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Here’s how GIS tackles conflicts, crises, and fake news

Long gone are the days when experts needed to scrape information from a limited number of sources and draw conclusions relying on their intuition. Now, data specialists apply GIS to perform unerringly accurate analyses. This system helps address a wide-ranging of tasks from following socio-economic trends to infrastructure development and more.

Particularly, experts and authorities employ GIS to appropriately react to crises in the world. The most eminent GIS uses include refugees and displaced people resettlement, land monitoring, voting observation, resources management, etc.

In this article, we explore three notable cases of GIS application by analyzing what problems needed to be dealt with, what approaches were adopted and what help the system provided.

Territorial Disputes

After World War II, many places in the world ended up with unresolved territory conflicts or such emerged in contemporary history. Disputes on the territories of Yugoslavia, Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Western Sahara have been among the most pivotal ones. GIS monitoring processes existing data to provide insights into a situation and examines preceding events to avert potential clashes.

One of the ways to resolve a conflict with the help of GIS is by using a 3D visualization. For instance, PowerScene, a digital terrain simulator that comprises shots of different origins, was used for settling the disagreement between Serbian and Bosnian officials over the army presence in the city of Gorazde. With the help of this tool, the US delegation managed to identify the corridor to Gorazde in order to escape the potential escalation in the city.

Schultz, Kenneth A. (2016). Mapping Interstate Territorial Conflict

Data assembled and processed with GIS solutions can shed light on the grounds for the conflict and foresee military, social, and economic consequences. Also, GIS software can thoroughly examine the type of land in question, its resources, demographic aspect, etc. GIS systems can run hypothetical events developments to modify the claims of each of the sides and find optimal solutions. However, the GIS method is effective only during good-faith negotiations.

Humanitarian Aid Distribution

The war in Kosovo resulted in displacing 600,000 Albanians. Nearly 50,000 people fled to mountain hideouts to escape the Serbian army. This lead to the deprivation of necessities and the spark of a humanitarian crisis. Since the spontaneously created community failed to protect the most vulnerable groups, hunger broke out and caused numerous deaths. The International Rescue Committee started a program of humanitarian airdrops to address the unfolded crisis in the mountains.

The implementation of the program relied heavily on GIS. ArcView GIS produced made-to-order maps specifically for each flight. Aircrew received hard-copy maps that included detailed routes for targeted areas. Also, the maps informed crews about the weight of the load, current radio frequencies, and coordinates for the drops.

Additionally, a U.S. terrain elevation model, DTED, was used for providing mapping with detailed summaries of the elevations around drop-off sites as well as the nearby settlements. The areas on maps were color-coded to visually provide further information about the land surface.

Exposing Facts Manipulation

In February 2020, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying claimed that the United States is “consistently creating and spreading fear” about coronavirus. To investigate the evidence for these allegations, the researchers from Aspectum, a cloud service for data analytics, inspected relevant data by the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT). The obtained analysis examined publications by regions over the period from December to early February to compare numbers of China mentions in the US media before and after the outbreak of coronavirus.

The research revealed that within this time there were 266,000 pieces of news about China worldwide, with 200,000 from China itself. As for the US, 120,000 international news updates were published in the country, and only 13,000 were dedicated to China.  In December, this number amounted to 3,684 publications. However, in January it doubled and accounted for 7,219 pieces. And during the first four days in February, there were already 2,149 news stories published on the topic.

Aspectum also created a map that visualizes the gathered data. It reveals information on different levels. On the first one, a user can see the connections between news and places, as well as information about locations and links in the arcs. A widget that represents the arcs shows the exact time each piece of news was published. On the lower level, there’s information about the number of publications (vertical bars) on different territories and their tone (marked by colors). On the lowest level, users can find news points that display information about a specific publication.

Visualization of the US media news about China. Courtesy: Aspectum

To sum up, the frequency and range of GIS use are increasing, especially in foreign relations and crisis management. The spatial element was oftentimes overlooked, which prevented conflicts from timely and sufficient resolutions. Now, geospatial data analyses empower authorities and organizations with profound insights for examining problems and offer practical solutions.

Note: This is a guest blog by Artem Berehovyi, who is CBDO of Aspectum