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Using Science to Rebuild Communities

Sri Lanka, January 14, 2005

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    The Geospatial Initiative is using advanced data to interpret changes and use that information to inform rebuilding efforts. Photo: Mercy Corps Photo:

Mercy Corps has teamed up with over 50 geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) professionals to improve relief efforts in tsunami-stricken areas of Asia.

In order to develop effective long-term solutions for coastal communities decimated by the recent Indian Ocean tsunami, Mercy Corps has established an integrated GIS/RS Data Center in Seattle, Washington. This center is staffed by 50 of the top GIS/RS experts in the Pacific Northwest - all of whom are volunteering their time for the project.

The earthquake and tsunami that devastated Asian communities on December 26, 2004 also profoundly changed the region's geography - most notably its coastline, beaches and fishing beds. Many experts agree that it's important to consider a vast array of geographical information in assessing longer-term relief and development strategies.

Volunteer experts throughout the Pacific Northwest are currently processing a massive data stream of geographic information coming in from the United States government. This data has to be quickly processed and interpreted before it can be released and used by humanitarian organizations in Southern Asia.

Mercy Corps is spearheading this initiative because it believes that such efforts will increase efficiency and help transfer valuable knowledge between humanitarian organizations in the region. The project will also create a central database of information in collaboration with the United Nations, therefore providing an easily-accessible source of information throughout all phases of reconstruction.

“We believe that through partnerships with the private sector, geospatial labs, and a network of highly-skilled professionals, we can deploy these technologies rapidly to positively impact our programs in livelihoods revitalization and sustainable community development,” said Glenn Brooks, Mercy Corps GIS/RS Coordinator.

In the near future, Mercy Corps will be deploying a GIS response team to Sri Lanka. This team will focus on developing emergency mapping systems with local Sri Lankan organizations in the heavily-damaged districts of Ampara and Batticaloa. It will also inform and improve Mercy Corps ongoing field programs in the area.

In addition to processing and providing timely information for disaster assessment, aid delivery and reconstruction, Mercy Corps is helping to establish an international GIS Coordination Group designed to combine organizational efforts.

From scientists in the Pacific Northwest to satellites miles above the Earth, Mercy Corps is using science to streamline relief and rebuilding in tsunami-affected communities.