Since May 2017, CartONG has been supporting the information mission of ACAPS (Assessment Capacities Project) by producing maps that illustrate the ACAPS’ Briefing Notes released in the occurrence of a new humanitarian crisis or the evolution of an older one. In 18 months of collaboration, CartONG has responded to 20 map requests.
The Briefing Notes: an essential aspect of ACAPS’ information mission
ACAPS is an independent humanitarian information provider which supports the humanitarian community by providing up-to-date data on more than 40 key crises around the world. In the event of a crisis, the analysis and information work carried out by ACAPS allows humanitarian, as well as local and national actors, to better understand and consequently better respond to the needs of the affected population.
As part of this mission, ACAPS regularly issues bulletins called "Briefing Notes" containing situation maps. CartONG, in its capacity of humanitarian mapping specialist, provides support to ACAPS by producing a significant number of these maps that complement and illustrate the bulletins by highlighting affected areas, hot spots or key figures of a crisis.
Indeed, as part of the agreement, the cartography team of CartONG is responsible for answering emergency map requests for Briefing Notes in the odd months of the year; while the NGO MapAction is in charge of even months. In the last 18 months, this represents a total of 20 map requests and 90 hours of work, or put another way an average of four-and-a-half hours to meet each request - a rather exceptional situation requiring a very specific internal organization.
A tailored map producing process
During a crisis, ACAPS analysts always start by compiling the different information and data needed based on official data sources (institutional databases, press information, government sites, etc.) before proceeding to sending a request to CartONG. It is therefore only at the end of the Briefing Notes drafting process that the CartONG mapping team is activated. It is vital to enable the various humanitarian actors to apprehend the situation - be it a crisis of political, social or environmental origin - to quickly have access to any reliable information related to the given crisis so they can access the content and scale of their response. This is why both the work of ACAPS’ analysts and of CartONG’s cartographers are always extremely constrained by time.
In order to streamline as much as possible the map production process, the ACAPS’ and CartONG’s teams agreed on a specific request form created for the occasion, as well as on a predefined graphic chart making the design of the CartONG’s maps adapted to the general design of ACAPS’ Briefing Notes. In order to ensure good collaboration between ACAPS’ analysts and CartONG’s cartographers and to streamline the work in-house, CartONG also gave an introductory workshop on good mapping practices in 2017 and 2018 at ACAPS. This workshop made it possible to raise awareness about mapping and helped incentivize clear, explicit and ready-to-use map requests with each activation.
The case of Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines in September 2018
On September 17th, CartONG was activated by ACAPS to produce a map of the affected areas and displaced people in the Philippines after Typhoon Mangkhut struck on September 15th. At noon, after a brief exchange via Skype to find out if the team had the necessary resources to process the map request, CartONG received the completed request form with a deadline set at 4pm. Once the essential information - map title, data to use (from the Disaster Response Operations Monitoring and Information Center of the Philippines in this case), and details of the desired map representation.
The style chosen for ACAPS’ maps is simple and uncluttered. On a gray background, the colors are used to highlight the data sent by the analysts: in the case of the Typhoon Mangkhut, the map was to show the most affected areas, accompanied by text bubbles specifying the number of displaced persons by region. The map was created on ArcGIS and sent by CartONG at 3:30pm. At 9:00am the next day, the ACAPS analyst informed the mapping team that the data had been refined and the figures on affected and displaced people had changed. A new version of the map was thus produced by CartONG and the Briefing Notes was published by ACAPS that same day - 3 days only after the typhoon had struck the Philippines.
Responsiveness and capacity building
In this type of crisis, it is not uncommon for the information available to evolve very quickly, and for last-minute updates to be requested before the publication of the status report. The latter is then disseminated via ACAPS’ communication channels (website, Twitter account, etc.) but also on other humanitarian information sites such as ReliefWeb - the specialized digital service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
As it is often the case in the sector, the responsiveness of both ACAPS’ and CartONG’s teams is one of the major challenges of this collaboration and is what allows for the production and dissemination of the ACAPS’ Briefing Notes as quickly as possible to the rest of the humanitarian community. For this reason, as part of the mapping initiation session given in 2018, CartONG also trained the ACAPS analysts in charge of producing the Briefing Notes to the use of QGIS so they could be autonomous in the production of basic maps not to block them in their work - all in the spirit of CartONG’s mission to build capacity within the sector.
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List of Briefing Notes to which CartONG contributed in 2018:
Uganda - DRC Refugee influx
Afghanistan - Forced returnees : Nangarhar, Kandahar, Kabul
Burundi - Displacement from the Democratic Republic of Congo
Democratic Republic of Congo - Conflict induced displacement in Ituri
Somalia - North-western Somaliland : Tropical storm Sagar
Nigeria - Displacement in Plateau State
Venezuela - Regional update
Zimbabwe - Cholera outbreak
The Philippines - Typhoon Mangkhut
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Want to learn more about the work of ACAPS? Check out their website here.