Tag Archives: GIS

Crisis Mapping Climate Change, Conflict and Aid in Africa

I recently gave a guest lecture at the University of Texas, Austin, and finally had the opportunity to catch up with my colleague Josh Busby who has been working on a promising crisis mapping project as part of the university’s Climate Change and African Political Stability Program (CCAPS).

Josh and team just released the pilot version of its dynamic mapping tool, which aims to provide the most comprehensive view yet of climate change and security in Africa. The platform, developed in partnership with AidData, enables users to “visualize data on climate change vulnerability, conflict, and aid, and to analyze how these issues intersect in Africa.” The tool is powered by ESRI technology and allows researchers as well as policymakers to “select and layer any combination of CCAPS data onto one map to assess how myriad climate change impacts and responses intersect. For example, mapping conflict data over climate vulnera-bility data can assess how local conflict patterns could exacerbate climate-induced insecurity in a region. It also shows how conflict dynamics are changing over time and space.”

The platform provides hyper-local data on climate change and aid-funded interventions, which can provide important insights on how development assistance might (or might not) be reducing vulnerability. For example, aid projects funded by 27 donors in Malawi (i.e., aid flows) can be layered on top of the climate change vulnerability data to “discern whether adaptation aid is effectively targeting the regions where climate change poses the most significant risk to the sustainable development and political stability of a country.”

If this weren’t impressive enough, I was positively amazed when I learned from Josh and team that the conflict data they’re using, the Armed Conflict Location Event Data (ACLED), will be updated on a weekly basis as part of this project, which is absolutely stunning. Back in the day, ACLED was specifically coding historical data. A few years ago they closed the gap by updating some conflict data on a yearly basis. Now the temporal lag will just be one week. Note that the mapping tool already draws on the Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD).

This project is an important contribution to the field of crisis mapping and I look forward to following CCAPS’s progress closely over the next few months. I’m hoping that Josh will present this project at the 2012 International Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM 2012) later this year.

Google Inc + World Bank = Empowering Citizen Cartographers?

World Bank Managing Director Caroline Anstey recently announced a new partnership with Google that will apparently empower citizen cartographers in 150 countries worldwide. This has provoked some concern among open source enthusiasts. Under this new agreement, the Bank, UN agencies and developing country governments will be able to “access Google Map Maker’s global mapping platform, allowing the collection, viewing, search and free access to data of geoinformation in over 150 countries and 60 languages.”

So what’s the catch? Google’s licensing agreement for Google Map Maker stipulates the following: Users are not allowed to access Google Map Maker data via any platform other than those designated by Google. Users are not allowed to make any copies of the data, nor can they translate the data, modify it or create a derivative of the data. In addition, users cannot publicly display any Map Maker data for commercial purposes. Finally, users cannot use Map Maker data to create a service that is similar to any already provided by Google.

There’s a saying in the tech world that goes like this: “If the product is free, then you are the product.” I fear this may be the case with the Google-Bank partnership. I worry that Google will organize more crowdsourced mapping projects (like the one they did for Sudan last year), and use people with local knowledge to improve Map Maker data, which will carry all the licensing restrictions described above. Does this really empower citizen cartographers?

Or is this about using citizen cartographers (as free labor?) for commercial purposes? Will Google push Map Maker data to Google Maps & Google Earth products, i.e., expanding market share & commercial interests? Contrast this with the World Bank’s Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI), which uses open source software and open data to empower local communities and disaster risk managers. Also, the Google-Bank partnership is specifically with UN agencies and governments, not exactly citizens or NGOs.

Caroline Anstey concludes her announcement with the following:

“In the 17th century, imperial cartographers had an advantage over local communities. They could see the big picture. In the 21st century, the tables have turned: local communities can make the biggest on the ground difference. Crowdsourced citizen cartographers can help make it happen.”

 Here’s another version:

“In the 21st century, for-profit companies like Google Inc have an advantage over local communities. They can use big license restrictions. With the Google-Bank partnership, Google can use local communities to collect information for free and make the biggest profit. Crowdsourced citizen cartographers can help make it happen.”

