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Humanitarian response to Yemen cyclone
Saturday, 07 November 2015 00:00

Two MapAction volunteers are travelling to Muscat in Oman to support humanitarian efforts following the impact of Tropical Cyclone Chapala in Yemen. They will be working in partnership with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team to help coordinate and target the response.

At the beginning of November Yemen was struck by the most powerful storm seen in decades. Cyclone Chapala brought hurricane-force winds, torrential rain and high waves to the south Yemen coastline. This has resulted in severe flooding and widespread damage, particularly affecting communities on the island of Socotra and the mainland governorates of Shabwah and Hadramaut. According to the United Nations, up to 1.1 million people are thought to be affected. There are also concerns that continued rain and forecasts of further storms will exacerbate the already precarious situation.

Because tropical cyclones are rare in Yemen, the government and communities have limited capacity to respond to an emergency of this scale. Since March 2015 the country has also been experiencing widespread armed conflict, which has now been classified by the United Nations as a Level 3 emergency – used only for the most severe and large-scale humanitarian crises. The arrival of Cyclone Chapala has therefore brought further misery and suffering for already vulnerable communities.

MapAction responds to Mediterranean crisis

MapAction is deploying volunteers to UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) offices in Athens, Belgrade and Geneva to support the coordination of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Alongside this, MapAction will be working with ACAPS looking at the potential evolution of the situation and analysis of the crisis over the next few months.

Europe is experiencing a movement of people on a scale not seen since the Second World War. The reasons for this are complex; the scale of the situation is deeply concerning. According to recent figures from UNHCR*, more than 600,000 people have arrived in Europe by sea during 2015 alone. Tragically this year more than 3,000 are estimated to have died or gone missing while attempting to make this crossing.

As winter approaches, sea crossings are becoming ever more precarious and onward movement is even more challenging for already vulnerable people. Reports have highlighted that reception facilities are often overstretched, leading to new arrivals having to sleep rough in deteriorating weather conditions.

MapAction’s Operations Director, Emma Mumford, recently travelled to Greece, Serbia and Croatia to meet with humanitarian partners and understand first-hand some of the needs on the ground. Emma explains:

“The first thing that struck me in Lesvos was the warm welcome from the local community, volunteer groups and international organisations to new arrivals who were coming in on a daily basis. Civil society groups have really mobilised to do what they can to help, including greeting refugees with information, transportation and supplies to support their onward journey. It was a humbling experience.

Most of the refugees I met were fleeing from escalating violence in Syria. They described how extreme threats at home made it preferable to take their chances on boats across from Turkey (those I saw were small black inflatable dinghies that were not fit for purpose). But even then, the journey ahead is still one fraught with uncertainty and confusion.

With ever-increasing numbers of people arriving on islands like Lesvos, facilities are struggling to cope. Refugees then embark on a long and often difficult journey across Europe – taking a variety of different routes – all looking for safety and security for them and their families. Within this constantly changing context, responders typically do not know how many people they may need to support on a daily basis, and numbers are always one of the most fundamental considerations in planning any response.

A key challenge, therefore, is in understanding this mass movement of people, so that relief efforts can be coordinated and targeted effectively. This takes on a strong geographical dimension, which is of course where MapAction can play a vital role.

This is an unusual mission for MapAction. We typically only deploy to countries where technical mapping skills are in short supply and sudden onset disasters have overwhelmed existing capacity. Nevertheless it is clear that vulnerable people are suffering in this crisis and MapAction’s humanitarian mapping service can play a role in alleviating this.”

MapAction estimates that its response to the Mediterranean crisis will cost approximately £13,500. At time of writing, we do not have any external funding to support these costs.

If you would like to make a donation, you can do so here. If you are a UK taxpayer, please don’t forget to Gift Aid your donation, as this will add a further 25p for every £1 donated. Thank you.

