Mapping Disaster, an innovative tool to humanitarian development

by Terre des hommes | Terre des hommes (Tdh) - Switzerland
Friday, 22 August 2014 15:28 GMT

Villagers participate in reconstruction efforts. This photo was taken with a GPS camera, which records the longitudinal and latitudinal location of each image. ©Tdh

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Over the years, advances in satellite imaging have provided increasingly advanced cartographic data through programs like Google Earth that allows users all over the world to view detailed maps of nearly every corner of the earth. For development practitioners, these advances in mapping, when coupled with raw data and images from the ground, have created compelling, interactive ways to display and convey data about their current projects.

Dheena Bandhu, from Terre des hommes (Tdh) Orissa-based office in India, has learned to make use of this mapping technology in his work. Dheena has been one of the first development workers to integrate current technology in the recovery project, implemented by Tdh following the cyclone Phailin and funded by ECHO. In doing so, he has begun to reimagine how both practitioners and their larger audience can conceptualize information that comes from the local level.


Along with others from his team, Dheena has been recording the entire trajectory of Tdh projects with a special GPS digital camera, which stores the longitudinal and latitudinal information associated with each image. He takes these photographs and uploads them to a database that stores a number of other project details and parameters, including everything from the number of people the project is expected to reach, to the chemical composition of water at a hand pump restoration site. This database information is then linked with Google Earth imaging to produce a visual map of the ongoing work. A look at the Google Earth map for the region shows the location of each project, the different types of projects (whether it is house or water pump construction), and all the corresponding project details. The system can also determine information like how far away a project is from the sea, data that is potentially vital in a cyclone-prone area.


“It’s a very critical job,” Dheena says as he scans over the map of the Tdh project region. Although, at times, it can be a lot of effort for him to keep the database up to date, he knows that this system can convey information in dynamic ways that much of the development community has yet to fully utilize. For instance, a well-maintained system can help to make projects feel more real and tangible to donors and others interested in development and relief work. In addition, the technology can help practitioners to design and plan their projects, as they are able to see where resources are most concentrated, and where resources are lacking.

One of the most valuable features of this mapping is that it can be packaged as a link and sent to anyone, anywhere. This means that, when a disaster is unfolding in Orissa, pictures can be uploaded to the database in real time, and sent around the world. Relief workers have the ability to better know which areas have been most affected, and how to formulate their response. The possibilities of such technology are open-ended, and, for those who are willing to innovate, are endlessly exciting.

Every year, Terre des hommes offers sustainable solutions and a better future for over two million children and their relatives. Learn more about our projects in India.