The Google-Bank partnership points to another important issue being ignored in this debate. Let’s not pretend that technology alone determines whether participatory mapping truly empowers local communities. I recently learned of an absolutely disastrous open source “community” mapping project in Africa which should one day should be written up in a blog post entitled “Open Source Community Mapping #FAIL”.

So software developers (whether from the open source or proprietary side) who want to get involved in community mapping and have zero experience in participatory GIS, local development and capacity building should think twice: the “do no harm” principle also applies to them. This is equally true of Google Inc. The entire open source mapping community will be watching every move they make on this new World Bank partnership.

I do hope Google eventually realizes just how much of an opportunity they have to do good with this partnership. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will draft a separate licensing agreement for the World Bank partnership. In fact, I hope they openly invite the participatory GIS and open source mapping communities to co-draft an elevated licensing agreement that will truly empower citizen cartographers. Google would still get publicity—and more importantly positive publicity—as a result. They’d still get the data and have their brand affiliated with said data. But instead of locking up the Map Maker data behind bars and financially profiting from local communities, they’d allow citizens themselves to use the data in whatever platform they so choose to improve citizen feedback in project planning, implementation and monitoring & evaluation. Now wouldn’t that be empowering?

Identifying Strategic Protest Routes for Civil Resistance: An Analysis of Optimal Approaches to Tahrir Square

My colleague Jessica recently won the Tufts GIS Poster Expo with her excellent poster on civil resistance. She used GIS data to analyze optimal approaches to Tahrir Square in Cairo. According to Jessica, many previous efforts to occupy the square had failed. So Egyptian activists spent two weeks brainstorming the best strategies to approach Tahrir Square.

Out of curiosity, Jessica began to wonder whether the use of GIS data and spatial analysis might shed some light on possible protest routes. She began her analysis by  identifying three critical strategic elements for a successful protest route:

“1) Gathering points where demonstrators initiate protests; 2) two types of routes—protest collection areas of high population density through which protesters walk to collect additional supporters and protest approach routes on major streets that accommodate large groups that are more difficult to disperse; and 3) convergence points where smaller groups of protester merge to increase strength in order to approach the destination.”

For her analysis, Jessica took gathering points and convergence points into consideration. For example, many Egyptian activist met at Mosques. So she selected optimal Mosques based on their distance to police stations (the farther the better) and high road density area “as a proxy for population density.” In terms of convergence points, smaller groups of protestors converged on major roads and intersections. The criteria that Jessica used to select these points were: distance to Tahrir Square, high density of road junctions and open space to allow for large group movement. She also took into account protest route collection areas. These tend to be “densely populated and encourage residents to join, increasing participation.” So Jessica selected these based on high road density and most direct route to Tahrir Square using major roads.

Overlaying the data and using GIS analysis on each strategic element yields the following optimal routes to Tahrir:

Jessica writes that “the results of this project demonstrate that GIS tools can be used for plotting strategic routes for protest using criteria that can change based on the unique geospatial environment. In Cairo, the optimal gathering points, strategic routes and convergence points are not always located in an obvious path (i.e. optimal mosques located in areas with low road density or convergence points without gathering points in the close proximity). The map does, however, provide protest organizers with some basic instruction on where to start, what direction to head and where to converge for the final approach.”

She does also acknowledge some of the limitations of the study owing to lack of high-resolution spatial data. I would add temporal data since civil resistance is fluid and changes, which requires rapid adaptation and re-strategizing. If her analysis could be combined with real time information coming from crowdsourced data such as U-Shahid, then I think this could be quite powerful.

For more on the civil resistance tactics used in Egypt during the revolution, please see this blog post.

Crisis Mapping Uganda: Combining Narratives and GIS to Study Genocide

This new peer-reviewed paper in The Professional Geographer is worth reading, especially if you’re new to crisis mapping. Authors Marguerite Madden and Amy Ross combine qualitative data of personal narratives with GIS technologies to “explore the potential for critical cartography in the study of mass atrocity.”