* UNHCR situation report, as of 15 October 2015

MapAction's South Sudan response continues
Thursday, 01 October 2015 10:00

MapAction has been working on a long-term project with humanitarian partners to establish settlement datasets for South Sudan to facilitate relief efforts since March, and is now entering the final stage of monitoring the impact of the work.

South Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries, recovering from a long-standing conflict. It is also one of the most volatile. According to the United Nations, conflict has resulted in approximately 1.6 million people being displaced within South Sudan’s borders and more than 600,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries. This instability is also taking a devastating toll on food production, with more than 4.6 million people considered to be suffering from severe food insecurity. Ongoing security incidents affect communities and the ability of humanitarian teams to reach them with assistance.

MapAction has been working with the South Sudanese National Bureau of Statistics and humanitarian partners to help create the first ever harmonised datasets, establishing the locations of communities which, amongst other objectives, facilitates the effective delivery of humanitarian aid.

MapAction volunteers have undertaken a series of missions in recent months. The first, in May, was to establish which datasets were most important to support relief efforts. Two volunteers subsequently deployed in August to help collect the relevant data and create appropriate tools to enable effective data analysis.

Whilst MapAction works to complete the dataset tools, feedback from our partners so far has been extremely positive. Anecdotal feedback highlights that the data and tools made available will not only support the planning and implementation of humanitarian operations, but also help protect the safety and security of humanitarian workers in the field.

A third MapAction mission is planned for November 2015 to understand where improvements can be made, evaluate the usefulness of the project and capture lessons learnt. It is anticipated that much of the methodology could be replicated and built upon for other humanitarian contexts.

Supporting resilience in the Pacific
Thursday, 17 September 2015 09:45

In March this year MapAction responded to a category 5 storm that struck Vanuatu. The storm had a significant impact causing serious damage to the capital, Port Vila and other parts of the country. MapAction volunteers worked with the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team and with the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office to provide an emergency mapping resource in support of the response. Our work concluded in April as the relief phase began to wind down.

As the situation has started to stabilise and the people of Vanuatu are recovering from Cyclone Pam, MapAction has just returned to Vanuatu to assess how to build the country’s capacity for emergency response mapping in the future. At the invitation of the Government of Vanuatu and the United Nations Development Programme, MapAction deployed two mapping specialists, Alan Mills and volunteer Rachel Alsop, to consider current capacities and training requirements as a way to help Vanuatu become more resilient.

Vanuatu is an island nation approximately 2,000 km north east of Queensland, Australia. Made up of 83 islands, organised in six provinces, it has a population of 250,000. While a few islands have good infrastructure, many are composed of isolated villages relying predominantly on subsistence farming and fishing. As well as being in a cyclone-prone area from November to April each year, it has some of the most active volcanoes in the region and is in a seismically active zone. The small size of islands also makes water resources scarce during drought. Storm surge, landslides and villages being cut off by flooding rivers can be common occurrences in season. Building resilience against this set of potential emergencies is important and emergency mapping is vital within that.

The long-term aim of the project is to give Vanuatuan agencies greater capacity for responding quickly, with easily accessible accurate and extensive datasets, tools and protocols to be able to make maps and other information products and methods of distributing such. These should link with other resilience aims of the Government such as building early warning systems.

The aim of this particular mission was to scope the needs for such capacity, review the existing situation and make recommendations for gap filling to which MapAction could potentially contribute in a follow-up deployment. The mission tested once more our model for preparedness activities and broadens our experience in extending our services and expertise in this way. It also highlighted the importance of complementing current government standards and procedures, whilst also ensuring affected communities voices are heard. A follow-up capacity-building mission is proposed before the end 2015 to deliver the new dataset templates (e.g. for “who, what, where” analysis), establish protocols and data management, and train personnel in both product creation and database management. This would be timely to cope with forecasts of an emerging El Nino drought situation and preparing for the 2016 cyclone season.

