Congo: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is increasingly using GIS technology to improve its humanitarian operations. In an interview, René Saameli, the ICRC’s GIS coordinator, explained how the organisation utilises GIS based maps for smooth functioning.
Saameli explained that GIS technology is a marvellous tool for effective decision-making and action. Stating an example, he said, “When you’re planning to distribute food or other supplies in remote areas, it’s vital to know where the beneficiaries are, how to reach them and what infrastructure they already have. Obtaining a map that provided this information used to be a difficult task. Today, basic maps are much more readily available. And a lot of progress has been made with GIS methods that enable us to map and share this information. In fact, they have completely revolutionised the way we work.”
Further explaining the advantages of GIS, Saameli stated, that ICRC often works in poorly mapped areas. “We have a project to repair and expand the water-supply system in Walikale, a town in North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. But before we embarked on the project, we needed to know how the population was spread over the territory and where to lay the pipes, dig the reservoirs and deliver the water. We needed a detailed map. So we bought a satellite image of the town and asked the humanitarian OpenStreetMap community of volunteers to digitise the location of buildings and roads in order to draw up an accurate map,” he added.
ICRC has been using GIS technology for around 15 years. Before 2003, the organisation occasionally used this technology in the field. Later GIS specialists were hired to join ICRC delegates. Since 2006, the water and habitat unit of ICRC has been providing mapping services to any ICRC department that requests them.
The organisation has also recently set up an online geoportal that enables staff members to produce their own tailor-made maps. The geoportal provides a geographic depiction of a range of key data, such as the location of warehouses, stock levels and aid-distribution sites.
GIS tools and collaborative approaches drawing on data gathered by networks of volunteers are becoming increasingly important for humanitarian organisations. These tools and methods make it possible to gather and exploit invaluable local and worldwide data that was previously non-existent or too complicated to process.