The authors use Northern Uganda, where millions have been affected by physical violence, as a case study. Their research yields the following conclusions:

  • Satellite images confirm the disruptive impact of forced relocation on economic activity, which resulted in greater levels of mortality than overt violence of LRA attacks.
  • Points, lines, and polygons delineated in Google Earth can be uploaded in ArcGIS to analyze the spatial patterns of huts and changes in IDP camps over time.
  • GIS data appear to have potential in documenting crimes that fall within the category of crimes against humanity.
  • Qualitative data may fail to demonstrate the extent and systematic nature of violence. GIS techniques may be able to provide the widespread and systematic criteria necessary for a conviction on crimes against humanity when individual life experiences are too difficult to document in sufficient numbers.
  • GIScience technologies appear to have less value in determining the crime of genocide. To reach a legal finding of genocide, the intent of the perpetrators must be established. GIS technologies alone, it seems, fail to provide solutions to this difficulty.

Marguerite and Amy cite the following research, which may be of interest to those looking for further reading in this area:

Kwan, M., and G. Ding. 2008. Geo-narrative: Extending geographic information systems for narrative
analysis in qualitative and mixed-method research. The Professional Geographer 60 (4): 443–65.

I wonder whether Marguerite and Amy have thought about exploring a collaboration with the EC’s Joint Research Center (JRC). The latter has developed automated change-detection methods for refugee/IDP camps, and if I remember correctly, they are looking for ways to validate their analysis using ground truthing.

Many thanks to my colleague Andrew Linke of Colorado University for sharing this paper with me.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Literature Review: GIS for Conflict Analysis

This interesting peer-reviewed study (PDF) was authored by researchers at the Joint Research Center (JRC) and published in the International Studies Review in September 2009.

Political and social scientists have quantitatively analyzed the drivers of conflicts in a large number of studies. Geographic components and territorial concepts have emerged as important drivers in interstate disputes. However, geographic components are rarely defined or measured with the same technique.

This study reviews geographic and territorial concepts, associated data sets and analysis methods. The study objective is to represent geographic and territorial concepts with Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The paper describes the challenges and potential opportunities for creating an integrated GIS model of security.

The literature review is a good introduction for anyone interested in the application of GIS to the spatial analysis of conflict. As a colleague mentioned, however, the authors of the study do not cite more recent work in this area, which is rather surprising and unfortunate. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the academic peer-review process can seemingly take forever.

Patrick Philippe Meier

Field Guide to Humanitarian Mapping

MapAction just released an excellent mapping guide for the humanitarian community. Authored principally by Naomi Morris, the guide comprises four chapters that outline a range of mapping methods suitable for humanitarian field word.

The first chapter serves as an introduction to humanitarian mapping. Chapter two explains how to make the best use of GPS for data collection. Note that the latest version of Google Earth (v5.0) includes GPS connectivity. The third and fourth chapters provide a user-friendly, hands-on tutorial on how to use Google Earth and MapWindow for humanitarian mapping.

The purpose of this post is to quickly summarize some of the points I found most interesting in the Guide and to offer some suggestions for further research. I do not summarize the tutorials but I do comment on Google Earth and MapWindow might be improved for humanitarian mapping. The end of this post includes a list of recommended links.

Introduction

John Holmes, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs argues that “information is very directly about saving lives. If we take the wrong decisions, make the wrong choices about where we put our money and our effort because our knowledge is poor, we are condemning some of the most deserving to death or destitution.”

I completely agree with this priority-emphasis on information. The purpose of crisis mapping and particularly mobile crisis mapping is for at-risk communities to improve their situational awareness during humanitarian crises. The hope is that relevant and timely information will enable communities to make more informed—and thus better— decisions on how to get out of harm’s way. Recall the purpose of people-centered early warning as defined by the UNISDR:

To empower individuals and communities threatened by hazards to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner so as to reduce the possibility of personal injury, loss of life, damage to property and the environment, and loss of livelihoods.

