest data from its partners into its database. The Centre’s technical expertise has so far been a key input into the planning and development of a similar (albeit smaller scale) pipeline at MapAction, which is being created to automate the generation of core maps as part of the Moonshot initiative. This work will ensure that base maps essential for coordinating any type of humanitarian response are immediately available whenever they are needed.
The two organisations share similar data access platforms and are actively engaged in ongoing discussions regarding different ways to construct pipeline software. Finally, both HDX and MapAction ultimately seek to identify and rectify gaps in the humanitarian data landscape in order to ensure that those coordinating the preparations for and responses to different types of emergencies have the reliable, timely information they need.
Looking ahead in 2021
MapAction and the Centre for Humanitarian Data are continuing to plan ways to collaborate throughout the rest of the year and beyond.
In addition to sharing expertise in advanced analytics, we are working to make data-driven methods accessible to wider audiences in the humanitarian sector in order to improve the effectiveness of aid programmes. MapAction and the Centre’s Data Literacy team have identified an opportunity to come together to develop GIS training material. This work aims to help non-technical humanitarians make better use of geospatial data to understand the needs of affected communities and coordinate aid.
Both teams are also collaborating to ensure that our data science workflows and models are published openly and can be used by others in the field. Inspired by initiatives such as The Turing Way, we are formalising and adopting best practices to write high quality code, document methodologies, and reproduce results.
At the end of the first year of our collaboration, it is gratifying to reflect on how much we have been able to achieve together while learning from each other and expanding our collective knowledge. We’re grateful to the German Federal Foreign Office for making this work possible by funding our Data Scientist role. We’re looking forward to continuing to work together to push forward the boundaries of humanitarian data science.
Christina Wille, Managing Director, Insecurity Insight, commented, “This tool gives stakeholders concerned with the protection of health care global insight into COVID-related incidents of threats and violence against health care providers to support better protection of health workers.”
The map depicts 412 acts of pandemic-related violence and threats to health workers and services around the world in 2020 out of a total of 1,172 incidents. Because not all incidents are reported or recorded, the actual number is likely to have been significantly higher.
To create the map, MapAction needed to consolidate the data available – which is often in indigestible formats and from multiple sources – understand the geographical context and visualise it. We brought our considerable experience in humanitarian mapping, information management, and solution design to the project, ensuring the information architecture is a stable platform that is easy to manage, while allowing for future adaptations and enhancements to be seamlessly integrated.
Christina continued, “We are working with MapAction to expand the map’s functionality and develop a similar tool for the education sector and other areas, as well as a map on security incidents affecting aid operations in Mozambique.”
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.
Launched today, the Caribbean Risk Information System (CRIS) is a “one stop shop” for gathering and sharing information and data on disaster risk management and climate change adaptation across the Caribbean region.
The CRIS platform has been created by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) in collaboration with the World Bank and other partners including MapAction, with financial support from the European Union (EU).
CRIS aims to support informed decision making by providing access to information on all types of hazards, including climate-induced hazards, as well as guidance on how to reduce risk, build disaster-resilient states and promote sustainable development. It consists of a Virtual Library, databases and the GeoCRIS – a geospatial component which provides access to geospatial data needed for risk and hazard mapping, disaster preparedness and response operations. Data from the Caribbean Handbook on Risk Information Management (CHaRIM) GeoNode has been integrated into the GeoCRIS to facilitate evidence-based decision making and development planning processes.
MapAction provided advice on strategic, technical and personnel issues related to creating the GeoCRIS, based on its years of experience of developing similar systems. We particularly assisted in defining needs for data and tools to support the Rapid Needs Assistance Team (RNAT) and other rapid-response mechanisms within CDEMA as we have partnered alongside CDEMA following several devastating hurricanes in the past five years. We will also be helping CDEMA to train disaster management teams across the Caribbean region in using GeoCRIS once travel restrictions are lifted.
We’re grateful to the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance for funding our participation in this project.
