The Geographic Society of Egypt

Thursday 14th April 2011
The last few days in Cairo were action packed. In terms of the poverty solutions map project, one of the main successes was permission, verbally, from The Honourable Minister for Higher Education, Professor Dr Amr Salama to make the map. When the letter arrives on the desk of the Professor Abulezz who is President of The Geographic Society of Egypt which is Patron of the Project, then we shall have take-off. The Geographic Society has turned up trumps, they are also going to allow the project committee to meet in their hallowed rooms. When I went to visit The Geographic Society, they showed me their library and museum, which are full of treasures that the early explores such as Livingston and Stanley came back with. It has a musty air of adventure and mystique on the same wave-length as the Harrison Ford movies about Indian Jones.
During the past few days, I met a chap called Tris Barlett, who I’d last seen 31 years ago at school, when we were teenagers. Tris is in the closing stages of his time in Egypt. He works for the British Council and he was incredibly helpful with ideas and contacts, for which I am personally grateful. We met and spoke several times and he totally saw the logic in the project, which after all is to be run by Egyptians, for Egyptians about Egypt. Since he lives in Bath, we plan to meet up in the near future for a beer.
Another thread in the closing stages of my visit, was a bid for support from a student business competition at The American University(AUC)  in Cairo. Even if we don’t win the competition, it is ‘a bit of a beauty parade’ and we should be able to get some Public Relations amongst the parents and business people who will judge the competition. Many AUC parents are rich and influential.
On the last night of my stay in Cairo, I met with four individuals, Ayaa El Din, Alaa, Elyas Munye and Mustafa Abdel Meguid. This group may well form the basis for and Action Committee to see the project forwards. We had a happy evening at a restaurant on the shores of the Nile.
About 36% of the 80,000 Egyptian population are aged 15 to 35 years. Of them perhaps at least 50% are unemployed, that’s 15 million people, who could use vocational training and/or micro-loans of some sort, to get the economy going again. The map we make must be ready well in advance of September, when the parliamentary elections occur, that’s how Charles Booth’s map worked back in 1889, when it was given to British parliamentarians. It reduced ‘the line of sight’ between the misery of the streets and the comfort of parliament to the logic on a map….
During my visit, I saw much poverty and misery. I saw a young lad attempt to steal a bag of crisps (chips in American) outside Cairo University. The stall holder was very angry. The look of shame and despair across the face of this boy hit me. He walked sadly away into the bustling crowd. And I thought of my own sons, and how I’d feel if it were them in that position.
But I also met a great deal of hope and enthusiasm and passion, and always the question:  ”We don’t know what will happen next, we hope for the best…”
On the way home, on the plane, the lights of dusty Cairo faded below and lights of London came on.

Charles Booths Poverty Map of London - 1889

Saturday 9th April 2011

Over here in Cairo, I am busy working out how to encourage the Egyptians to make their poverty solutions map. Over the past few days I have had some meetings with one or successful Egyptian businessmen who appear very keen to help, so we shall see if they are true to their words. After all, it is for their country. I have showed everyone Charles Booths map of London in 1889 which describes poverty at that time, in considerable detail, and explained how it gave London society and all the politicians, a renewed Vision of how to deal with poverty, by introducing the welfare state in different formats, and avoid bloodshed and revolution.

At my hotel, I have had a pair of socks nicked and also a bottle of shampoo. It doesn’t matter in the slightest actually, as I can get some more, but one draws ones own conclusions as to the levels of economic desperation that exist here. During the last few days, I have bumped into many Egyptians from all walks of life and been listening to their stories and fragments of their lives. I walked up to a group of policemen in the street with radios and dark glasses and shook hands with them and listened to their ideas, they came from all over Egypt, not just Cairo. They wanted to know what I thought of Egypt and I told them I loved the place, it is so full of passion and kindness, despite losing my socks and shampoo. Similarly I met some students, jobless, and saying: ” We love Egypt, but we do not know what to do to make it better ! ” I think these kids would make great social and economic data collectors for the map, if I could train them well enough and if I had the money.

