Earlier this year, Médecins Sans Frontières sent a dedicated cartographer/Geographic Information Systems officer to Guinea, to support the local and international medical teams who are fighting the ongoing Ebola-outbreak in the region. To find out, whether that was a good investment, the MSF GIS Unit asked me to write case study showing what impact this field-based GIS officer had.
I encourage you to read the whole case study (it’s only 15 pages in Word – it just seems longer because of the pictures), but there is of course also an executive summary. Here are some observations, why I think this was an interesting case to look at:
- Most of the the areas close to the border of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had not been mapped previously. This meant that it was very easy to see the changes.
- Despite being in a very remote area, the GIS officer had a decent internet connection which allowed him to reach out for remote support. Among other things this made it possible for the volunteers of the OpenStreetMap community to contribute directly to supporting the response. So this is also a case that shows what crowdsourcing can contribute to humanitarian emergency response.
- Since the GIS Officer was in the field, he and his local staff were able to provide context to the basemaps that were produced remotely. Both components were important: without the remote support, the GIS wouldn’t have been able to create all basemaps at the granularity that is available now. But without the GIS in the field, a lot of the traced outlines would not have been meaningful, because you need local knowledge to know whether a building is a school, a hospital, a police station etc.. Also: assigning the correct names to villages is at least as important as mapping roads. Again, you need people in the field to do this.
- Because MSF chose to use formats and tools that encourage or even require sharing, many maps created for MSF will add value to local communities, local government and help other humanitarian and development organizations working in the area. This means that the outputs will continue to be beneficial and can be built upon.
You can download the complete case study here:
“GIS Support for the MSF Ebola response in Guinea in 2014”