MapAction is working in close collaboration with our partner CartONG to provide GIS & information management support to UNICEF – another long-term MapAction partner – on an as-needed basis around the world.
Working with UNICEF’s head quarters, country offices and partners in different parts of the globe, we are focusing on helping with geospatial data collection and management, mapping, knowledge management and capacity building.
One of the projects we have been collectively working on is a data analysis dashboard to help educators in Mexico respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This dashboard, which is updated on a daily basis, is a dynamic, interactive visualisation of information enabling education teams to monitor changes and identify trends in school attendance following COVID closures. It also provides general information on the state of schools’ water and sanitation infrastructure.
The dashboard is currently in beta. When finalised, it is planned that all teachers across Mexico will have access to it to help them plan and respond to the evolving COVID crisis.
As well as helping CartONG to build the dashboard, MapAction has provided data processing scripts to ensure a seamless feed of data and has lead on the user testing and quality assurance aspects of the project.
For over a year, swarms of locusts have been ravaging large parts of rural Africa, affecting different countries at different times. Stripping the land of vegetation and destroying crops and food supplies, the highly destructive pest is causing additional severe food insecurity for communities already struggling to recover from drought and flooding, as well as coping with COVID-19.
Since April, MapAction has been working with Oxfam and its network of local civil society partners in Eastern and Southern Africa to help improve visibility of the work the partners are doing and improve communication flows between them, even during COVID lockdowns. This in turn is helping them to protect people’s food security, livelihoods and access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services as this complex and many-layered crisis evolves.
As well as mapping who is doing what and where to help, we have also been creating map templates and training people locally so that they can update and refresh the maps on an ongoing basis. This means that Oxfam’s partners can alert each other of threats such as locust swarms migrating into new areas.
In Somalia we have been assisting teams working on food security, livelihoods, WASH and protection by helping to triangulate information about locust infestations and areas affected by COVID. In Southern Africa, we have been helping Oxfam and its civil society partners set up and then maintain situational awareness of locusts and other threats to food security across the region.
One Oxfam project MapAction has been supporting involves mapping water ATMs – machines that allow water to be automatically dispensed when a customer places his or her token or card against an electronic reader, which regulates flow at a dispensing point. A chip within the token or card contains information about the amount of water the user has already paid for and water credits are deducted each time water is dispensed. The water ATMs are important points in areas such as informal settlements, ensuring access to safe, low-cost drinking water which is key in protecting people against water-borne diseases. Initially covering informal settlements around Nairobi, MapAction’s involvement has now extended to mapping ATMs in other areas.
Irene Gai, WASH strategist at Oxfam, said, “Sharing where work has been done is helping to avoid duplication of interventions, thereby saving resources that can be channelled to other needy areas. By having the maps shared with other WASH-sector agencies, they can target their own resources for similar initiatives in other places than where Oxfam has already supported.”
During the course of the work in East Africa, the MapAction team created our first automatically-generated maps, testing out this new approach which is part of our ambitious Moonshot programme. Among other things, this enables us to produce the best reference and baseline maps possible in almost no time at all, freeing up team time to focus on the specifics of the situation at hand.
Initially supporting Oxfam’s partners’ work in Kenya and Somalia, MapAction personnel are now also helping in Zimbabwe and Zambia, with scope to roll out to Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, South Africa and Botswana. Additional projects in other countries may also take place.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Since March this year, a MapAction data scientist has been based at the Centre for Humanitarian Data in The Hague, supporting its workstream on predictive analytics. The aim of this important work is to forecast humanitarian emergencies and needs in order to trigger responses before a disaster occurs.
One of the projects the Centre’s predictive analytics team is working on, in partnership with the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and individual country offices of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), is the development of COVID-19 modelling tailored for each country’s specific context. This seeks to predict the scale, severity and duration of the outbreak within each country, including its likely effects on particularly vulnerable groups, such as people at risk of hunger or those using solid fuel indoors for cooking.
The project is also modelling the effects of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) such as curfews, travel bans and face masks, according to what is locally viable.
