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GIS aids tsunami victims

In the aftermath of the tsunami that devastated the Indonesian province of Aceh in December 2004, dozens of villages were reduced to rubble fields. Most of the buildings and roads that once defined these communities simply vanished. In the past year an aid group has remapped some of these villages in digital form, trying to plot the effects of the disaster and deliver aid in a more efficient manner. Mercy Corps, working with the University of Washington and the Pacific Disaster Center in Hawaii, used GIS to plot everything from village survival rates to access to destroyed fish ponds. Mercy Corps officials say the work has proved the worth of GIS in international aid campaigns.

Some of the GIS mapping is built upon satellite images taken before and after the tsunami hit Aceh. The maps also plot data collected by Mercy Corps staffers — both Indonesian and international — as they traveled about the disaster zone with GPS tracking devices. The maps show the location of old roads. They pinpoint property lines. They detail the size and boundaries of hundreds of fish ponds washed away by the floodwaters, as a result of outlining the old ponds in satellite photos and then calculating their size and former locations. The data then were put to practical use, such as settling property disputes or figuring out how much dirt would have to be hauled away to rebuild fish ponds. Maps were made identifying banks that remained in business, helping to figure out which survivors had access to financial services.