Naomi also cites a Senior Officer from the IFRC who explains the need to map vulnerability and develop baselines prior to a disaster context. “The data for these baselines would include scientific hazard data and the outputs from qualitative assessments at community level.”

This point is worth expanding on. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post specifically on crisis mapping baselines for monitoring and impact evaluation. I hope to do so shortly. In the meantime, the importance of baselines vis-à-vis crisis mapping is a pressing area for further research.

Community Mapping

I really appreciate Naomi’s point that humanitarian mapping does not require sophisticated, proprietary software. As she note, “there has been a steady growth in the number of ‘conventional’ desktop GIS packages available under free or open-source licenses.”

Moreover, maps can also be “created using other tools including a pad of graph paper and a pencil, or even an Excel spreadsheet.” Indeed, we should always “consider whether ‘low/no tech’ methods [can meet our] needs before investing time in computer-based methods.”

To this end, Naomi includes a section in her introduction on community-level mapping techniques.

Community-level mapping is a powerful method for disaster risk mitigation and preparedness.  It is driven by input from the beneficiary participants; this benefits the plan output with a broader overview of the area, while allowing the community to be involved. Local people can, using simple maps that they have created, quickly see and analyse important patterns in the risks they face.

Again, Naomi emphasizes the fact that computer-based tools are not essential for crisis mapping at the community level. Instead, we can “compile sketches, data from assessments and notes into representations of the region [we] are looking at using tools like pen and paper.”

To be sure, “in a situation with no time or resources, a map can be enough to help to identify the most at-risk areas of a settlement, and to mark the location of valuable services […].”

Conclusion

I highly recommend following the applied  Google Earth and MapWindow tutorials in the Guide. They are written in a very accessible way that make it easy to follow or use as a teaching tool, so many thanks to Naomi for putting this together.

I would have liked to see more on crisis mapping analysis in the Guide but the fact of the matter is that Google Earth and MapWindow provide little in the way of simple features for applied geostatistics. So this is not a criticism of the report or the author.

Links

Patrick Philippe Meier

A Brief History of Crisis Mapping (Updated)

Introduction

One of the donors I’m in contact with about the proposed crisis mapping conference wisely recommended I add a big-picture background to crisis mapping. This blog post is my first pass at providing a brief history of the field. In a way, this is a combined summary of several other posts I have written on this blog over the past 12 months plus my latest thoughts on crisis mapping.

Evidently, this account of history is very much influenced by my own experience so I may have unintentionally missed a few relevant crisis mapping projects. Note that by crisis  I refer specifically to armed conflict and human rights violations. As usual, I welcome any feedback and comments you may have so I can improve my blog posts.

From GIS to Neogeography: 2003-2005

The field of dynamic crisis mapping is new and rapidly changing. The three core drivers of this change are the increasingly available and accessible of (1) open-source, dynamic mapping tools; (2) mobile data collection technologies; and lastly (3) the development of new methodologies.

Some experts at the cutting-edge of this change call the results “Neogeography,” which is essentially about “people using and creating their own maps, on their own terms and by combining elements of an existing toolset.” The revolution in applications for user-generated content and mobile technology provides the basis for widely distributed information collection and crowdsourcing—a term coined by Wired less than three years ago. The unprecedented rise in citizen journalism is stark evidence of this revolution. New methodologies for conflict trends analysis increasingly take spatial and/or inter-annual dynamics into account and thereby reveal conflict patterns that otherwise remain hidden when using traditional methodologies.

Until recently, traditional mapping tools were expensive and highly technical geographic information systems (GIS), proprietary software that required extensive training to produce static maps.

In terms of information collection, trained experts traditionally collected conflict and human rights data and documented these using hard-copy survey forms, which typically became proprietary once completed. Scholars began coding conflict event-data but data sharing was the exception rather than the rule.

With respect to methodologies, the quantitative study of conflict trends was virtually devoid of techniques that took spatial dynamics into account because conflict data at the time was largely macro-level data constrained by the “country-year straightjacket.”