The inclusion of country-specific factors, looking at projections for specific vulnerable groups as well as the general population at a sub national level, can make this work particularly helpful for governments and humanitarian organisations to inform their COVID planning.
The initial model was developed for Afghanistan and is now being extended to other priority countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Sudan.
MapAction and CartONG, a French NGO specialised in humanitarian information management, have been working together closely on several projects in recent months.
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.”
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 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’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.
MapAction has been helping its partners the World Food Program (WFP) and Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to distribute mobile app questionnaires about availability of and access to food during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over the past several years, we have been working with CDEMA and other organisations to build a network of GIS professionals in the Caribbean region (and elsewhere) with a shared interest in disaster preparedness and information management. We were able to use this network to help disseminate the questionnaire as widely as possible across the region in order to gather information about potential food shortages once incidences of the virus escalate.
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.
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.
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.
The latest phase of our collaboration with Unicef and the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) of Guyana is currently underway in the country’s capital of Georgetown. We are training CDC volunteers in spatial techniques to help respond as needed across the country, including potential flood response and assisting migrant communities.
Participants in this week’s practical training exercises have already completed an online training course we conducted during December. During this extended course, students will learn to apply geospatial techniques to the their own projects over a two-week period.
Three MapAction volunteers were in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this week, participating in an International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) earthquake simulation exercise involving over 400 participants from 27 countries.
The MapAction team provided maps to assist the coordination of the response to the realistic disaster scenario.
Thanks to the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance for supporting this important disaster preparedness work.
We from INSARAG would like to thank the @ThailandUN for hosting an amazing Earthquake Regional Exercise and also the more than 400 participants who attend the event!
Two MapAction volunteers are travelling to Djibouti, East Africa, tomorrow at the request of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) to assist the response to devastating floods that have affected up to 250,000 people.
Flash floods occurred when two years’ worth of rainfall fell in a single day on top of several days of heavy downpours. Nine people are believed to have died, including seven children, and more rain is forecast. Most of those affected are in Djibouti city, the country’s capital.
The Djibouti government is leading the relief operation with the support of humanitarian partners, civil society and armed forces stationed in the country. MapAction is providing reference and situational maps to assist the coordination of the response.
MapAction’s team is likely to remain in Djibouti for around two weeks, but this will be reviewed at that time. Direct mission costs are being met by the German Federal Foreign Office. MapAction’s deployment capacity is funded by UK Government DFID and Government of Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
MapAction has formed a new partnership with the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO) Humanitarian Assistance to help improve the use of technology and data in humanitarian decision making.
As part of the broad-ranging programme, MapAction is working on
greatly reducing the time and effort required to create maps and data products needed
in many emergencies, by automating repeat processes. It is also extending its
capacity to have specialist personnel in emergency situations for longer
periods to support information management and decision-making processes, and
placing a data scientist in the Centre for Humanitarian Data in The Hague to
facilitate knowledge sharing.
MapAction Chief Executive Liz Hughes said, “This is an exciting
programme which will help to keep us at the vanguard of humanitarian response
missions, but also, vitally, to overhaul our technical offer. This will enable
us to continue to help ensure the best possible outcomes for people affected by
disasters and humanitarian emergencies. We are very pleased to be working with
GFFO and looking forward very much to getting stuck in to this important work together.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week, a MapAction team was in Morges, Switzerland, training United Nations Disaster Assessment & Coordination (UNDAC) team members from around the world in humanitarian mapping as part of a two-week intensive induction course.
UNDAC training courses take place regularly throughout the year in different countries and MapAction is often involved, providing mapping support to emergency simulation exercises as well as teaching GIS skills.
We’re grateful to USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance for making our participation in this and other UNDAC training courses possible.
Three MapAction team members are currently in Kostanay, Kazakhstan, teaching national civil defence and emergency responders how to create and use humanitarian maps. Next week they move to the capital Astana (Nur-Sultan) to provide the same training to local teams there.
