Satellite technology available to aid relief workers in Guyana, Caribbean

Relief workers in Guyana and the Caribbean can now access geographic data about displaced persons or downed infrastructure during disasters with the recent launch of MapAction Latin American and the Caribbean (MapLAC).

MapLAC, a newly established arm of UK-based MapAction is equipped to provide up-to-date maps and other information to assist aid workers should any major disasters occur in the region. MapAction was established in 1997 and has as its patron Britain’s Prince Harry. Prince Harry recently attended a reception in London for the group to honour the work of relief workers who have undertaken 50 successful field missions since their first mission to Sri Lanka following the Asian tsunami in 2004.

Earlier this year the organisation winged its way to the Caribbean and Latin America through the volunteer efforts of two Guyanese and two Trinidadians, who are ready to assist aid workers in any country in the two regions. According to Vijay Datadin, one of the volunteers, the group only provides assistance when it is sought. Datadin, who is MapLAC’s team leader, a Chevening scholar and a graduate of Edinburgh University, is a specialist in Geographic Information System (GIS). His company RedSpider, located at 78 Hadfield and Breda streets is MapLAC’s local contact agency.

Datadin told Stabroek News that the volunteers would not just appear at the scene of a disaster, but would ensure that aid workers were aware of what they could offer. They would only step in if their assistance was needed. He pointed out that when disasters struck, coordinating relief efforts hinged on the rapid transfer of situation information. “MapAction LAC can deliver that information in the form of maps, created and distributed in the field, greatly aiding the delivery of rescue, response and aid to the right place to relieve suffering,” Datadin said.

In addition to being at the ready to respond to the emergency needs of local disaster-relief agencies, MapLAC is also interested in assisting these and other government agencies with preparatory measures and training to use GIS technology during disasters. Datadin said that he and the other Guyanese volunteer, who was also a GIS specialist, had offered to train personnel at the Civil Defence Commission to use the technology. “We have actually alerted all the regional disaster agencies of our availability with the offer to train persons to respond to disasters and assist in GIS which basically pull in recent satellite images,” he said. The organisation had assisted in the Suriname flood in 2006 and also in Jamaica when Hurricane Dean had struck the island.

Datadin went on to say that when the team was deployed to an area the volunteers showed up with their own computers, camping equipment and even medical supplies to handle any medical needs that their team might face. He said the MapAction volunteers had to train, and LAC members had been involved in a rigorous training exercise early last month.

According to MapAction’s website the organisation is a humanitarian aid group dedicated to assisting relief agencies with the provision of satellite derived high resolution images, in real time, where objects and areas as small as one square metre were visible. “Information gathered by Map Action teams is used to create quality maps, which clearly show government agencies, UN, and NGOs operating in the area, where the problems lie, what is needed and how to get it there,” the website said.

The website also said that concentrations of displaced people or even a single child, damage to buildings, downed bridges, road and rail disruptions and where new overland routes could be found, food depots established and field hospitals built could all be displayed on the GIS image. The organisation works closely with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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