That is, conflict data was limited to the country-level and rarely updated more than once a year, which explains why methodologies did not seek to analyze sub-national and inter-annual variations for patterns of conflict and human rights abuses. In addition, scholars in the political sciences were more interested in identifying when conflict as likely to occur as opposed to where. For a more in-depth discussion of this issue, please see my paper from 2006  “On Scale and Complexity in Conflict Analysis” (PDF).

Neogeography is Born: 2005

The pivotal year for dynamic crisis mapping was 2005. This is the year that Google rolled out Google Earth. The application marks an important milestone in Neogeography because the free, user-friendly platform drastically reduced the cost of dynamic and interactive mapping—cost in terms of both availability and accessibility. Microsoft has since launched Virual Earth to compete with Google Earth and other  potential contenders.

Interest in dynamic crisis mapping did exist prior to the availability of Google Earth. This is evidenced by the dynamic mapping initiatives I took at Swisspeace in 2003. I proposed that the organization use GIS tools to visualize, animate and analyze the geo-referenced conflict event-data collected by local Swisspeace field monitors in conflict-ridden countries—a project called FAST. In a 2003 proposal, I defined dynamic crisis maps as follows:

FAST Maps are interactive geographic information systems that enable users of leading agencies to depict a multitude of complex interdependent indicators on a user-friendly and accessible two-dimensional map. […] Users have the option of selecting among a host of single and composite events and event types to investigate linkages [between events]. Events and event types can be superimposed and visualized through time using FAST Map’s animation feature. This enables users to go beyond studying a static picture of linkages to a more realistic dynamic visualization.

I just managed to dig up old documents from 2003 and found the interface I had designed for FAST Maps using the template at the time for Swisspeace’s website.

fast-map1

fast-map2

However, GIS software was (and still is) prohibitively expensive and highly technical. To this end, Swisspeace was not compelled to make the necessary investments in 2004 to develop the first crisis mapping platform for producing dynamic crisis maps using geo-referenced conflict data. In hindsight, this was the right decision since Google Earth was rolled out the following year.

Enter PRIO and GROW-net: 2006-2007

With the arrival of Google Earth, a variety of dynamic crisis maps quickly emerged. In fact, one if not the first application of Google Earth for crisis mapping was carried out in 2006 by Jen Ziemke and I. We independently used Google Earth and newly available data from the Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) to visualize conflict data over time and space. (Note that both Jen and I were researchers at PRIO between 2006-2007).

Jen used Google Earth to explain the dynamics and spatio-temporal variation in violence during the Angolan war. To do this, she first coded nearly 10,000 battle and massacre events as reported in the Portuguese press that took place over a 40 year period.

Meanwhile, I produced additional dynamic crisis maps of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for PRIO and of the Colombian civil war for the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CARC) in Bogota. At the time, researchers in Oslo and Bogota used proprietary GIS software to produce static maps (PDF) of their newly geo-referenced conflict data. PRIO eventually used Google Earth but only to publicize the novelty of their new geo-referenced historical conflict datasets.

Since then, PRIO has continued to play an important role in analyzing the spatial dynamics of armed conflict by applying new quantitative methodologies. Together with universities in Europe, the Institute formed the Geographic Representations of War-net (GROW-net) in 2006, with the goal of “uncovering the causal mechanisms that generate civil violence within relevant historical and geographical and historical configurations.” In 2007, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH), a member of GROW-net, produced dynamic crisis maps using Google Earth for a project called WarViews.

Crisis Mapping Evolves: 2007-2008

More recently, Automated Crisis Mapping (ACM), real-time and automated information collection mechanisms using natural language processing (NLP) have been developed for the automated and dynamic mapping of disaster and health-related events. Examples of such platforms include the Global Disaster Alert and Crisis System (GDACS), CrisisWire, Havaria and HealthMap. Similar platforms have been developed for  automated mapping of other news events, such as Global Incident Map, BuzzTracker, Development Seed’s Managing the News, and the Joint Research Center’s European Media Monitor.