The vast majority of people, including the police I met, are incredibly angry that Mubarrak and his family and his cronies took billions from the country. Some say it is now ‘frozen’ all over the Western world at the behest of Western governments. I have been thinking that it would be great if this money could be put into an Egyptian Old Age Pension (OAP), preferably run by neutral Switzerland or Norway as the Egyptians simply do not trust one another. In the long term, the OAP would have a dramatic effect on birth control and reproductive choice. This country is bursting at the seams with young people. One businessman told me: “Egypt is 40% under 18yrs, 40% illiterate, 40% under the poverty line and this is dangerous ! ” (the poverty line is US $1.25 per day). Further, the money could be lent from this Pension Fund as a Micro-Credit Scheme (rolling loan scheme). Traditionally these schemes have a 98.9% repayment rate including a modest interest, so the money would begin to work triply hard for them – providing a pension, helping solve birth control, starting new businesses. And hopefully, with a little providence if we get our funding, the poverty solutions map we shall make would help show where and why to start businesses. How to solve all Egypt’s problems in one paragraph

I am in bed, now it’s time to get up and start the day…

Muhammad Al Bouazizi

Monday April 4th 2011

The past few days have gone by in a sort of blurr, from taxi to metro to foot to meeting and back home to the hotel. One or two times I have been to dinner at some new friends home and tasted traditional Egyptian food, it’s delicious.

There was a big demonstration at Tahrir Square a couple of days ago, I skirted around it, shaking hands with a policeman holding a radio and talking to some demonstrators shaking their hands too. It seemed calm but I wonder if the authorities fully understand the feelings of the youth and their explosive need for change and improvement and hope.

Have been writing proposals and thinking about donors who might help with the project. Perhaps USAID or the US based National Endowment for Democracy.

Last night I was at the home of an Egyptian student, who felt incredibly strongly that it was Muhammad Al Bouazizi a poor 26-year old Tunisian who could not find a job after finishing college who started the domino of revolutions. And here I am ripping the story off the web, because the account is better than mine… but it is a story that resonates with my short book “The Competition for Hope: Why sustainable jobs for young me aged 18 to 29 years are critical to global security.”

Bouazizi refused to join the “army of unemployed youth,” as it has become known in Tunisia, and instead started a small business as a street vendor, selling vegetables to support his family.

His attempt to overcome his poverty in the streets of Sidi Bouzid, central Tunisia, was halted by a police officer who seized his goods, claiming that Al Bouazizi was working without the necessary legal permit.

The exact reasons behind Al Bouazizi’s subsequent outrage are not clear. Some observers allege that the police officer slapped him across his face; others that Al Bouazizi tried to complain at a center for unemployed graduates — but that no one listened to him and he heard only laughter and insults.

Whatever his intentions, Muhammad Al Bouazizi’s actions changed Tunisian history.

On December 17 last year Al Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government building. He remained in hospital for 18 days, fighting severe burns over his entire body. At one point he was visited in hospital by President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and a photo was released of the meeting by the presidency.

Khadija Cherif, who works for the Paris-based group Federation of Human Rights Leagues, said he was a “symbol for all the young college graduates who were unemployed, and Bouazizi was a sort of catalyst for the violent demonstrations which followed in the Sidi Bouzid region.”

Rioting followed not only in Sidi Bouzid — a traditional stronghold for opposition against authoritarianism in Tunisia — but across the country as young and unemployed Tunisians took to the streets to protest against living conditions and the economy.

Al Bouazizi died of his injuries on January 4th and 10 days later Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled with his family to Saudi Arabia.

Each year thousands of young men and women from North Africa try to enter Europe illegally, looking for a better life.

They call themselves “harraka” — which translates as “the burners” — because the first thing they do when they reach Europe is to set fire to their passports and documents to avoid being sent back home. Many in Tunisia now see Al Bouazizi as a “harraka” — but in his own way.

So, just one figure has played a pivotal role in the tumultuous events that have swept through Tunisia during the past few weeks, resulting in the fall this weekend of President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali and his regime after 24 years.

But Muhammad Al Bouazizi did not live to see the historic outcome of which he was a key part.

