Tag Archives: Vulnerability

Crisis Mapping Climate Change, Conflict and Aid in Africa

I recently gave a guest lecture at the University of Texas, Austin, and finally had the opportunity to catch up with my colleague Josh Busby who has been working on a promising crisis mapping project as part of the university’s Climate Change and African Political Stability Program (CCAPS).

Josh and team just released the pilot version of its dynamic mapping tool, which aims to provide the most comprehensive view yet of climate change and security in Africa. The platform, developed in partnership with AidData, enables users to “visualize data on climate change vulnerability, conflict, and aid, and to analyze how these issues intersect in Africa.” The tool is powered by ESRI technology and allows researchers as well as policymakers to “select and layer any combination of CCAPS data onto one map to assess how myriad climate change impacts and responses intersect. For example, mapping conflict data over climate vulnera-bility data can assess how local conflict patterns could exacerbate climate-induced insecurity in a region. It also shows how conflict dynamics are changing over time and space.”

The platform provides hyper-local data on climate change and aid-funded interventions, which can provide important insights on how development assistance might (or might not) be reducing vulnerability. For example, aid projects funded by 27 donors in Malawi (i.e., aid flows) can be layered on top of the climate change vulnerability data to “discern whether adaptation aid is effectively targeting the regions where climate change poses the most significant risk to the sustainable development and political stability of a country.”

If this weren’t impressive enough, I was positively amazed when I learned from Josh and team that the conflict data they’re using, the Armed Conflict Location Event Data (ACLED), will be updated on a weekly basis as part of this project, which is absolutely stunning. Back in the day, ACLED was specifically coding historical data. A few years ago they closed the gap by updating some conflict data on a yearly basis. Now the temporal lag will just be one week. Note that the mapping tool already draws on the Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD).

This project is an important contribution to the field of crisis mapping and I look forward to following CCAPS’s progress closely over the next few months. I’m hoping that Josh will present this project at the 2012 International Crisis Mappers Conference (ICCM 2012) later this year.

Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System (GIVAS): A New Early Warning Initiative?

Update: This project is now called UN Global Pulse.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is calling for better real-time data on the impact of the financial crisis on the poor. To this end, he is committing the UN to the development of a Global Impact and Vulnerability Alert System (or GIVAS) in the coming months.  While I commend the initiative’s focus on innovative data collection, I’m concerned that this is yet another “early warning system” that will fail to bridge alert and operational response.

The platform is being developed in collaboration with the World Bank and will use real time data to assess the vulnerability of particular countries or populations. “This will provide the evidence needed to determine specific and appropriate responses,” according to UNDP. UN-Habitat opines that the GVA will be a “vital tool to know what is happening and to hold ourselves accountable to those who most need our help.”

According to sources, the objective for the GIVAS is to “ensure that in times of global crisis, the fate of the poorest and most vulnerable populations is not marginalized in the international community’s response. By closely monitoring emerging and dramatically worsening vulnerabilities on the ground, the Alert would fill the information gap that currently exists between the point when a global crisis hits vulnerable populations and when information reaches decision makers through official statistical channels.”

GIVAS will draw on both high frequency and low frequency indicators:

The lower frequency contextual indicators would allow the Alert system to add layers of analysis to the real time “evidence” generated by the high frequency indicators. Contextual indicators would provide information, for example, on a country’s capacity to respond to a crisis (resilience) or its exposure to a crisis (transmission channels). Contextual indicators could be relatively easily drawn from existing data bases. Given their lesser crisis sensitivity, they are generally collected less frequently without losing significantly in relevance.”

The high frequency indicators would allow the system to pick up significant and immediately felt changes in vulnerability at sentinel sites in specific countries. This data would constitute the heart of the Alert system, and would provide the real-time evidence – both qualitative and quantitative – of the effects of external shocks on the most vulnerable populations. Data would be collected by participating partners and would be uploaded into the Alert’s technical platform.”

The pulse indicators would have to be highly crisis sensitive (i.e. provide early signals that there is a significant impact), should be available in high periodicity and should be able to be collected with relative ease and at a reasonable cost. Data would be collected using a variety of methodologies, including mobile communication tools (i.e. text messaging), quick impact assessment surveys, satellite imagery and sophisticated media tracking systems.”

The GIVAS is also expected to use natural language processing (NLP) to extract data from the web. In addition, GIVAS will also emphasize the importance of data presentation and possibly draw on Gapminder’s Trendalyzer software.

There’s a lot more to say on GIVAS and I will definitely blog more about this new initiative as more information becomes public. My main question at this point is simple: How will GIVAS seek to bridge the alert-response gap? Oh, and a related question: has the GIVAS team reviewed past successes and failures of early warning/response systems?

Patrick Philippe Meier