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.”
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.
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.
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.”