mapping

Promoting Community Mapping and Open Source Platforms in Guatemala

This article appeared in the American Geographical Society newsletter in March 2017.

Faculty and students at the George Washington University (GWU), including AGS President Marie Price, teamed up with the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) last week to bring digital mapping tools to vulnerable communities in Guatemala. The goal is to make life-saving information available to local planners, humanitarian aid workers and the community members themselves. The work is part of a global initiative called Missing Maps, which aims to improve the disaster preparation and the delivery of humanitarian assistance by mapping the world’s most vulnerable places.
 
“Many urban informal communities are literally not on the map, so when emergencies happen they are hard to assist,” says Marie Price. “Mapping and surveying these areas improve our understanding of life threatening conditions and identify households that face the greatest risk.”  Price worked with colleague Dr. Nuala Cowan, who is an Assistant Professor at GWU and a leader in using open source data and tools for humanitarian purposes. Geography Masters students Andrii Berdnyk and Sudie Brown developed workshops and surveys with PADF staff as part of their capstone project.  These materials were shared with colleagues at the University of Rafael Landívar as well as with community members from Ciudad Satélite in the Municipality of Mixco. 

The project began with students at the George Washington University remotely tracing buildings and roads in Ciudad Satélite from satellite imagery on to Open Street Map.  When in Guatemala, the research team worked with community members to validate and correct the maps using field papers.  Community members conducted surveys on the status of buildings as well as talked to household members to understand the threats faced by residents and the resources that they had to combat them. The maps and information were then shared with the community for planning purposes.  By the end of the week, a community that was virtually invisible on Google Maps was fully mapped on Open Street Map (OSM).

In addition, the research team worked with students and faculty at Rafael Landívar University to trace buildings and roads using OSM, to use mobile phone-based survey tools to collect information on household vulnerability, infrastructure and disaster preparedness.
 
PADF is currently implementing a disaster risk reduction project in Guatemala funded by Taiwan and is expected to facilitate the identification of communities most vulnerable to natural hazards, especially floods and landslides.  Faculty and staff from GWU got involved to pilot this innovative community mapping initiative using open source platforms.
 
“By putting open-data mapping technologies into the hands of local students, researchers and members of these communities themselves, we are building grassroots capacity,” says Aaron Van Alstine, Senior Programs Manager at PADF. “We’re empowering communities to take a leading role in preparing for disasters.”

For more information about PADF's mapping projects, visit padf.org/mapping.

Maps, Drones Bring Life-Saving Information to Disaster-Prone Guatemala

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PADF, George Washington University Train Students to Map Using Mobile Phones

Guatemala City (March 10, 2017) — The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) is working with faculty and students at George Washington University (GWU) to bring digital mapping tools to vulnerable communities in Guatemala. The goal is to make life-saving information available to community planners, humanitarian aid workers and residents. PADF is carrying out this work as a member of the global initiative called Missing Maps, which aims to improve disaster preparation and the delivery of humanitarian assistance by mapping the world’s most vulnerable places.

The Municipality of Mixco, Guatemala has vast areas of densely populated settlements located along steep hillsides that often lack adequate roadways, storm drainage, retaining walls or evacuation routes. These conditions make residents especially vulnerable during floods, landslides and other disasters.

A team from PADF and GWU will travel to Guatemala this week to teach students from Rafael Landivar University how to use mobile phone-based survey tools to collect information on household vulnerability, infrastructure and disaster preparedness. PADF is also using drones to capture high-resolution images of communities that can improve the identification of at-risk areas and facilitate the distribution of aid in a disaster. The Humanitarian Information Unit at the U.S. Department of State has supported these efforts by supplying additional high-resolution satellite imagery of targeted areas that are especially vulnerable to landslides.

“By putting open-data mapping technologies into the hands of local students, researchers and members of these communities themselves, we are building grassroots capacity,” says Aaron Van Alstine, Senior Programs Manager at PADF. “We’re empowering communities take a leading role in preparing for disasters.”

High population density, deforestation and land degradation make Guatemala one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Storms, landslides and floods were responsible for more than 90 percent of disaster-related fatalities in the country between 1990 and 2014.

“Many informal urban communities are literally not on the map, so planners ignore them or when emergencies happen they are hard to assist,” says Dr. Marie Price, Professor of Geography and International Affairs at George Washington University. “Mapping improves our understanding of life threatening conditions and identifies the households that face the greatest risk.”

Dr. Nuala Cowan, Assistant Professor of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at George Washington University, supervises the pro-bono consultancy services that two GW students currently provide to PADF as part of their graduate program. Geography students Andrii Berdnyk and Sudie Brown will join Dr. Price and Dr. Cowan in Guatemala where they will conduct field assessments and trainings with local communities to improve the use of mapping tools for reducing vulnerability to disasters.

“Residents need to be part of the decision-making process where their welfare is concerned,” says Dr. Cowan. “Training on accessible technologies, understanding and mapping the risks in their own communities, increases local confidence, awareness and bargaining power from a community perspective.”

PADF is currently implementing a disaster risk reduction project in Guatemala funded by Taiwan and is expected to facilitate the identification of communities most vulnerable to natural hazards, especially floods and landslides.

In addition to training disaster-response teams and implementing small-scale infrastructure projects, PADF is organizing a series of mapathons that bring together volunteers from around the world to trace buildings, roads and other geographic information in Guatemala using satellite imagery. Once collected, this data is stored online and made freely available to the public, including humanitarian assistance organizations and other local groups.