Technical Vocational Education and Training Reform

Thursday March 31st 2011

The last few days have been spent visiting Cairo University and gaining ideas and support for the proposal to make a Poverty Solutions Map. The idea has been taking shape slowly and the academics who are now offering their informal advisory support are growing:-

This list is in alphabetical order and does not represent an order of importance:-

Professor Dr. Mohammed Safey El-Din Abulezz, President of the Geographic Society of Egypt

Professor Dr. Fathy M. Abou Ayana, Professor of Human Geography, Faculty of Arts, Alexandria University

Professor Dr. Madiha El Safty, Senior Sociology Lecturer, American University Cairo – Sociology Department

Professor Dr. M.M Gaber, El-Minya University

Professor Dr. Medhat  Ahmed Haroun, Provost, American University, Cairo

Professor Dr. El-Sayed S. Husseini, Professor of Geography, Former Dean of Arts, Cairo University

Professor Dr. Mohammed Mahsob, Geography Department at Cairo University

Professor Dr. Adel Safty, International Leadership Forum (UNDP and UNESCO)

Professor Dr. Amal Ismail Shawer, Geography Department, Cairo University

Shawky Mansour M.Sc., Egyptian GIS expert, University of Southampton

In Egypt it is vital to gain the support of senior people, even to make a map about social and economic requirements.

One evening I was invited to a family home and had a meal with two Egyptian ladies, one of them was an irrigation engineer, the other a biochemistry researcher. It was fascinating to get another view on the problems and situations of the revolution.

Another day, I attended a geography lecture at Cairo University, they were all the students and faculty were incredibly keen on the subject and to help the project.

Today I went to the offices of the Technical Vocational Education and Training Reform project, financed by the EU and the Egyptian Government. This is a vital piece of work, and I hope the map we make can encourage and support it. They promised to call me soon to fix a meeting.

Provost of the American University of Cairo,

Sunday March 27th 2011

The “rih al khamsin” is a hot, dry wind that blows from the Sahara Desert across Egypt for about fifty days each spring, and it is indeed called “the wind of fifty days” by the Egyptians….a world without wind, an earth without maps…

The past couple of days have been most interesting. Yesterday I went to the Geographical Society of Egypt, and it brought back memories of the movie “The English Patient.” I met the President of the Society, who goes by the magnificent name of Professor Dr Mohammed Safey El-Din Abulezz, in the presence of Professor Dr Fathy Aboyana. Both men and several of their colleagues listened patiently to the Englishman talking about maps about poverty solutions in Egypt and they asked me some hard questions. I was not allowed an easy ride, though they were very polite and most kind. They showed me around the museum and I saw glass beads and spears and shields and pots and stuffed alligators and rhinoceros and much more, from across the deserts and jungles of Africa since the days of Livingstone…

Today I went to see the Provost of the American University of Cairo, he offered me a chocolate at the start of our meeting. I opened the wrapper. And we had the meeting, he listened intently and looked at Charles Booth’s maps (and I gave him a section to keep) and he asked several razor sharp questions so I had to keep wide awake…. Then he asked what I could do and I wondered if he could help me see the Prime Minister, but he suggested to go via the Minister of Higher Education, which is a very logical step and I readily agreed. The meeting ended and thanked him for his kindness and his time, when I got out the door, I ate the slightly melted chocolate.

Met a couple of Egyptian students during my roaming around the AUC campus and had some good chats. They too were pretty darn sharp. And full of enthusiasm to make a difference, perhaps they can be helpful. I am already dreaming up a structure for the project…

The American University in Cairo

Thursday 23rd March 2011

Up early and off to the American University Cairo, situated in New Cairo, a taxi ride of about an hour. I arose early at 6am, washed packed my day bag and headed for the taxi rank at the supermarket. The sun was shining, nice a cool, not too hot. My taxi got me almost all the way there, but we had to call Madiha just once, whom I was visiting. She is a Professor of sociology and a charming Egyptian Grandmother with flaming dark red hair and a huge smile. We met under a 2 huge Egyptian and American flags outside the University, the wind was ripping them gently and sun shining brightly. We went to her office and I shared the idea with her and then she began to play ‘Devils Advocate’ with me, but by-and-by pronounced herself happy that the idea was sound, and she managed to get me a meeting with the Provost, after several rather animated phone calls. At one point she had to dart out to give a super fast lecture to her sociology students. The meeting is set for Saturday afternoon and I am already looking forwards to it.

