The WFP and GIS

The World Food Programme or WFP is the branch of the UN associated with food aid. It is currently the largest humanitarian organization focusing on ending world hunger, by delivering food aid to people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot obtain their own food. They provide food to over 90 million people annually, over half of whom are children.

The WFP is not a stranger to using GIS systems for aid initiatives. The organizations Operation Department of Emergency Preparedness, or ODEP for short, considers GIS “an invaluable tool for both the mitigation of natural disaster and the coordination of response operations.” according to Adrea Amparore ODEP’s GIS analyst.

ODEP uses GIS technology to create a better picture of the dangers among people living in disaster prone areas. They analyze a variety of factors including historical occurrences of disasters, food security/insecurity, famine and hunger, and environmental degradation. Growing seasons and crop production are also monitored by satellite images to help the ODEP identify when times of decreased production/low crop yields etc. This ongoing monitoring and analysis enables the WFP to be able to intervene to prevent/lessen disasters when needed.

The WFP is constantly monitoring the four stages of the “disaster cycle,” and does this with the help of GIS’s. The four steps as stated by Aparore and the way GIS’s are used throughout are:

  1. Prevention: “includes the evaluation of man-made features, such as dams and levees, to make sure they can withstand rising floodwater, as well as determining the structural integrity of buildings, the reseeding of hillsides after deforestation to reduce mudslides, the evaluation of building codes and land-use zones to make sure they meet current safety standards, instigating community awareness campaigns to help residents better prepare themselves in the event of a disaster, and so on.”
    GIS’s are used in this step to aid in the planning of projects/interventions, data collection and review, and implementation of these interventions.
  2. Preparedness: Preparedness includes risk identification and assessment; the development and maintenance of emergency communication services; stockpiling essential food supplies, water, and medicine; and the establishment of evacuation routes.
    GIS’s are used in this stage to evaluate risks, determining the best places for emergency food stores in accordance with evacuation plans and coming up with the most efficient and safe evacuation plans.
  3. Response: The response step is pretty self explanatory, it is the actual actions taken in the event of a disaster.
    GIS’s are used in this step to predict the ongoing effects of the disaster and how it will develop, monitoring human movements and interventions, tracking the efficiency of these interventions, and allotting resources.
  4. Recovery: This step includes the establishment of temporary relief and assessing the destruction followed by repairing and rebuilding.
    GIS’s are used in this step to increasing efficiency in aid distribution. More specifically prioritizing where recovery endeavors are needed most. Also, GIS’s are used to coordinate the placement of aid distribution centers and to evaluate the regrowth and rebuilding until on the ground operations return to normal and the cycle repeats itself.

Moving forward, the WFP is looking to standardize the data it collects with GIS’s in order to make it usable for organizations around the world. Amparore says, “Standardization is the key to the continued growth of GIS at the WFP. This will allow us to expand our analytical capabilities and adopt an even greater scientific approach to data analysis.” Throughout my study of ICT4D and development in general, a unfortunately glaring theme that I have noticed is the lack of efficiency in relief and development efforts. GIS looks to be a great way to increase efficiency of aid efforts at all steps of the disaster cycle. Bringing a more scientific approach into the planning, implementation, coordination, monitoring and evaluation stages of development seems to me to be the way forward. Just like farmers who bring GIS onto their farms to lessen product runoff/crop wasting, aid programmes and relief efforts can use GIS to work towards decreasing error and increasing efficiency. This should lead them to also see a higher “yield” in people saved/positively effected by aid relief.

Link to the WFP website: Here
Link to the GIS WFP article: Here

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