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Maps 2.0 Geospatial Tools for Nonprofits and Humanitarian Relief

Visit our Maps 2.0 site for more information

The HumaniNet Maps 2.0 team was proud to be able to participate in Exercise Talom, held in late November by ADRA and World Vision in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand.  

Personnel from over 12 nations gathered in Chiang Mai, representing all the countries of

Southeast Asia as well as India, New Zealand, Australia, Mongolia, and the United States. Many of the managers had been directly engaged in relief activities in Myanmar and other countries in 2008. 

The two NGO teams conducted classroom training in Chiang Mai beginning on November 19, culminating in a table-top exercise on November 22.  Representatives of the World Food Programme and other emergency response organizations also participated in the training. 
After a day of preparation and rest, the exercise began on Sunday, November 23, with situation reports of a flash flood in the village of Ban Yang Loung, about three hours drive to the west of Chiang Mai.  The teams organized transportation, purchased supplies, and arrived in the village in the late afternoon.

A complete report on the field simulation is beyond the scope of this article.  But we should mention that one simple but effective measure was tested successfully: posting a static map of the roads and features of the exercise region as soon as the location was known, at the exercise start.  Our volunteers (staying up pretty late) found maps on the Web and posted them for downloading by the field teams before they departed.

While getting maps online is not always necessary, many relief managers have reported that they often get on airplanes in a hurry, heading for an unfamiliar region, and very much needed a map to study while enroute.  This is not difficult for even a volunteer team, enabling NGO managers worldwide to download and print maps anywhere, even at the airport.

Please take a look at the online maps of the 2008 exercise in Northern Thailand.  More and more people are finding that Google Earth is easy (and fun) to use, so we suggest you download the free software and give it a try, using the kml files available on our exercise page.

For background and reports on previous simulation exercises, see:

Our findings in the Nepal and Thailand simulations make a compelling case that GIS and digital maps can be used to advantage in both disaster relief and development projects.

In the area of emergency response, the need has been clear for many years.  In a comprehensive and informative assessment report on the Pakistan Earthquake response in 2005, Paul Currion noted the following (page 18 of the report):

"In particular, many staff identified problems with maps. In the words of one programme manager in Mansehra, 'if we had good maps, we would be on top of things.' Maps are critical to planning and implementation across the whole range of activities that [humanitarian teams] undertake."

"More than one staff member complained that the maps provided . . . are frequently inaccurate."

Since the Asia tsunami disaster in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a growing number of nonprofit and humanitarian organizations have recognized the tremendous potential of Web-delivered maps and map-based analysis. Google Earth and other Web services have demonstrated the power of online mapping tools, often known as geographic information systems (GIS) or geospatial analysis.

The HumaniNet team and our nonprofit partners believe that this revolution in mapping tools will change the way we think about projects with social, environmental, and humanitarian purposes.
A growing number of nonprofit teams and initiatives have begun to use geospatial tools to create maps for disaster teams, study environmental and global warming trends, and analyze "layers" of data in community projects. While there are hundreds of examples and success stories, there is no single clearinghouse for sharing best practices, learning of new open source GIS tools, and connecting with others in the nonprofit community with common needs.

The Maps 2.0 vision is to establish the first nonprofit online resource for sharing best practices in GIS and digital maps.  HumaniNet has formed an advisory team to help create a volunteer-based community of practice in GIS.

We are also in touch with other nonprofit partners to find a sustainable model for expanding the Maps 2.0 initiative.  We believe that a well-coordinated volunteer team can provide a valuable service to the NGO-nonprofit community by reviewing and posting significant and promising GIS developments and encouraging networking with other GIS experts and users. HumaniNet's experience in leading collaborative communities and partnering with over 100 global organizations is a key advantage in this endeavor.

The Maps 2.0 community will be a quantum boost to the nonprofit and humanitarian teams that are otherwise "on their own" to find, evaluate, and implement map-based tools in support of such projects as community action, affordable housing, preserving endangered species, water and agricultural development projects, and of course disaster response.

We wish to acknowledge with sincere thanks the Meyer Memorial Trust for a generous grant that made this project possible.  Our thanks also to the team members at Exercise Talom for their superb cooperation and very helpful feedback.

For more information, please email us at

December 2008


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