Last report from Bangkok

Day 8/9 – 14-15th May – Bangkok, Thailand

It is now almost 2 weeks since cyclone Nargis ravaged Myanmar. The initial flurry of general situation maps and imagery showing flood waters has now subsided and more detailed analyses are already being carried out with the aid of before-after high resolution satellite imagery.

Our role in rapid onset disaster mapping never really got off the ground partly due to the fact that we never got into or anywhere near the affected area, partly because of the lack of information getting out of the country and partly due to the fact that we have been seconded to an organisation which is hamstrung by political sensitivities and a lack of reliable baseline data. For example, we have been prevented from publishing affected population data because it may not agree with data that the Myanmar government publish and would politicise any analyses made by MIMU or the UN.

DSC00204We have been working for several days on the official Who/What/Where (W3) maps based on data from the UN database. After being told that our maps were going to be released this morning for a press conference we were stopped at the last minute because it transpired that there might be some data in the database that might be politically sensitive. At precisely the same time ReliefWeb released a map showing exactly the same data. A closer inspection by us of the map revealed a major misinterpretation of the data and we quickly informed the Information Manager who had the map pulled from the website and revised. It feels like there are almost too many organisations making maps in this disaster and the IM team are working hard to ensure that maps are conveying the right messages and not causing undue controversy. Today we learnt that draft versions of our W3 maps were to be conveyed to The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes ahead of his visit to Bangkok next week.

As for the situation in Myanmar – well, we have a very odd perspective from Bangkok, where we have little time to watch CNN or BBC. We go to work at 8am and it feels almost like a normal day at the office. But then at the bi-daily briefing we hear statistics which defy comprehension. The World Food Programme (WFP) have delivered 143 metric tonnes (MT) of food to the affected area, but the average daily consumption across this area is 390 MT. Food stocks are all but destroyed and it is approaching planting season for rice in southern Myanamar. The amount of seed and fertiliser needed is physically impossible to supply. 50% of all livestock have perished in the Ayeyarwady region and in some village 100% of houses have been destroyed. The logistics cluster (lead by UNJLC) has a monumental task to organise supply routes and keep the ‘pipeline’ of relief flowing and they employ the latest technology to do this, such as asset tracking software. A staging post has been set up at Bangkok’s old airport. Supplies will be transported to Yangon from there by air and ship. Some of the needs are very basic, plastic sheeting for temporary shelters for example, and already 30,000 sheets have been delivered. However, the organisations involved need space and personnel to assemble ‘kits’ for distribution.

DSC00203Today, after spending a late night getting the W3 maps ready, we were disappointed that again we were unable to publish maps on our website or to ReliefWeb. Even though this is my first deployment I can tell this is an an unusual one for us, being embedded within another organisation and subject to their editorial control. At the end of the day we (MIMU/OCHA/HIC/MapAction) were all called to a meeting room where we were greeted by Catherine Bragg (Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs) who congratulated everyone on their efforts so far, and we got a special mention.

A replacement team in the shape of James and Helen arrives tomorrow and we will do our best to brief them before we all get taken for dinner by the IM team. It will the first deviation from the hotel/un/hotel/un rotation we have been doing for the last 8 days so we are excited! We may also visit a buddhist temple if we have time tomorrow.

Forgot to say before, the HIC website is finally up: … still under development but this heralds a new era in humanitarian information sharing in the event of a major disaster. The website is supported by Microsoft’s Disaster Assistance and Response team.

Probably the last sitrep from me. It’s been hard work but I’ve learnt more about information management in the last 8 days than I have in the last 8 years (or so it seems). Philip has been an excellent companion and I hope we have learnt things from each other.

Mike & Philip

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