Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What do you do; what do you do?

A look back at the hinterland flooding in Suriname in May 2006.

In times of disaster, information is key. In this case too the affected area was not well known and not very accessible. MapAction, the UK-based international charity, mobilised and started to produce maps with what data were available. A short email or two later, CaribbeanGIS - four time zones away - pitched in to place these on the Internet for easy access (see below). Since responders/responses were coming from outside of Suriname as well as inside, this simple cooperation between MapAction and CaribbeanGIS was quite useful. There were a few lessons learnt:
  1. The Caribbean Region, or much of it, remains poor in spatial data and this is a significant disadvantage in planning for and responding to natural disasters
  2. The Region needs better spatial data - and a region-wide initiative building on the public and private sector nodes that do exist, should be considered.
  3. Along with data the Region also needs a strongly-associated way(s) of swiftly and conveniently providing such data and related information to persons/ agencies in all parts of the Caribbean. It's the only way to leverage the available brain-trust for (i) planning and (ii) when time is of the essence; and to leverage the media in educating the public.
    1. Say 'Internet'? A simple example: 4SHORE Web provides data as well as maps of the Guyana Coastal Zone. Free. It's an always-on source, so academics, graduate students and specialists worldwide can do analysis of their own, on an area of great interest to the country.
  4. (What you can do, do.) Providing simple information (see map gallery below) in a convenient manner, especially in lieu of anything else, can be helpful, as some responders or potential responders may know very little of the affected area.
    1. I know the Guianas can be heavily forested terrain with little access; and I know how dramatically the rivers can rise when driven by torrential tropical rain (e.g. 10 feet higher and flooding up to 1km on either side) - but it may be a challenge for persons outside to find/visualise the Region's less-well-known countries at all. In fact, many first-time visitors to the Guianas from the Region's own Island States are utterly surprised to find estuaries wider that their homeland
Maps of the May 2006 Flood in Suriname

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