These courses are the latest in a series of workshops we are providing as part of an ongoing joint programme of disaster preparedness activity with our regional partner, the Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR). Our partnership with CESDRR aims to improve and expand disaster preparedness, relief and recovery activities across Central Asia.
We’re grateful to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for funding this important collaborative work.
Earlier this year we embarked on a round of volunteer recruitment to find mapping and geographical information system (GIS) experts living and working in the Caribbean. The aim was to expand our small team in the region to ensure we are always well placed to help prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies across the Caribbean, working with our close partner the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA). This includes pre-positioning personnel when necessary to provide mapping and data support in the event of severe tropical storms.
We are delighted to now welcome three exceptionally high-calibre volunteers who bring a tremendous amount of additional knowledge, expertise and energy to an already very strong Caribbean team.
Deanesh lives in Trinidad and is a lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Maritime and Ocean Studies (CMOS) of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. He teaches GIS and remote sensing and has recently worked on a multi-agency research project funded by NASA, using drones for studying coastal ecosystems. His work has been published in international and regional journals and he is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
My interest in MapAction began after the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake. The response by MapAction volunteers to it, as well as to other Caribbean disasters since then, inspired me to join the humanitarian effort.
Deanesh also volunteers as a mentor for the Caribbean Youth Science Forum (CYSF), the longest standing non-formal STEM education programme in the region, as well as for a local non-profit organisation called Restore a Sense of I Can (RSC) which seeks to effect change through technology and education. In his free time he enjoys travelling, meeting new people, swimming and yoga.
Lavern is from the beautiful Caribbean island of Montserrat where she lives and works as a GIS Manager. She loves travelling, meeting new people and learning about new cultures. She especially loves star gazing!
Following the events of the 2017 hurricane season, I wanted to use my skills more to help mitigate against the impacts of disasters. When the call came for Caribbean GIS professionals to join MapAction, I was further inspired. I am passionate about GIS and I want to use my knowledge and skills to help people when they are most in need and to help to save lives. MapAction provides the platform for me to do just that!
Mike is currently the Hazard Mitigation and GIS Specialist within the Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies (DDME), Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an Urban and Regional Planner by profession and holds a Masters degree in Built Environment with a specialisation in Geomatics. He joined the Disaster Management Team in 2016 and that same year was part of the CDEMA Regional Response Mechanism that was deployed to the Bahamas following Hurricane Matthew, which was when he first encountered MapAction.
Prior to joining DDME, Mike was a volunteer in Damage and Needs Assessment (DANA) as well as lead facilitator for them. Outside of Disaster Management, Mike is happily married with three girls. He enjoys carpentry and coaching basketball.
“Ever since Hurricane Matthew, I was eager to be a part of MapAction. I look forward to serving in this new capacity and being a part of the MapAction family.”
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 .
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).
On Friday 14 March, Cyclone Idai made landfall along the south-eastern coast of Africa. With sustained wind speeds of 120mph and heavy rain, it is now recognised as one of the most intense recorded weather events to hit the region. Many affected areas were already heavily waterlogged, making the overall effect even worse and causing extensive flooding.
Hundreds of people are known to have died and hundreds of thousands of people to have been affected, with casualties across Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. Many people have been left without shelter, clean water or food.
MapAction initially sent a three-person Emergency Response Team to Mozambique on 20 March at the request of United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) Team. A fourth team member followed a few days later when it became clear that more in-country support was needed. Three MapAction members are currently based in Beira, the city that took the full brunt of the Cyclone, suffering catastrophic damage, and a fourth is in Chimoio, to the West of Mozambique. A further team rotation will travel out this weekend.
MapAction’s highly specialist team is working at the heart of the planning and coordination of the response, providing vital situation maps and information management services needed by all agencies to get help to where it’s most needed, as quickly as possible.
They are supported in this work by our wider team of technical volunteers and specialist staff, who have been working remotely on flood extent modelling and on gathering and sharing useful reference data to help response teams since the disaster happened.
We are grateful to everyone that has donated to our Cyclone Idai appeal, to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and to the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs for funding this life-saving work.
