Cartography in a Crisis

By Hoare, Natalie | Geographical, September 2009 | Go to article overview

Cartography in a Crisis


Hoare, Natalie, Geographical


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In the chaos that often follows a natural disaster, maps, aerial photography and satellite imagery can offer some degree of clarity on the scale of the situation that can ultimately save lives. A year on from Cyclone Nargis, Natalie Hoare investigates how maps are sourced, developed and used in the field, and how a lack of high-quality maps and other problems might have affected the humanitarian response in Myanmar

This shows the actual path that Cyclone Nargis took,' says Ian Howard-Williams from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), pointing to a multi-coloured line snaking its way over a satellite image of the Bay of Bengal. 'We had been watching it when it was just a tropical storm and were obviously concerned because it was heading for Bangladesh. But by Thursday night, it changed direction and we all knew what it was going to do.'

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar last year, it resulted in the worst natural disaster in the nation's recorded history. At 4pro local time on 2 May, a swirling mass of dense cloud and winds of to215km/h made landfall near up the mouth of the Irrawaddy River, driving a devastating tidal surge inland with it. The low-lying, fertile Irrawaddy region--Myanmar's 'rice bowl'--was inundated as Nargis continued its northeasterly path, passing close to the country's largest city, Yangon, before dissipating near the Thai border less than 24 hours later. Some 700,000 homes were destroyed and two million people left homeless.

The precise number of fatalities is still not known (estimates vary between 80,000 and 146,000), but the death toll could have been significantly lower had the world's aid agencies been granted entry into Myanmar. For eight days after the initial impact, the country's military rulers barred entry to almost all international disaster relief specialists and effectively blocked aid--a situation that was condemned around the world, prompting Prime Minister Gordon Brown to denounce the 'inhuman treatment of the Burmese people'. While they tried to get visas, Howard-Williams and the rest of the Humanitarian Preparedness and Response Team monitored the situation via the DFID Myanmar office in Yangon.

Normally, the team would arrive at the disaster zone within a day or two. 'We got there eight days after the cyclone, but we had already started to get an idea of where had been hit the worst and what the most pressing issues were,' says Deborah Baglole, team leader of DFID's Cyclone Nargis response team. 'We were able to set up our team within the Myanmar office, get hold of downloaded maps and other useful local information and work out what we were going to do.'

MAPPING THE EMERGENCY

When a natural disaster occurs, the response from aid agencies typically follows a prescribed chain of events. The first phase involves search and rescue, which tends to last for around two to three days, followed by a 'needs assessment' of aid.

'It's during the assessment and early relief phases that there is a need for basic information about the emergency,' explains Nigel Woof from MapAction, a small NGO that describes itself as 'the blue-light service of the mapping world', providing mapping and other geospatial information following natural disasters. 'Many of the questions that arise are about the extent or geography of the disaster. There can be an awful lot of mistakes made if there is a lack of understanding about where an actual disaster is, where those affected by it are, where the resources are and how to reach the affected people with those resources.'

Maps, aerial photography and satellite imagery are critical, if not vital, for navigation in an emergency, but their real power is in their ability to communicate and share complex information about an ever-changing situation among the different agencies involved. For Baglole and her team, maps enable them to make an assessment of the situation and then make recommendations to NGOs and UN agencies working in the region and channel funds accordingly. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Cartography in a Crisis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.