After our meeting I was walking to the University Bus Stop, to go back to Tahir Square, Cairo and I passed by a Student Fair, one of the signs advertised a student competition for writing a Business Plan. I wondered if any students would like to write a plan for GMA, perhaps about how to make a Poverty Solutions Map, for the Egyptian scenario. The stand holders promised to email me details. Later, on the bus I made friends with a Somali American, called Elyas Munye, who is at ACU for his Sophomore Year (Second Year) from a US university, I think he mentioned Davidson University, USA. We had a good laugh about something or another.  He asked me what I was doing, thus giving me a perfect opportunity to once more explain all about Global MapAid and our desire to encourage Egyptians to make a map for Egypt about solutions to Egyptian poverty.

On arrival at Tahir Square I took some photos and then went to get some money from the ATM, at which I made acquaintance of an Englishman who was standing in the queue. He was visiting Egypt from Bath, the town next to Bristol, on a gap year. He told me about his accommodation near Tahir Square. During the taxi ride home, I reflected it would probably be more cost effective in terms of time and money to be accommodated at the same hotel.  Perhaps tomorrow I shall move.

Egyptians do smile a lot, which is a fun and rather admirable given the hassles they have had to put up with for so long.

Arrived home tired. Took a gulp of orangeade.

Looking forwards to tomorrow… Friday is the Muslim version of Sunday, so perhaps I’ll make it to a Coptic Church service. Hope so.

The Egyptian revolutions, indeed all the revolutions in North Africa and the Arab world, seem to be about the competition for hope. And hope based on sustainable jobs for the youth.

Wednesday 22nd March 2011

A journey into an unknown political and emotional landscape… Egypt, a land so ancient yet experiencing so much revolutionary change in February that one feels humbled…

This blog aims to be fun as well as informative, so you will please excuse my lapses in to ‘lyrical journalese.’

The vision of this 3 week, or perhaps 3 month trip, is to find and encourage some Egyptian Geographers to make a poverty solutions map, to be used to encourage democratic change on a massive scale, in the sphere of sustainable job creation. If not enough sustainable job creation is happening 2 years from now, there could well be more civil unrest.

Remember that first beautiful picture of earth that the NASA Apollo Mission took ? It started the environmental movement. Well, this is the same sort of idea, but on a much smaller scale (just Egypt) and focusing upon unemployment and its main solution which is sustainable job creation.

My plane took off from London Heathrow, having waited 20 minutes for a fox to be shooed away from the runway, and then we were up in the clouds, saying goodbye to Mr Fox. I sat next to an Egyptian hotel managed named Sammy who, over the next few hours, heard all about Global MapAid in some detail but to his credit was both patient, humorous and encouraging. He consented that time was short and there was a huge need to try and get Egyptians work opportunities and that knowing what and where the gaps were, was the first step in moves towards others aid agencies and donors creating programmes.

On arrival in Cairo, the heat was sublime, not unbearable and I took a bus and two taxis to my host’s house in a suburb of Cairo with the magnificent name of Sheik Zayed. Mohammed my taxi driver embarked on an impromptu Arabic Lesson, but as I am not a natural student of languages, after awhile he kindly gave up. He dropped me at a ‘HyperMarket’, crammed with luxury goods, quite a contrast to the dusty hot streets and some of the weary looking people and from there I had been seeing since the airport. Several shop workers in smart looking suits helped me and from there, I networked my way the last hop of the journey to Professor Dr Adel Safty’s flat.

It was good to see my old friend again. He was looking rather frail due to Parkinsons Disease; however he had managed to sort out some delicious supper of rice and seafood and orangeade. I recommend that combination, it’s terrific after a hard day’s travelling. We had a brief chat, he is still totally committed to good governance and justice for all. We dwelt for a moment on the sadness of the Israeli Palestinian situation.

After awhile he left, having introduced me to the neighbours. Then I called his cousin Professor Dr Madiha El Safty at the American University and confirmed my visit there tomorrow and finally made a call to Professor Fathy Aboyana from the University of Alexandria. Fathy asked me to meet him on Saturday at the Geographic Society of Egypt in Cairo at 4pm. I’ll try and be there at 3pm as the directions were a bit sketchy. If I can convince this Society to take the lead on making the map, perhaps appoint a University to host it, with other contributing, and moreover write the necessary letter to the President of Egypt, that will open doors to data, this would be a break through.