In recent years we have begun working closely with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to help prepare for and respond to disasters and emergencies in the Caribbean region. We collaborated around the responses to Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 and last week’s Tropical Storms. We have also begun to provide mapping training to Caribbean disaster responders.
Through these joint activities, we have built up a strong working relationship with CDEMA and last week this partnership was formalised through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at a ceremony in Barbados. This states that we will continue to work alongside CDEMA teams as well as supporting National Disaster Management Agencies within the Caribbean region as needed. We are helping them to improve their use of data gathering, mapping and analysis so that they can provide disaster response support quickly and in the right places. In the event of an emergency in the Caribbean region, we help CDEMA to obtain the most complete, accurate and detailed data available in the fastest possible time. As well as providing remote support, we send MapAction team members as needed to the affected location and, in certain situations, we preposition people to ensure an immediate response.
MapAction’s Chief Executive Liz Hughes traveled out to Barbados for the MoU signing ceremony. “Collaboration and partnership are fundamental to MapAction’s approach,” she commented. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to deepen and formalise our working relationship with CDEMA and we are keen to support them and their partners in whatever way we can.”
MapAction’s work to support CDEMA and national agencies in the Caribbean through training and preparedness activities is funded by the European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (EU ECHO).
The Center for Emergency Situations and Disaster Risk Reduction (CESDRR) for Central Asia and MapAction yesterday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to formalise a new joint working relationship. We are collaborating around the use of mapping and information management to improve and expand disaster preparedness, relief and recovery activities across Central Asia.
The MoU was signed by CESDRR Director Valeiry Petrov and MapAction Chief Executive Liz Hughes at a ceremony at CESDRR’s headquarters in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
CESDRR is an international organisation which aims to decrease the risk and mitigate the consequences of emergencies in Central Asia, as well as stimulating and supporting regional and international cooperation.
Working with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), CESDRR identified an opportunity to use mapping and information management to improve and expand its preparedness, relief and recovery activities. CESDRR, OCHA and MapAction have since been collaborating around a scoping exercise to review existing capacity within CESDRR relating to skills, technology, information, policies and procedures. An initial geospatial services training and scoping workshop was held at CESDRR’s Almaty headquarters in October 2017 delivered by MapAction and OCHA, followed by a further five-day exercise in July 2018 lead by MapAction to begin taking forward recommendations.
Liz Hughes commented, “Our joint efforts to ensure that CESDRR and its partners are fully equipped to use mapping and information management techniques to help prevent, manage and rapidly recover from disasters are progressing extremely well and a lot of progress has already been made. Our scoping work is nearing completion, and we are now starting to work together on a plan of action for the coming months. I’m very pleased that MapAction has been able to support CESDRR in a crucial aspect of its incredibly important work and I’m optimistic and excited about our ongoing collaboration.”
MapAction’s participation in joint activities with CESDRR is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
PRESS RELEASE – The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre), established by ten Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to facilitate cooperation and coordination of disaster management across the region, has entered into a formal partnership with humanitarian mapping charity MapAction. The Memorandum of Intent was signed today by Adelina Kamal, Executive Director of the AHA Centre, and MapAction Chief Executive Liz Hughes, during the 8th Meeting of the Governing Board of the AHA Centre held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The two organisations are working together to build mapping and information management capacity among humanitarian actors in the ASEAN region as well as help them prepare for a disaster by putting in place essential geospatial information and resources. MapAction will also be called upon to provide mapping and information management support in the event of a disaster in Southeast Asia, both in-country and remotely, as needed.
Liz Hughes commented, “Humanitarian emergencies often strike without warning and the challenge for those responding is to know where to start. They need information about what help is needed and where, as well as the status of roads and other infrastructure, as quickly as possible. Conveying this information visually in the form of maps and data visualisations helps to create a shared operational picture for aid agencies, governments and local partners, which is vital for a coordinated and effective response. The work that the AHA Centre is doing across and beyond the ASEAN region to protect and assist vulnerable communities is excellent and we are very pleased to be able to support it.”
