NGOs often play an important role in participatory environmental and human management and are aware of the lack of available geographic information. This paper describes how geoinformation needs of NGOs involved in emergency response could partly be satisfied through the setup of a disaster management information system
Efficient management and planning decisions assume comprehensive, current and generally accessible information. This is already asserted in Agenda 21 which calls attention to the enormous gap in the availability of information in developing countries and the importance of improving data collection as well as access to existing information (UNCED 1992). To reach this requirement the United Nations recommend to increase the use of geographic information and related management tools (such as GIS) in the various missions, programmes and projects performed by UN agencies (BRAHIMI 2000). This underlines the important role of GIS and geo data in decision-making and community development from grass-roots level to UN agencies. Polls however show that lots of organisations do not know how to deal with geo information so that their benefits is not recognised (SYNE 2003). The following paper describes how geo information needs of NGOs (e.g. involved in emergency response) could partly be satisfied through the setup of a disaster management information system based on public baseline data.
For non-GIS specialists it is sometimes hard to understand the technologies’ advantage. GIS have developed far beyond its cartographic origins into a tool for planning and decision support. The use of GIS gives the opportunity to visualise the information not only as tables, diagrams and reports but also in maps. Further, on a GIS includes tools to solve complex planning and management problems by managing, manipulating, analysing, modelling, querying and displaying of spatial data (GOODCHILD 1990). NGOs often play an important role in participatory environmental and human management and are aware of the lack of available geographic information, but however face difficulties in obtaining existing geographical information and even how to use software tools to manage it. If data is available the national data policies often prevent free access to the data but charge high costs for acquisition. Today the Internet offers a great source for freely available geo-data. Of course license policies have to be considered but for personal and non-economical use the data can be downloaded.
This project was an attempt to show that a disaster management information system can be set up on public data and supply NGOs with valuable information for planning and decision support. By a random selection the country Armenia was selected for this attempt. But it is stated that the project could be replicated with any other country. Armenia is located in south western Asia, east of Turkey. Despite of political events concerning the Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan conflict the country gets to the headlines by severe earthquakes (CIA 2004).
What aim does the users have while using geographic data?
The following user scenario is presumed: a local or international NGO which is engaged in emergency response projects wants to use geographic information to be prepared for future missions and to support the disaster response and rehabilitation phase. As Armenia is affected by earthquakes and volcanos the country is a good example. What information does this organisation need to be prepared for future missions? The information needs in disaster management can be separated in two categories:
- Information used for pre-disaster activities such as risk assessment of the area, planning and preparedness for the impact as well as prevention and mitigation
- Information used for post-disaster activities such as rapid response after the impact and the recovery phase to get an overview about the extent of the damages.
All phases of the disaster management cycle can be served preparing a land information system with baseline map data. This baseline map shows essential details as roads, towns, natural and political boundaries. For post-disaster activities like response and recovery additional real-time data about the impact and the resources available to reduce it are essential. They can be derived e.g., from on the spot data collection as well as remote sensing. Combining real-time data with baseline maps helps to identify areas with biggest damages and humanitarian needs.