MapAction’s Global Help Centre: creating new partnerships through GIS/Information Management in the humanitarian sector


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H2H Network member MapAction works across the globe to provide life-saving maps and data. MapAction ensures disaster response teams have access to the maps and data they need whenever they’re needed. As well as helping to anticipate and prepare for emergencies before they happen, our team of expert volunteers is ready to respond to disasters in-country or remotely, anywhere in the world and at very short notice.

New Global Help Centre

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, MapAction established a ‘Global Help Centre’, to respond to remote requests for Geographic Information System (GIS)/Information Management (IM) support. This project was part of the H2H Network‘s Global Covid-19 Humanitarian Support Package. It was the first time that MapAction offered its services through a remote online portal. Previously, MapAction’s support was provided for the most part during an emergency response and was requested in person. The ‘Global Help Centre’, highlighted on the homepage of MapAction’s website, raised awareness about the range of services MapAction could support with, and provided a clear, remote, single point of entry to request these services. MapAction’s service offer was coordinated with H2H Network members CartONG and the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team (HOT) to reduce duplication.

The Global Help Centre proved to be a successful entry point for partners to engage with MapAction remotely. A range of organisations requested assistance through the Centre in 2020, including Insecurity Insights, Oxfam in Kenya, Oxfam in Somalia, British Red Cross and ACAPS.

Whilst the majority of projects supported during this period were linked to Covid-19, there were also requests for support for other types of humanitarian response, demonstrating the value of this service to the sector beyond the pandemic. MapAction intends to continue to promote and use the Global Help Centre in 2021. You can access it here.

A snapshot of MapAction’s work

In June 2020, Oxfam in Kenya approached MapAction with a request for support from its WASH team. The relationship with Oxfam in Kenya had already been established as part of a regional project in East Africa supported by MapAction to address food security issues, caused by locust swarms and the Covid-19 pandemic.

The request from the WASH team was to capture accurate locations of “water ATMs” and plot them on a map in order to identify the number of households served by each ATM. Water ATMs are machines that allow water to be automatically dispensed when a customer places a token or card containing a chip against an electronic reader, this process regulates flow at a dispensing point. The chip records the amount of water the user has already paid for and water credits are deducted each time water is dispensed. The water ATMs are important points in informal settlements, ensuring access to safe, low-cost drinking water are key to protecting people against water-borne diseases.

The Oxfam in Kenya team requested the maps to cross check that the households targeted had a water ATM serving them within a reasonable area. The team also wanted to distribute the maps for coordination purposes to other WASH sector actors working in the same area to avoid duplication.

During June and July in 2020, a member of MapAction’s expert volunteer team worked remotely on the project in close coordination with the Oxfam in Kenya team. The mission consisted of five stages:

  1. Understanding the requirement and deciding what was in scope
  2. Advising Oxfam on an appropriate data capture tool
  3. Data collection completed by the Oxfam team
  4. Data validation by the MapAction team
  5. Map creation and quality assurance by the MapAction team

The final products covered 12,000 households served by the water ATMs, within informal settlements in Nairobi.


An example map used in the first phase of the project, showing Water ATMs and beneficiary groups by location in Nairobi County. MapAction. 2020

Due to the success of the first phase, MapAction’s involvement was extended to a second phase in August 2020, this time to capture the location of soap and water ATMs within further informal settlements in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa. The second phase concluded in December,and mapped 25 soap ATMs in Kisumu serving 21,000 households, 1 soap ATM in Mombasa serving 500 households and 4 soap ATMs in Nairobi serving 2,500 households.

The Oxfam team were enthusiastic about learning how to manage and update the data and maps themselves. This was built into the design of the system to ensure it could be easily shared with Oxfam at the end of the project.

Irene Gai, WASH strategist at Oxfam in Kenya, said,

Sharing where work has been done is helping to avoid duplication of interventions, thereby saving resources that can be channelled to other needy areas. By having the maps shared with other WASH-sector agencies, they can target their own resources for similar initiatives in other places than where Oxfam has already supported.”

An example map used in the second phase of the project, showing Soap ATMs and beneficiary groups by location in Nairobi County. MapAction. 2020