An entire area of the Philippines devastated by an earthquake – thousands of people in need of water, food and shelter to stay alive.
Before aid agencies can help them, the first requirement is information. Which areas have yet to be reached? Where are the relief resources? Who is in greatest need?
MapAction is a non-governmental organisation that specialises in providing mapping for humanitarian emergencies. The aim is to deliver actionable information to get the right aid to those who need it. The data is collected thanks to a combination of eye-witness accounts, information shared among agencies and geographical details viewed from aircraft and satellites.
Liz Hugues is chief executive of MapAction:
“We’re really there to help the aid community plan their priorities, work out where they need to go to deliver assistance first and try and help them to build a common picture of what’s needed so that aid is used in the most effective way possible.”
Experts need to move fast in the wake of a natural disaster. Produced just a couple of days after Typhoon Haiyan’s landfall, the organisation’s maps show situational information and accumulated rainfall and help share information about potential hazardous sites, storm surge locations and affected provinces.
“The UN works to set up that coordination system with the public authorities – the Philippines government – and what we’re doing is providing the mapped information to that. So getting an idea of which agencies are saying they’re helping on what sectors, who’s doing (distributing) water in which area and therefore where the gap is, that is the sort of thing that we can easily put on a map once we have that information from the agencies,” says Liz Hughes.
After the crucial first two to three weeks of an emergency, maps and data are then handed over to national or UN organisations for the recovery phase.