Equally recent is the development of Mobile Crisis Mapping (MCM), mobile crowdsourcing platforms designed for the dynamic mapping of conflict and human rights data as exemplified by Ushahidi (with FrontLineSMS) and the Humanitarian Sensor Web (SensorWeb).

Another important development around this time is the practice of participatory GIS preceded by the recognition that social maps and conflict maps can empower local communities and be used for conflict resolution. Like maps of natural disasters and environmental degradation, these can be developed and discussed at the community level to engage conversation and joint decision-making. This is a critical component since one of the goals of crisis mapping is to empower individuals to take better decisions.

HHI’s Crisis Mapping Project: 2007-2009

The Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) is currently playing a pivotal role in crafting the new field of dynamic crisis mapping. Coordinated by Jennifer Leaning and myself, HHI is completing a two-year applied research project on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning. This project comprised a critical and comprehensive evaluation of the field and the documentation of lessons learned, best practices as well as alternative and innovative approaches to crisis mapping and early warning.

HHI also acts as an incubator for new projects and  supported the conceptual development of new crisis mapping platforms like Ushahidi and the SensorWeb. In addition, HHI produced the first comparative and dynamic crisis map of Kenya by drawing on reports from the mainstream media, citizen journalists and Ushahidi to analyze spatial and temporal patterns of conflict events and communication flows during a crisis.

HHI’s Sets a Research Agenda: 2009

HHI has articulated an action-oriented research agenda for the future of crisis mapping based on the findings from the two-year crisis mapping project. This research agenda can be categorized into the following three areas, which were coined by HHI:

  1. Crisis Map Sourcing
  2. Mobile Crisis Mapping
  3. Crisis Mapping Analytics

1) Crisis Map Sourcing (CMS) seeks to further research on the challenge of visualizing disparate sets of data ranging from structural and dynamic data to automated and mobile crisis mapping data. The challenge of CMS is to develop appropriate methods and best practices for mashing data from Automated Crisis Mapping (ACM) tools and Mobile Crisis Mapping platforms (see below) to add value to Crisis Mapping Analytics (also below).

2) The purpose of setting an applied-research agenda for Mobile Crisis Mapping, or MCM, is to recognize that the future of distributed information collection and crowdsourcing will be increasingly driven by mobile technologies and new information ecosystems. This presents the crisis mapping community with a host of pressing challenges ranging from data validation and manipulation to data security.

These hurdles need to be addressed directly by the crisis mapping community so that new and creative solutions can be applied earlier rather than later. If the persistent problem of data quality is not adequately resolved, then policy makers may question the reliability of crisis mapping for conflict prevention, rapid response and the documentation of human rights violations. Worse still, inaccurate data may put lives at risk.

3) Crisis Mapping Analytics (CMA) is the third critical area of research set by HHI. CMA is becoming increasingly important given the unprecedented volume of geo-referenced data that is rapidly becoming available. Existing academic platforms like WarViews and operational MCM platforms like Ushahidi do not include features that allow practitioners, scholars and the public to query the data and to visually analyze and identify the underlying spatial dynamics of the conflict and human rights data. This is largely true of Automated Crisis Mapping (ACM) tools as well.

In other words, new and informative metrics are need to be developed to identify patterns in human rights abuses and violent conflict both retrospectively and in real-time. In addition, existing techniques from spatial econometrics need to be rendered more accessible to non-statisticians and built into existing dynamic crisis mapping platforms.

Conclusion

Jen Ziemke and I thus conclude that the most pressing need in the field of crisis mapping is to bridge the gap between scholars and practitioners who self-identify as crisis mappers. This is the most pressing issue because bridging that divide will enable the field of crisis mapping to effectively and efficiently move forward by pursuing the three research agendas set out by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI).

We think this is key to moving the crisis-mapping field into more mainstream humanitarian and human rights work—i.e., operational response. But doing so first requires that leading crisis mapping scholars and practitioners proactively bridge the existing gap. This is the core goal of the crisis mapping conference that we propose to organize.

Patrick Philippe Meier