It’s late, I am now off to bed, tired. It feels as if this is a real adventure and am looking forwards to the morrow ! Part of me wishes there was a colleague or friend to share it with.

Global MapAid Christmas message 2009

Dec 18th 2009


Over the past few months I have been talking from time to time with Archbishop Desmond Tutu about our various plans, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Sensing that he was more than just casually interested in GMA, I popped the question a few days ago, “Would you like to be a Patron ?” And with his usual passion and wit, he swiftly agreed !

He obviously sees that maps of poverty and it’s solutions are very useful, and being at Copenhagen, from where he sent his permission, totally recognises that climate change will have massive and adverse impacts on poverty.

If you want to see him at Copenhagen, here is the clip:-

And if you want to join him in supporting the Climate Change Deal, then sign up here:-

Every single name is actually being read out at the summit and 10 million people have already signed up.Tomorrow, the world’s leaders arrive for an unprecedented 60 hours of direct negotiations and experts agree that without a tidal wave of public pressure for a deal, the summit will not stop catastrophic global warming of 2 degrees.

So that’s it from Global MapAid, on behalf of the Board, we wish you a very Happy Christmas and Happy New Year and please don’t forget to tell your mates our mission is ‘to put the poor on the map - their needs and solutions…’

Fine regards to one and all


on behalf of Stephanie, Jessamin, Hans, Leslie, Michael, David, Chris, Jonathan, Jeff

- the Board Members of Global MapAid

Global MapAid and Map Action, two leading mapping NGOs

Global MapAid and MapAction

Global MapAid is an international mapping NGO with a mission to ‘put the poor on the map, their needs and solutions’. These maps help to encourage local and international leadership to better target humanitarian aid, on the basis of improved and easy to understand knowledge. The final objective outcome is to enable the poor to better prepare for disaster by becoming economically richer, before a disaster strikes. It relies more upon locally trained teams.

MapAction is another international mapping NGO whose mission is to visit rapid onset emergencies and provide immediate mapping support, to enable local and international aid agencies to better coordinate their response to the crisis. It is the older of the two NGOs and has been very successful. It relies more upon internationally trained teams.

The two approaches are therefore complimentary.

The paper below is adapted from a recently published ESRI paper, and it outlines MapAction’s objectives and mission. It is edited by Rupert Douglas-Bate who founded the two NGOs.


MapAction Helps Millions of People


  • ArcGIS supports the work of international aid organizations and helps save lives.
  • GIS creates accurate, dedicated, real-time maps that are essential following a disaster.
  • The work of MapAction is supported by GIS-skilled volunteers.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, and floods can strike without warning—and the consequences can be devastating. Lives are lost; survivors face immeasurable hardship. International aid organizations respond to these tragedies. However, their work is often hindered by a lack of knowledge about the region they are working in. When a disaster occurs, the landscape changes, sometimes beyond recognition. Villages, roads, and railways may be destroyed; entire hillsides may slip into valleys; and people will be displaced. To address this challenge, one United Kingdom-based charitable organization creates and distributes real-time maps of a disaster zone. Called MapAction, the organization helps governments and relief agencies coordinate aid and relieve human suffering.


A Need for Greater Coordination

The idea for MapAction first occurred to an aid worker, Rupert Douglas-Bate. He explains: “In 1994, I was leading a water and sanitation engineering team in war torn Bosnia with a budget of U$ 1.25 million of UNHCR and George Soros funding. There were 20 village water supply projects being built when I arrived in Tuzla and afterwards another 20 projects were added, plus a few bigger town projects. One of the key problems facing all the aid agencies was the lack of coordination and the duplication of our activities. I therefore hit on the idea of creating maps as tools that could promote operational effectiveness as well as help us avoid driving inadvertently into mine fields or into front lines, as occasionally our vehicles came home with shrapnel in them. This lead to my decision to borrow some army maps from the Norwegian Army, which were photocopied, laminated and handed out to my aid worker friends.”