For more information, visit www.padf.org/mapping.

Southern Belize Communities Better Prepared for Natural Disasters  

Taiwan and PADF training program benefits 14,000 residents

 Dangriga, Belize (June 30, 2016) – Thousands of residents of coastal Belize are better prepared for extreme weather and the effects of climate change after a yearlong program funded by Taiwan and implemented by the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF).

Through the Community Preparedness and Resilience initiative, launched in July 2015, PADF assisted over 14,000 residents of Belize’s Stann Creek District in preparing for and responding to disasters.

“We have engaged both communities through capacity building, contingency planning and ecological restoration efforts and increased awareness about disaster preparedness and climate change,” says Dr. Minerva Pinelo, PADF Belize Project Director. “It has been a great experience seeing residents take ownership of the project, become involved in building resilience within their communities and understand how climate change adaptation is key to the preservation of their livelihoods.”

PADF collaborated with communities and partners to carry out the following activities:

  • Trained and equipped local emergency response teams in Dangriga and Hopkins
     
  • Engaged students and teachers at seven schools with programs on climate change and disaster risk reduction
     
  • Launched eight public awareness campaigns aimed at protecting fragile ecosystems
     
  • Created hazard maps, flood gauges and strengthened early warning systems in each community
     
  • Partnered with the University of Belize to expand its Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center and engage students in field work
     
  • Is collaborating with Hamanasi Adventure Dive Resort to plant mangrove trees to mitigate coastal erosion

Through a partnership with the University of Belize, PADF Belize facilitated a course on global positioning system (GPS) tracking and mapping. With support from Taiwan, the university received thousands of dollars’ worth of technical equipment, tools and software in order to build the capacity of its GIS Center. Using the software, the team was able to map vulnerable areas of coastline and create hazard maps listing evacuation routes.

“Working with PADF has been an educational experience,” says Veronica Escalante, a Natural Resource Management student at the University of Belize. “The hazard maps produced as a result of our data collection help make decisions and plan support systems to mitigate disaster that may occur in highly vulnerable coastal areas.  It has been a fulfilling and rewarding experience.

Belize is a low-lying coastal nation that is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels, erosion, flooding and the degradation of valuable marine environments threaten local residents, as well as ecosystems that many Belizeans rely on for their livelihoods in the fishing and tourism industries.

“We must all prepare for climate change,” says H.E. Benjamin Ho, Taiwan’s Ambassador to Belize. “We are pleased that this partnership between Taiwan, PADF and Belize has given coastal communities a head start.”

PADF and Taiwan have been collaborating with countries throughout the region to address emergencies and natural disasters. The Taiwan-PADF Disaster Assistance and Reconstruction Fund is a five-year partnership to foster preparedness and mitigation programs. Community-based disaster preparedness projects have been carried out in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Disaster Assistance and Reconstruction Fund has delivered assistance to more than 282,000 people in Latin America & the Caribbean since 2012.

PADF & Taiwan Train Next Generation of First Responders in St. Vincent

Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines (October 13, 2015) — Today, 106 youth graduated from an 18-month training program to help them prepare for and respond to natural disasters and the effects of climate change.  

Funded by the Government of Taiwan and implemented by the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), the Resilient Livelihoods project develops the next generation of first responders and empowers youth as agents of change in their communities.

The islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are highly vulnerable to natural disasters, including coastal flooding and landslides. Forty percent of the country’s population is at risk of mortality from two or more hazards including an active volcano.  

“Where we live is vulnerable,” says 26–year-old Natalia Bhajan, a Resilient Livelihoods program participant from Georgetown, St. Vincent. “That’s why the people in our area need to be educated. At the end of the day, I want us to go out and teach other people.”

Youth from the communities of Georgetown, Spring Village and the island of Bequia received training with a custom disaster risk reduction and climate change curriculum. With the help of local partners, they learned first aid, fire safety, as well as how to use handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) devices to map areas in the community that are most vulnerable to hazards. 

“Taiwan is happy to help make communities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines more resilient,” says Bau-Shuan Ger, Ambassador of Taiwan to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “This project has successfully equipped young people with the knowledge and tools they need to prepare for climate change, which affects us all.”

After the training, each group carried out hazard mapping exercises with their newfound GPS skills and developed community-driven contingency plans. Also, each group identified and executed community-led projects to improve infrastructure and ecosystems to make the island less vulnerable to disasters.

In Georgetown, an aging bridge was repaired and reinforced. In addition, a vegetative buffer was planted to mitigate flood damage and the local hazard map was painted as a mural for the entire community to reference. On the island of Bequia, the group carried out key ecological restoration activities, including the reforestation of vital coastline to prevent beach erosion. In Spring Village, an ongoing project is upgrading the drainage infrastructure in the community, which is essential to preventing and mitigating the disastrous effects of flooding in the area.  

“The projects have really served to motivate a wonderful group of young people,” says Christobelle Ashton, PADF Project Coordinator. “I like to see growth in people. I like it when they take initiative. Through the participants’ network, they help each other grow. You can see transformation taking place.”

About PADF

The non-profit foundation of the Organization of American States, PADF operates throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to generate economic opportunities, advance social progress, strengthen civil society, and prepare for and respond to natural disasters and humanitarian crises. In 2014, the Foundation reached more than 15 million people in 27 countries. www.padf.org