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Urban webinar #8: Mapping in urban humanitarian response

Thursday 24 July 2014

The audio of this webinar is also available below.

To download this file, click on the soundcloud logo above and then on the arrow under the track.

This webinar focused on mapping in urban humanitarian response, with speakers from World Vision and REACH Initiative. Topics explored included the utilities of GIS, key challenges, and building partnerships with local governments. 

World Vision using GIS in disaster management:

Gabriele Almon
• GIS can be used to: track urban populations, weather events & related vulnerabilities; to monitor and evaluate impact; and for site selection, such as IDP camp location.
• When introducing mapping to your urban response, reach out to volunteer & technical communities, and tap into local resources.
• When deepening existing GIS capacities: integrate with other forms of data visualization; test usability of operational dashboards; use applications that can be used in unconnected environments.
• Form partnerships with local governments, and explore crowd sourcing information (Ushahidi, Humanitarian Open Street Map, Crowd Crafting)

REACH mapping in Syria, community mapping in Jordan, & Zaatari refugee camp:

Matthew Wencel
• Key challenges are: insecure environment, irregular access, remote management, and low levels of reliability and inadequate focus of data collected.
• Recommendations: build a team that you trust, don’t take unnecessary risks, devise a flexible sampling methodology based on access, be honest about the reliability of data, and triangulate.


Q&A Snapshot:

What mapping tools are effective for urban slums?
MW: Participatory mapping is a great tool. High-resolution imagery helps with viewing complex patterns from above. Also gaining in popularity are UAVs or drones, which can offer a unique perspective.

How can one balance quick and dirty mapping with reliability and credibility?
GA: Build relationships with data sources before emergencies, and understand what methodologies are used. Make sure to always note that data may not be 100% accurate to users. It is better to have a good level of information, rather than none at all.

MW: Quick doesn’t have to mean dirty. A rapid assessment tomorrow could still be based on a rigorous methodology to collect a statistically significant sample.

How do you address the issue of data sharing with governments and non-governmental actors in a context such as Syria?
MW: Good question! Some humanitarian data collection could seem like intelligence gathering, so a line needs to be drawn. Sensitive information such as family identification needs to be protected. Quickly sharing information is vital, but can be subject to delays. We are still working on agreements at the country level and in Geneva, in order to streamline data sharing.

Does mapping make sense in fast changing urban environments?
GA: It is very much worth the effort. It’s much better to use a map to visualise what’s happening than to try to read a report by itself, or see what’s happening in a spreadsheet. Supplement your map with notes of changes that have occurred since then. Think about how often you want to update your maps, and what resources you will dedicate to this.


Leah Campbell



Gabriele Almon

Humanitarian GIS Specialist

World Vision

Matthew Wencel

Regional GIS Manager, Middle East and North Africa

REACH Initiative

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