Reflecting on MapAction's Nepal response
Friday, 28 August 2015 10:46

MapAction has now completed its humanitarian mapping mission in response to the Nepal earthquakes. Over the course of our four-month mission, 13 volunteers and staff have created more than 110 maps and contributed 230 days of expertise. 

MapAction's Operations Director, Emma Mumford, reflects: "The challenges for this response have been particularly acute due to the difficult mountainous terrain and the prevalence of landslides during the monsoon season, which quickly followed the earthquakes. The team has achieved a great deal in supporting the coordination and programming of aid for those affected. Although our physical presence in Nepal has come to an end, we remain in close contact with our partners to explore how we can contribute to this and future emergencies."

You can read Emma's full supporter update below. 


MapAction: Nepal earthquake response

"As the Clinical Lead for the UK’s disaster response in Nepal I never failed to be impressed and grateful for the fantastic and invaluable information provided by the MapAction team. Every evening and through the night the MapAction team would input information from our daily recces and create a new map for our recce the next day. I would receive a new map by email in the early hours of the morning and several copies would be left for me at 0600 in the MapAction tent. Fabulous service.”

Dr Sean Hudson, Clinical Lead, UK Emergency Medical Team, UK-Med

Key facts and figures

  • On 25 April 2015, an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude hit Nepal.
  • It was the worst natural disaster to strike the country since 1934.
  • More than 8,800 people were killed and more than 23,000 injured.
  • An estimated 450,000 people have been displaced.

Thanks to the support of the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and people like you, MapAction was able to respond immediately. Over the course of our four-month mission, 13 MapAction mapping experts have created more than 110 maps and contributed 230 days of expertise.

How the mission unfolded

On 25 April 2015 Nepal was struck by a devastating earthquake, which was followed by further quakes and aftershocks. Within 24 hours of the first earthquake the United Nations (UN) had made an official request for MapAction to deploy with its Disaster Assessment and Coordination team. We were fortunate that one of our MapAction volunteers was on site in Kathmandu and diverted immediately to help. Two further volunteers deployed to Kathmandu the following day.

Dr Hamish Pritchard, one of MapAction’s most experienced volunteers, had been working on a glacier mapping project for his ‘day job’ on the south side of Kathmandu when the earthquake struck. He immediately transferred to the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Base of Operations near the airport to support initial coordination efforts. As one of the first people at the scene, Hamish drew on his experience of helping at other humanitarian emergencies (including the Haiti earthquake) to provide mapped analysis to help coordinate search and rescue efforts.

Map left: Urban Search and Rescue Sectors as of 29 April 2015

As the full scale of the emergency became clear, MapAction sent further volunteers to reinforce the field team. Nigel Woof was one of the first volunteers to arrive in-country. He commented:

“In terms of the scale of this disaster, more than 8,000 are known to have lost their lives with around half a million people estimated to have lost their homes and pretty much everything else. In this respect we are getting flashbacks to the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 where we faced similar issues. We’re trying to create a picture of damage and needs across an affected area about the size of Wales – but imagine a Wales with 5,000-metre peaks and access routes challenged by landslides and earthquake damage.”

Photo right: MapAction volunteer, Nigel Woof, working into the night

With widespread destruction caused by the earthquake, MapAction volunteers lived in tented accommodation positioned outside the United Nation’s coordination hub. This was where incoming responders came to get critical analysis regarding the extent of impact and what other responders were doing in-country. Our initial focus was to help coordinate search and rescue efforts to avoid gaps or duplication. The team also created mapped analysis about the areas which had been worst affected by the earthquake to help prioritise and target the response.

MapAction’s Royal Patron, Prince Harry, sent a message of support for our volunteers working with fellow responders on the humanitarian response in Nepal. He commented: "I have been deeply saddened to hear of the terrible loss of life and damage caused by the earthquake over the weekend. My thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones and the many thousands who have been left homeless as a result of this tragedy." He went on, "I also wanted to send my sincere thanks and best wishes to all of you who are engaged in the difficult and dangerous job of finding those still missing and supporting the injured."