Adelina Kamal said, “We are delighted to be working closely with the MapAction team. Their expertise and experience in humanitarian mapping and information management will be very valuable for the AHA Centre, as well as for our ASEAN Emergency Response and Assessment Team or ASEAN-ERAT members, who have been trained together with the MapAction team in recent years. The knowledge and practical skills shared by MapAction through joint training and exercises will allow the AHA Centre and our ASEAN-ERAT members to better assist the disaster-affected country and enhance coordination with other humanitarian actors in line with the spirit of One ASEAN One Response.”
MapAction’s participation in the joint training exercises and activities with the AHA Centre and ASEAN-ERAT members is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Top: signing ceremony of the MoI. Back row, members of the ASEAN Committee on Disaster Management, from L to R: Mr. Vongthep Arthakaivalvatee, the Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community; Dato’ Haji Muhammad Yusoff bin Wazir, the Deputy Director General (Post-Disaster) of NADMA Malaysia; Dr. Ko Ko Naing, the Director-General of Myanmar’s Department of Disaster Management
Above: MapAction and ASEAN-ERAT team members train together.
About the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance
The AHA Centre is an inter-governmental organisation established by ten ASEAN Member States on 17 November 2011 with the aim to facilitate cooperation and coordination amongst ASEAN Member States and with relevant United Nations and international organisations in promoting regional collaboration in disaster management. Under the ASEAN Declaration on One ASEAN One Response signed by the ASEAN Leaders in September 2016, the AHA Centre is reaffirmed as the ASEAN regional coordinating agency on disaster management and emergency response. The AHA Centre reports to a Governing Board that consists of heads of the National Disaster Management Organisations of the ten ASEAN Member States. The AHA Centre is based in Jakarta, Indonesia.
For more information regarding the AHA Centre, please contact:
MapAction’s mission is to save lives and alleviate suffering for people affected by humanitarian emergencies by mapping priority needs and helping to coordinate the response. Recognised as a leading provider of professional mapping services in first phase emergency response, MapAction is a long-term partner of humanitarian agencies including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the World Food Programme, Save the Children and ACAPS and has recently joined the Missing Maps project. Since 2002, MapAction has responded to 78 humanitarian emergencies, which have impacted on the lives of tens of millions of people.
For more information about MapAction, please contact:
MapAction’s participation in joint activities with the AHA Centre is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this press release are the responsibility of MapAction and the AHA Centre and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.
Yaounde, 22 Jan – MapAction has deployed two volunteers to Yaounde, Cameroon, at the request of UNICEF to support with the response to the ongoing violence and insecurity in the Central African Republic (CAR).
Since 10 December 2012, a coalition of rebel groups in CAR (the “Seleka” coalition) has taken control of a number of towns across the country, stopping just short of the capital, Bangui. The on-going insecurity is taking a toll on close to 1.5 million people (some 33% of the total population of CAR), comprising approximately 800,000 people who reside in rebel-controlled zones and 700,000 in Bangui.
Rebels took over key mining areas in the country, destroyed hundreds of homes, and displaced thousands of civilians. Reports have claimed that the rebels have forcibly recruited children to fight and serve as porters and sex slaves.
A peace agreement was signed between the CAR government and rebel groups on 11 January, however, tens of thousands of people are thought to have stayed away from their homes due to ongoing insecurity. Many shops, markets and schools remain closed, with some medical clinics running out of supplies.
CAR is a landlocked nation, bordered by Cameroon, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Republic of the Congo. MapAction’s volunteers will initially be based in neighbouring Cameroon.
MapAction has worked in several other countries of west Africa in the recent past, including response to the post-election violence in the Ivory Coast in 2011, and supporting conflict resolution programmes in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012.
MapAction has signed a Framework Partnership Agreement with ECHO, the humanitarian aid department of the European Commission. The agreement will enable MapAction to increase its level of response in humanitarian emergencies, as well as enabling other disaster preparedness work. It provides a mechanism for ECHO to provide funding for specific missions by MapAction.