People have been using maps to understand the world around them for thousands of years, but advances in technology are leading to much more detailed, sophisticated images that can shed new light on the risks facing individual communities.
With support from the American Red Cross, the Uganda Red Cross has started using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to take information collected in household surveys and create detailed digital maps. These maps are being used to help them decide where they should be targeting their disaster prevention and preparedness community activities to where they are most needed.
For example in Gulu, Uganda’s second largest city, Red Cross volunteers have been digitally mapping the location of grass thatched huts. The resulting map clearly illustrates where huts are most densely packed, identifying which communities are most at risk of fire so the Uganda Red Cross can focus their activities where they’re most needed and prevent disasters before they happen.
In eastern Uganda, open-source data about the location of community assets such as churches, schools and evacuation routes is overlaid onto sophisticated flood models. These new maps are helping communities and the Red Cross to identify the infrastructure most likely to be damaged or disabled during floods – which lets them plan accordingly.
Country-wide, Uganda Red Cross volunteers have also been taking part in a mapping project through OpenStreetMap (OSM), the openly editable ‘Wikipedia of maps’. Volunteers trace roads, buildings and landmarks into OSM while local Red Cross staff map significant community infrastructure, hazards and resources. This is not only increasing the Uganda Red Cross’ mapping and GIS capacity, but also producing high-quality base maps and data that are freely accessible to all through OSM’s web interface.
This kind of advanced mapping and analysis was previously only carried out by governments and research institutes, whose focus is on the big picture. However equipping local organisations like the Uganda Red Cross with GIS capacity is bridging the information gap at the local level.
To learn more about Technology and the future of Humanitarian aid, tune in to tomorrow’s Irish Red Cross Hangout.