Social mapping in an emergency response

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Combining social mapping in emergencies & use of geographical information systems to save lives? We do it when involving affected communities in mapping of facilities, roads, & isolated people. The combination of data from different sources (affected people, satellites &/or drones) & their digitization, compilation & process through GIS allows to design humanitarian interventions, share information with the decision-makers speeding up decision-making process for the benefit of impacted people

Integrated with geographical information systems, social mapping empowers local people in decision making in emergencies increasing saving of lives

Project description

What problem are you trying to solve?
Never again that being unable to save lives by default of maps. Nsanje district (Malawi) is a very isolated place that is not covered by Google maps or other satellite maps. During 2014 floods, as all the district was covered by water it was impossible to identify roads meaning that it was very difficult to access isolated people & save them. Now we want to anticipate such natural disasters by mapping the country. Additionally, an emergency health care delivery provides the well-being of every affected community but has been traditionally decided upon without contribution from them: many organizations involved in emergencies responsive actions deliberately avoid beneficiaries’ participation because the community affected is judged as traumatized. MSF as one of organization involved in an emergency has demonstrated lack of systematic involvement of beneficiaries & affected communities in emergency response which resulted in a compromised collection of data on risk behaviours & needs.

What is your solution to this problem?
We first used social mapping methods which, in HIV programmes, showed that it increases involvement of beneficiaries and improves the collection of data. It has been adapted and trialed in eight emergency responses by MSF. It leverages local knowledge & experience through maps drawn by local representatives, visualizing affected & risk-prone areas, access networks, location of rivers, infrastructures, etc.

Most recently, geographic information systems (GIS) techniques have been integrated to improve analysis & communication of data gathered through social mapping & through satellite pictures. GIS has been used to provide accurate spatial analyses, relate different layers producing patterns & trends that would otherwise remain hidden & as a communication tool. Thus combining social mapping & GIS delivers a comprehensive report/situation analysis that enables better decision making & efficient utilization of resources in times of emergencies.

What is your latest update on your innovation?

1. After having presented the innovation during MSF Scientific days we are invited to participate in an interdisciplinary pool of experts together, reviewing the current best practices for epidemic responses and attempting to design a ‘universal’ tool kit and practice guide for community-centric outbreak response.

2. We also would like to use more drones in order to collect aerial photographs of the region and introduce them in the GIS; a good way to have more precise & detailed data as well as maps.


Blessings Chiepa

Labana Steven


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