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Geographic Information Systems

Using ICTs to Map the Future of Humanitarian Aid (part 2)

Dana Rawls's picture
Satellite image and analysis of damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Evan in Samoa. Credit: UNITAR-UNOSAT

With crisis mapping’s increasing profile, other organizations have joined the fray. Just this month, Facebook announced that it was partnering with UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and other partners to “share real-time data to help respond after natural disasters,” and the United Nations has also contributed to the field with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) founding MicroMappers along with Meier, as well as creating UNOSAT, the UN Operational Satellite Applications Programme of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

In a 2013 interview, UNOSAT Manager Dr. Einar Bjorgo described the work of his office.

“When a disaster strikes, the humanitarian community typically calls on UNOSAT to provide analysis of satellite imagery over the affected area… to have an updated global view of the situation on the ground. How many buildings have been destroyed after an earthquake and what access roads are available for providing emergency relief to the affected population? We get these answers by requiring the satellites to take new pictures and comparing them to pre-disaster imagery held in the archives to assess the situation objectively and efficiently.”

Four years later, UNOSAT’s work seems to have become even more important and has evolved from the early days when the group used mostly freely available imagery and only did maps.

Using ICTs to Map the Future of Humanitarian Aid (part 1)

Dana Rawls's picture
Haiti map after the 2010 earthquake. Over 450 OpenStreetMap volunteers from an estimated 29 countries digitized roads, landmarks and buildings to assist with disaster response and reconstruction. OpenStreetMap/ITO World

The word “disruption” is frequently used to describe technology’s impact on every facet of human existence, including how people travel, learn, and even speak.

Now a growing cadre of digital humanitarians and technology enthusiasts are applying this disruption to the way humanitarian aid and disaster response are administered and monitored.

Humanitarian, or crisis, mapping refers to the real-time gathering and analysis of data during a crisis. Mapping projects allows people directly affected by humanitarian crises or physically located on the other side of the world to contribute information utilizing ICTs as diverse as mobile and web-based applications, aggregated data from social media, aerial and satellite imagery, and geospatial platforms such as geographic information systems (GIS).