MapAction’s mapping of floods in Peru produced “quality visualisations of the issues”

In early April 2023, a MapAction team led by Luis F. P. Velasquez deployed to Lima, the capital of Peru, to help map the response to deadly floods at the request of the local office of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC), a longtime MapAction partner.

MapAction volunteer Andy Kervell discusses a MapAction MapWall with a UN OCHA officer in Lima, Peru. Photo: MapAction.

The government of Peru had declared a state of emergency in three northern coastal states and across 54% of the country, following heavy rains since December last year. 

As roads and key transport hubs were blocked, schools forced to close and vulnerable people left stranded in large swathes of northern Peru, humanitarian respondents had to find ways to navigate the emergency and plan humanitarian support operations in an environment with limited data.

The MapAction team was supported remotely by Tom Huger, with volunteers Becky Kervell and Andy Kervell joining the mission a week later to support UNDAC’s efforts to map the aid response.

“There’s no way we could have produced such quality visualisation of the issues without MapAction’s team”, said a member of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a key user of MapAction’s map products in Peru. “We would have had to rely on very simplified versions of maps, with a very limited update capacity,” added OCHA’s Peru flood response team member.

Portrait of an emergency

MapAction’s maps paint a clearer picture of the emergency for key managers and agencies involved in decision-making in any crisis. Besides the actual mapping, MapAction’s knowhow from over 140 emergency responses worldwide in the last 20 years acts as a radar for the most relevant data to map in a crisis scenario. 

Feedback from partners suggests that MapAction’s intervention in Peru was timely and effective. “It would have been difficult to select the best, most relevant data that should be best presented in a map format,” without MapAction, added OCHA’s team member.

SEE ALSO: MapAction Peru floods maps

MapAction volunteer Andy Kervell, who also deployed, was happy to be able to visit old colleagues in Lima having previously worked on reconstruction efforts remotely as part of his day job with Arup* following previous floods in Peru. 

A pack of MapAction maps related to the floods rest on a table before a team meeting with humanitarian partners at UN and government agencies.

“It really was about the opportunity to contribute to the response for communities affected by this event which I have previous involvement with from my day job with Arup,” said Andy Kervell, who spent two weeks mapping for UNDAC together with fellow geospatial humanitarian mapper, and partner, MapAction volunteer Becky Kervell.

“Clear way to identify most impacted areas”

Maps help everyone in an emergency response scenario get a better sense of a given humanitarian priority and co-produce the best possible relief decisions, whether it be in terms of shelter, resource allocation or getting aid to where it is most needed. 

“It [MapAction’s maps] provided a clear way to identify most impacted areas – areas where there would be more people with humanitarian needs – in order to organise the response. This would have been done in people’s heads otherwise and not as effectively,” said a UN OCHA officer who worked on the flood response. 

Volunteer Andy Kervell, one of circa 80 volunteers at MapAction, highlights how a map can also help decision-makers assess a specific crisis challenge with a given data set. This map of shelters in Piura, for example, highlighted that there was quite a difference in the number of people in shelters compared to those affected. This suggested that it was likely that families were staying within the community. Emergency responses require such key insights.

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

“Shaping of a clear situational picture”

“MapAction’s work helped increase the understanding of the humanitarian situation using the limited data available, as well as contributing together with other partners through other information products, in the shaping of a common and clear situational picture,”  Antonio E. Miranda Melgar, information management officer at UN OCHA and a member of the Peru flood response in 2023, told MapAction. 

The impact was tangible, adds Melgar: “This has helped the effective delivery of humanitarian aid by several humanitarian actors and decision makers.”

Team Leader Luis F. P. Velasquez added that MapAction’s presence helped to shape the humanitarian response. “MapAction’s work played an important role in advocacy, as well as helping in the effective delivery of humanitarian aid by strengthening decision-making processes through the use of data,” said Velasquez. 

READ MORE: How maps can save lives when disasters strike

Want to support MapAction? Find out more about our work and current appeal here. We’re also on Twitter and LinkedIn.

*Andy Kervell’s time in Lima for MapAction was kindly part covered by the Arup Community Engagement Fund.  

UPDATES: MapAction humanitarian mappers supporting UN response to heavy floods in Peru

Key facts (April 26, 2023):

  • More than 500,000 people severely affected by floods caused by heavy rains since December in Peru
  • State of emergency declared by the national government in more than 50 percent of the country
  • Northern coastal regions of Lambayeque, Tumbes and Piura worst-affected
  • MapAction rotating teams and mappers have been supporting the office of the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination (UNDAC) out of the capital Lima

April 26. 09:30 UTC. MapAction’s mappers have set up temporary office in Lima, Peru, in the last week and maps are already reaching UNDAC and partners. Cue a new MapAction Wall.

April 14. 12:00 UTC. Experienced humanitarian mappers from MapAction have travelled to Peru to support the United Nations and the Peruvian government’s response to floods that have affected more than 500,000 people since December 2022. The Peruvian government has declared a state of emergency in 1056 districts, more than 50 per cent of the country, according to an update last week from the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA). 

In the northern Provinces of Tumbes, Piura and Lambayeque, among the most affected, the authorities issued an emergency declaration of the highest level. According to the latest report from UN OCHA, approximately 517,000 people have urgent humanitarian needs, 410,000 others have been directly affected, 12,000 houses have been destroyed and 73,000 damaged.

MapAction’s presence was once again requested by long-time partner UNDAC, the United Nations Disaster Assessment Coordination office. MapAction’s Luis Velasquez has travelled to Lima to be followed by experienced MapAction volunteer Becky Kervell in the near-future. MapAction’s Tom Hughes will support remotely from New York. 

As the tweet below shows, roads and infrastructure in Peru have been heavily affected by the floods and landslides. 

The Peruvian army has been evacuating children, elderly citizens and other vulnerable groups in some of the affected districts, reports Peruvian daily El Comercio. 

MapAction’s work will be coordinated from the capital Lima but will focus on supporting regional hubs in each of the three most-affected regions: Tumbes, Piura and Lambayeque, all coastal regions in northern Peru.

MapAction’s experience is often requested by international relief operators at the scene of natural disasters. Our disaster mapping helps inform better aid solutions for those affected, but remains under threat as it is not currently funded. If you would like to support this deployment financially, please get in touch with our Head of Philanthropic Giving, Howard Wheeldon:

We need all the help we can get to continue to support unpredictable emergency responses. Please read about our Emergency Response Fund to understand more about the urgent need for more funding to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. 

READ ALSO: How maps can save lives when disasters strike

One volunteer’s experience of her first preparedness training mission

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

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

UNDAC team training, Peru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USAID logo

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

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