On return to the UK in October 1994 Rupert continued to develop this idea, working closely with several friends including Steven Sherwin who was studying for a degree in electronic communications at the Kingston University, London. Yvan Boyjoo an ESRI GIS consultant with Sycare Geomatique from Canada, was also very instrumental. The concepts of a support base with the latest GIS, mobile data collection teams and communications infrastructure to link it all together were established. During this time Rupert worked in several more disaster zones where he refined his ideas by collecting end user survey evidence, which were later incorporated into a business plan successfully submitted to Vodafone.

On June 14th 1999, Rupert paid for the registration of a charity called ‘Aid for Aid’ which later changed it’s name to MapAction on 21st February 2007. The first mapping mission that the new charity accomplished was in Kosovo in 2000, where over six months a GIS class was held to train Kosovars to execute effective data collection. That summer some GIS volunteers came from the USA to deliver an intensive two week training course, including donated software. Later, maps were made to show where vitally needed employment schemes were needed, to help settle thousands of traumatised and potentially dangerous ex-soldiers and civilians; the ‘UN Mission in Kosovo’ then asked for an extension of this first project, but unfortunately funds were not permitting.

In 2001 the organisation was magnificently supported by a businessman Barry de Morgan, through his leadership of a campaign over several months to launch the charity at an event at Imperial College, London on 21st October. Peter Beaumont from ESRI (also an Olympic rower) was most helpful in helping to organise this event. Nigel Press, from Nigel Press Associates also made a magnificent contribution.

By late 2001, the charity had achieved sufficient funds and structure to appoint a team leader, David Spackman, who successfully strengthened MapAction especially in terms of vital standard operational procedures. Later in 2009, David retired and his deputy Nigel Woof took over.

Probably one of the greatest contributors to MapAction has been Andrew Douglas-Bate whose first hand experience of the 1962 Tehran earthquake has lived with him: “The government put out an urgent plea for blankets for the displaced survivors, and the international aid community responded. Many countries sent blankets. The disaster area was soon inundated with them. However, the survivors had many other needs that weren’t adequately met. Most of the available money and effort had been focused on sourcing and distributing blankets alone. That lack of international communication, thus the lack of coordination between aid agencies, has stayed with me.”

Sadly the first Chairman, Hugh Beveridge, died in 2004 and as a founder Trustee, Andrew nobly took over.

An Invaluable, Life-Saving Service

MapAction knew that rapidly updatable electronic GIS mapping would play a crucial role in its work. After conducting some thorough market research, David Spackman selected ArcGIS Desktop solutions, which ESRI has been providing since 2003. ESRI has provided MapAction with ArcGIS Desktop licenses. MapAction uses GIS to collate diverse datasets, topography, and satellite imagery and to create dedicated, real-time maps of disaster areas.

David led MapAction’s major deployment to Sri Lanka following the tsunami that devastated the country in January 2004. A 12-person team stayed in the country for three weeks and created map after map, plotting everything from the locations of food stations to the areas where doctors and medical aid were most urgently required. Then president of Sri Lanka Chandrika Kumaratunga visited the MapAction team to see ArcGIS in action and to personally show her appreciation for the work of the team.

Since then, MapAction, often in close cooperation with the United Nations, has carried out more than 15 emergency and 55 disaster preparedness missions. In 2008, a typical year, the charity provided an invaluable service following three major disasters that together changed the lives of more than 4.3 million people. MapAction responded to extensive flooding in Bolivia, producing 76 maps in three weeks and distributing over 2,000 copies to government and relief workers. MapAction deployed a team to help deal with the consequences of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar. It distributed over 3,000 maps and worked closely with the charity Save the Children to help track its relief aid program throughout the devastated region. MapAction also deployed a team to Haiti where more than 900,000 people were affected by hurricanes and tropical storms. In these ways—and others—MapAction helps save lives.

A Rapid Response to Disaster

MapAction team members, all highly trained volunteers, give their time and skills free of charge. The organization currently has over 70 volunteers, around 30 of whom are deployable at a moment’s notice. Several employees from ESRI (UK) Ltd., ESRI’s distributor in the UK, are actively involved in the charity. The majority of volunteers have GIS skills, but others have complementary operational or medical capabilities. Most importantly, the volunteers all have the right personal attitude and character to cope in very traumatic and challenging circumstances. One of the primary goals of MapAction is to provide a quick response.

