Maps at last!

Day 4/5 – 11-12th May – Bangkok, Thailand
DSC04430Sorry for lack of sitrep yesterday – it got late and the hotel internet inexplicably shut down before I could send it. Sunday can be summed up thus: got up, ate breakfast, got taxi, made maps, ate fried rice, made more maps, got taxi, ate dinner, went to bed. Actually, something interesting did happen yesterday … I got brought a coke and it was delivered in a plastic bag (no can), complete with straw. Very odd indeed. Oh, and it rained. Hot tropical rain with lightening.

DSC04438 Today was Monday and though we didn’t have a weekend it ‘felt’ like a Monday … funny that. We arrived at 8am to find little yellow stickies on some of our maps, which adorn the office walls, with scrawled notes ‘100 of these please by 11am’. Today the Un held a cluster* leads meeting, a donor meeting and a press briefing – all of which required piles of maps to give out. By 11am we had printed about 1200 copies of 5 of our maps – all thanks to the quite astonishing HP 5550 – fastest printer in the east. If we were operating in the field this could never be possible with our inkjets but then, we would never have to print 1200 maps! At the cluster meeting it was gratifying to see UN and NGO representatives grabbing handfuls of maps and pouring over them as they discussed their strategies for the coming week.

Just around lunch time we started getting alerts from GDACS about a powerful earthquake in China, not that far from us. Initial news reports said it had been felt in Bangkok. We felt nothing although I’m glad I wasn’t in my 18th floor hotel room at the time. We are now hearing of major fatalities and MapAction are once again on alert.

DSC04440 During the last few days it has been fascinating to see how the UN operates in a major disaster. I have been very impressed. Unusually there seems to be a glut of maps from multiple sources all showing similar things in different ways. Initially there was some overlap but we have tried to find our niche and are now producing maps in response to direct requests from NGOs going into the field. Today we spoke to people from CARE and Save the Children who were glad to see us and wanted to see what we had. We have also prepared today a pack of maps (some A0 & A1 and laminated) for UN staff to take with them when they fly into Myanmar early Wednesday.

We have also been able to email maps as pdf’s direct to the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU) in Yangon. MIMU are a UN organisation. Their response last night made all our work worthwhile – first this: “Finally, the maps we’ve all been waiting for. You’ve made some of us very very happy!” … then this about 10 minutes later: “the lines are horrid, dots are better. It’s hard to read. Can you revise”, and once we’d revised it for them this: “Thanks for this. More more more!!!!!”. They were printing in black and white – something we’d overlooked surrounded by hi-tech colour lasers.

More tomorrow on the situation in Myanmar, heavy rain is expected. But lastly I wanted to talk about how the UN and NGOs on the ground are using Web 2.0 (sorry but what else?) technologies to get organised. Most clusters have a Google group which they use to communicate and share data, organise meetings etc. Everyone uses Google Earth and many NGOs run blogs and collaborative sites to track developments. Gisli, the Microsoft guy, is currently getting a website up and running for the Myanmar HIC (Humanitarian Information Centre) … more on that tomorrow.

Photos showing our exploits so far can be found at:
Want maps … MapAction maps at our website: and on ReliefWeb:

* Explanatory note for those who are baffled by the term ‘clusters’. The UN sets up cluster goups in emergencies to help coordinate its own agencies and national and international NGOs. They cover basic relief needs such as food, health, shelter, water and sanitation (WATSAN), logistics. Oh, and there is a ‘Nutrition cluster’ affectionately known as the ‘nut cluster’.

[This diary is from my involvement with MapAction’s assistance to UN OCHA after cyclone Nargis, May 2008]

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