MapAction supports Suriname and Guyana flood responses

Thousands of people are at risk of deadly floods in Suriname and Guyana so MapAction is responding to a request to provide rapid mapping support led by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA).

Both countries have seen months of extreme rainfall, leading to flooding of up to 14 feet in some areas which is making some of the roads impassable and areas inaccessible. The resulting flooding is only likely to increase during the rest of the rainy season which continues until the end of July.

The area is low lying and much of the countries’ land is only a few meters above sea level, making them two of the world’s most vulnerable countries to flooding. They also have much of their industry, including mining, close to the coast, meaning that jobs, livelihoods and accessible drinking water is being put at risk. Inadequate drainage is also exacerbating the problem in the more densely populated urban areas. 

We are supporting CDEMA with a three-person team of geospatial experts working remotely to provide maps and visualisations. We are also helping the United Nations’ Disaster Assessment and Coordination body (UNDAC) which is undertaking damage assessments and environmental management in both countries. 

MapAction’s maps and other information products relating to this emergency will be available for Suriname and Guyana as the response develops. 

We’re grateful to The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for funding this work.

Responding to the Volcanic Eruption in St Vincent and the Grenadines

By Lavern Ryan, MapAction volunteer.

Selfie of Lavern Ryan outdoors with sea visible in the distance behind her

“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.

aerial photo with annotation showing growth of magma dome on 11 dates between 27 Dec 2020 and 12 Feb 2021
Source: Scientific Resource Centre
aerial photo of La Soufriere volcano showing dome on 6 Jan 2021
Photo credit: NEMO, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
aerial photo of greatly enlarged magma dome with gases escaping
Photo credit: NEMO, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

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!

photo of very large and impressive gas plume

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.

map of the world showing locations of team members working for CDEMA and  United Nations Environment Programme and the La Soufriere volcano

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.

logos, names and applications of different tech tools:
Jira - task management
Slack - internal comms
Google File Stream - file storage and sharing (streaming)
Gmail - external comms and sitreps
Confluence - rolling documentation specific to the response and SOPs (standard operating procedures)

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.

3D webmap showing volcanic hazards

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.

Table of humanitarian acronyms and their meanings:
ACRONYM	DESCRIPTION
CDRU	CARICOM Disaster Relief Unit
COST	CARICOM Operations Support Team
DART	Disaster Assessment Response Team
RCC	Regional Coordination Centre
RNAT	Rapid Needs Assessment Team
SRC	Seismic Research Centre
UNDAC	United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination

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.

  1. Copernicus Emergency Management Service
  2. The International Charter Space and Major Disasters
  3. Maxar: Open Data Program
  4. Nasa Disaster Program

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.

satellite image of the Owia Bay area
satellite image of the Rabacca Bridge and Chatoya National Park

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!

Lavern in the back of a truck driving through a rural tropical location, wearing a MapAction teeshirt with a large logo on her back.

This article was first published on Lavern’s own blog on 24 May 2021.

MapAction supports St Vincent volcano emergency response

MapAction is providing mapping and information management support to the La Soufriere volcano emergency on the island of St Vincent, in response to requests from both CDEMA (Caribbean Disasters & Emergency Management Agency) and UN OCHA’s regional office. 

Explosive eruptions from La Soufriere since April 9th have caused ash clouds to cover much of St Vincent, Bequia and southern St Lucia, as well large parts of Barbados.  Pyroclastic flows have descended from the mountain top, after it was confirmed that the volcanic dome had collapsed. 

Monitoring of the volcano is difficult as existing seismic stations were knocked out and it became dangerous to travel into the area. By the 7 of April, circa 16000 residents had been advised to evacuate following early signs of activity.  The incident has already caused serious need for shelter, PPE and fresh water and is developing. Flooding is now reportedly compounding the situation.

MapAction is currently supporting the situation remotely, having already assembled a dedicated team of three volunteers and one staff member, located in Montserrat, the Turks & Caicos Islands (both in the Caribbean), New Zealand and the UK respectively. All members of the MapAction team will be working remotely due to the travel and other complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are no current plans to send a geospatial team to the affected area, although two of the team are based in the Caribbean region.

The direct mission costs are being met by the German Federal Foreign Office. MapAction’s response capacity has been supported by UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we have been working extensively in the Caribbean region on disaster preparedness work thanks to USAID Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs. 

The mapping techniques used in the 3D web mab above are based on recent work by MapAction and the University of Edinburgh, which pioneered 3D interactive webmapping for planning and response to volcanic hazards.

Many of MapAction’s maps and other information products relating to this emergency will be available here as the emergency develops.