“The first few hours of any disaster are absolutely crucial; this is when lives can be saved,” says Rupert Douglas-Bate. MapAction receives an alert about a major incident, usually within an hour of it occurring. David and the headquarters team immediately put volunteers on standby and begin to amass for the region as much GIS-based map data as possible. When the call to deploy comes, often from the United Nations, a team can usually be dispatched in a matter of hours.

On arrival in a disaster zone, MapAction volunteers, equipped with state-of-the-art GPS units, a satellite link, and communications equipment, survey the area and mark the locations of accessible paths, bridges that are still standing, and other waypoint landmarks. They collect situational information from any reliable source and plot it on accurate maps of the area using ArcGIS Desktop software and laptop computers. As the crisis unfolds and new information becomes available, maps are updated in real time and distributed to other aid agencies both electronically and as hard copies. In the future, MapAction plans to make use of ArcGIS Server to increase the efficiency of rapid mapping and to facilitate interoperation with other GIS-equipped agencies in the humanitarian sector.

An Ambassador for GIS

As a charitable organization, MapAction is dependent on donations to enable it to provide its free-of-charge service to developing countries. The organization has received support in kind and cash from many sources: other charities, corporate sponsors, and members of the public. “When a crisis occurs, donations follow,” says Andrew Douglas-Bate, “but we need funds year-round so that we can train our volunteers, keep up-to-date with technology, and at all times be ready to deploy. David Spackman, our CEO, and Nigel Woof, our operations director, have brought to MapAction a strong organizational structure and clear processes that enable us to operate both effectively and cost efficiently. We have a small, lean headquarters; sophisticated storage and maintenance; and just two full-time and four part-time employees. As a result, MapAction is able to ensure that funding goes directly to where it is needed. Every financial gift really makes a difference to people in need.”

Between major humanitarian crises, MapAction offers its services to the humanitarian community, thus helping it to help itself, in the use of GIS. These skills-transfer projects allow MapAction to play an important secondary role in promoting the benefits of GIS worldwide. In the words of Rupert Douglas-Bate, “MapAction is a good ambassador for GIS at the bleeding edge of human need.”

Humanitarian Mapping



The art of humanitarian mapping was started in 1898 during the reign of Queen Victoria, in London. Charles Booth, a rich capitalist with a social mind, created a poverty map, which showed the social condition of every London street. A portion of Booths map can be found by googling ‘Charles Booth Poverty Map. This map represents a ‘security hope’ and not a ‘security threat’ for reasons which shall be mentioned.


Humanitarian mapping has been forgotten until recent decades when the crushing needs of the poor on this planet as well as rapidly rising populations, have thrust upon the human species ‘a race between education and disaster.’


During the 1890s, a great proportion of Londoners lived in terrible poverty. Victorian cities were overcrowded, filthy and bleak. Booth believed that social reformers had significantly exaggerated London’s poverty levels as studies at the time estimated that 25% of the population lived in unacceptable conditions. So he decided to accurately prove the matter, once and for all. In the event, his survey and subsequent map showed that about 33% of Londoners lived in abject poverty. (See Annex 1 for more information on Charles Booth.)


Some historians categorically state that Charles Booth’s map of London significantly helped to prevent a revolution in the United Kingdom. At the same time other historians point out that Booth became convinced that the poor wanted to work, although they lived in constant fear of disease and hunger. One tangible result of his mapping efforts and subsequent writings, was that they directly encouraged politicians to introduce the State Old Age Pension and accomplish slum clearances.



Today the population of the planet is about 6.7 billion, of this number, about 4 billion live on less than US $ 2 per day and 8 million of these people die each year, because they are too poor to be able to afford to eat. It is the authors personal view that this is just the sort of unsustainable situation which could easily allow extremism to trip the world into revolution(s) and wars, over the next 50 years.


The Austrian Academy of Sciences estimates that by 2070 the global population will have reached 9 billion. This is a conservative estimate. Of these 9 billion at least 6 billion will live on less than US $2 per day.