From 4 May onwards, MapAction decided to split the team, with some team members travelling to areas of priority need. Three volunteers remained in Kathmandu while two travelled to Chautara and Sindhupalchok close to the earthquake epicentre. Outside the capital, the damage was extensive and all too evident. In Chautara, the hospital had been particularly badly hit, so a temporary field hospital had been set up on a playing field. It was next to this field hospital that international responders set up their coordination hub and where MapAction set up camp.

Photo right: MapAction’s mapping centre in Chautara

Six weeks into the response, MapAction completed its final volunteer rotation for the emergency phase of the mission. Recognising that there was still great humanitarian need, two further MapAction mapping experts were deployed on longer assignments to support assessment and information analysis, working in partnership with ACAPS[1] and OCHA[2] and hosted by the Nepali government. These experts have been providing spatial analysis and mapping know-how to convey critical situational information about the ongoing needs of affected communities.

This second phase of our response coincided with the arrival of the monsoon season, causing landslides and disruption for already vulnerable communities. MapAction’s mapped products and analysis helped responders understand the needs of communities in hard-to-reach locations, many of whom could only be reached via helicopter or porters.

Looking forward, MapAction has also been helping plan for the likely impact of winter for affected communities. Around 150,000 people live in areas where the average January temperature is 5 degrees Celsius or less, making it a priority to ensure that durable shelters are provided before the winter arrives.

The needs remain great in Nepal and MapAction continues to maintain a dialogue with our counterparts in-country, however as of 27 August the MapAction mission has come to an end. MapAction volunteers and staff have been working closely with humanitarian partners to ensure that they have the mapping know-how to be able to carry activities forward without our presence in the field. We are also in discussions with key emergency management teams to explore training requirements to support future responses. So while the mission has come to a close, our partnerships will continue well into the future.

On behalf of everyone at MapAction, thank you for your very kind and generous support. I’m incredibly proud of what our volunteers and staff have achieved for the Nepal earthquake response. I know your support means a great deal to them too. We do not receive any funding through large national appeals, so every penny you donated has made a big difference to our work.

Please do keep up-to-date with MapAction’s news on our website: or follow us on Twitter (@mapaction) or Facebook. Thank you again for your support.

Emma Mumford, Operations Director

[1] ACAPS supports and strengthens humanitarian capacities to carry out better coordinated assessments before, during and after crises.

[2] OCHA: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

MapAction wins four Stevie business awards
Friday, 21 August 2015 09:02

MapAction is delighted to announce that it has won four Stevie International Business Awards, which will be formally presented on 23 October in Toronto, Canada.

MapAction was recognised in the following categories:

Company of the Year (Non-Profit / Government Organisation) – Gold award (winner)

Management Team of the Year (outside of North America) – Gold award (winner)

Chairman of the Year, Roy Wood – Silver award

Support Team of the Year, MapAction’s Operational Support Team volunteers – Silver award

The Stevie Awards ( were created in 2002 to honour and generate public recognition of the achievements and positive contributions of organizations and working professionals worldwide. The name Stevie is taken from the name Stephen, which is derived from the Greek for "crowned."

More than 3,700 nominations were submitted for Stevie International Business Awards this year. Winners were determined by the average scores of more than 200 executives worldwide who participated in the judging process between May and August 2015.

Comments from the judges on MapAction’s submissions included: “A much needed resource helping those who most need it. Innovative and inspirational” and “An excellent project, much needed in emergencies, with a clearly defined team and impressive accomplishments”.

MapAction’s Chief Executive, Liz Hughes, commented, “It is testament to the dedication, professionalism and creativity of the entire MapAction team – volunteers, trustees and staff – that we have been recognised in all four of the categories that we entered. Every day I am inspired by the incredible team around me. It is very gratifying to know that I am not alone in my admiration of this exceptional team that makes such an important difference to the effective delivery of humanitarian aid.”

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