Last month, CartONG conducted a two-week mission in North East Syria to provide Geographic Information System (GIS) support to Solidarités International (SI). A mission that is part of a larger consultancy that CartONG has been conducting for SI's Syria field teams since September 2022.
Our team assisted and trained SI’s staff based in Syria in creating a centralized database and an interactive map to display all SI’s activities in the north of the country for better coordination of their humanitarian response.
“On behalf of all the Information Management (IM) team members, I would like to thank you for these two weeks, for your patience, your pedagogy and your flexibility. We learned a lot and are very very satisfied with the training and the final products you provided.” SI Operational IM Manager talking about CartONG’s mission.
SI has a significant presence in North East and North West Syria, providing crucial humanitarian support to the thousands of people displaced and the host communities. From water infrastructure rehabilitation, sanitation and hygiene services, to livelihoods and emergency response, SI’s activities cover a wide range of sectors and locations. Several teams work, on the ground and remotely, on these different activities, leading to a considerable amount of data collected, processed and archived from a variety of sources. The need was clear: centralize this information to facilitate communication, coordination and experience sharing across locations, teams and activities.
Custom geoproducts for better visualization and better coordination for a more effective response
When there is a high number of activities running in parallel, several people involved, different locations covered, difficult communication because of the context, all of this in a challenging humanitarian emergency context like the north of Syria, the risks of duplication of efforts and inefficient humanitarian response are high.
CartONG’s support allowed SI’s teams on the ground to further improve the impact of their work through smoother information flow. After assessing the needs and context our team built on existing SI’s tools and data, to create a centralized database that includes information on all SI’s activities in Syria and their location. This database feeds different geoproducts – an Activity Dashboard and a Web Application - our team created on ArcGIS Online to allow all SI staff to view and filter the information on all ongoing and past activities, knowing exactly who is doing what and where at any given moment. Those products also help visualize location areas such as neighborhood, informal settlements, camps boundaries, water station catchment area, etc. The data is retrieved from an internal reporting tool filled monthly by every SI Program Manager where they specify quantitative information on the activities they did during the past month.
Such visual representation and easy access to all the ongoing activities for all staff members and the possibility to extract, edit, and visualize the information needed is essential for coordination, cross-department integration and to ensure efficient flow of information within SI’s mission in Syria.
Training of SI’s field teams as the keystone of this consultancy
In parallel to the creation of these tools, the mission was also an opportunity to train 9 SI team members on the use of GIS applications. Those training sessions occurred both on-site in Amuda and Hassakeh, but also online since some staff were based in different locations in Syria and in Jordan. Being already advanced on a certain number of aspects, the training allowed them to also ask specific questions about issues they had encountered in their previous work. “Personally, I was impressed by their capacity to learn a large amount of things in a short time, even more for those who attended the sessions online. I am also very impressed by the dedication and commitment they put in their work. I really appreciated working with them during these two weeks.” Anaïs Timper, GIS Officer at CartONG, explains.
The technical skills they acquired during the training will allow them to continue developing the SI Activity Mapping project but also to be better prepared to respond to other mapping needs.
Turkey-Syria earthquake: an unfortunate situation to apply the skills acquired
The devastating Turkey-Syria earthquake of 6 February hit the region during the second week of the mission. An unfortunate situation that allowed SI’s teams to apply the skills acquired during the training to help their Northwest Syria team in their emergency response, with CartONG’s team providing backup support. By harvesting external data sources (satellite imagery, damage assessment, roads status, earthquake epicenter and areas, etc.), SI’s team created and published simple map layers to store and collect SI and partners responses. “It was really nice to see SI local staff applying the skills learned during the training in a different context, even more in an emergency one. It showed that the main objective of making the team autonomous with the mapping tools and technology was bearing fruit,” Anaïs explains.
CartONG’s approach in this kind of support is indeed to make sure the partner is autonomous in the use of the tools developed. SI’s teams will thus now be able to continue developing the system, adding relevant layers and information as necessary to the database and the interactive maps. CartONG remains available to provide additional support or training on new tools and techniques that might be necessary to meet the evolving needs of SI’s response in the region.