SEATTLE — Mapping has evolved over the years to become more than just a mere tool through which people get directions, it now incorporates the use of computer-based spatial analysis in the form of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that are used extensively by governments, organizations and people to inform their decisions. According to experts in the field, some of the largest problems facing the world such as climate change and natural disasters are best understood spatially.
GIS is now being used in five creative ways to combat the harmful effects of poverty: (1) to reduce the effects of natural disasters, (2) in aid operations, (3) to investigate social problems, (4) to inform distribution of resources, and (5) maximizing agriculture yields.
Natural disasters often tend to destabilize a population and they can prove particularly harmful for the poorest demographic. Geographic Information Systems are now used in early warning systems in order to reduce the effects of unexpected calamities on individuals. Events such as floods, droughts and disease epidemics can now be predicted by employing the use of GIS to determine areas at high risk of such occurrences.
In Oman, for example, a study looking at flooding models has predicted that large parts of a coastal region in the country known as Salalah, could end up under water if sea levels rise by five meters.
A Geomatics specialist in the country, Amol Deshmukh, says that the study is important because it identifies the areas under threat due to coastal flooding and the preventive measures required to minimize the loss of life and property.
Organizations involved in distributing emergency aid now consider mapping an indispensable tool in running their activities. Geographic Information Systems equip these organizations with the analysis tools that enable them to identify the areas with the greatest need and allows them to effectively distribute goods to these areas.
One organization, Relief Aid, has been so effective in utilizing Geographic Information Systems in its operations that it received the ESRI President’s award for outstanding GIS work in improving the lives of people affected by disaster poverty and civil unrest. ESRI President, Jack Dangermond says that he was inspired by their work following the 2010 Haiti Earthquakes where they used Geo-spatial technology to track and distribute aid. ESRI is a major international supplier of GIS software.
The Red Cross, a humanitarian organization, uses Geographic Information Systems to identify neighborhoods across America at high risk of serious home fires in order to increase the efficiency of volunteers who conduct door-to-door visits to create awareness in such areas.
Governments and organizations now use GIS to investigate social problems in order to devise appropriate solutions.
In the U.S., a study was conducted to map and examine homelessness rates in 25 major cities across the country. The study generated important data such as which cities had the highest homeless population per capita and the cities which had decreasing homelessness levels.
According to Directions Magazine, this type of data can be used to create policies and plans which can be adopted in cities struggling to lower their homelessness rates.
Distribution of Resources
Governments and organizations use the application to inform their distribution of resources.
Tata consultancy is seeking to improve rural electrification in India by scaling up the use of micro grids. Tata researchers have come up with a model known as the Reference Electrification Model (REM) that pools data from a variety of sources including satellite images. The model will enable planners to provide the lowest-cost electrification option to potential clients in rural areas be it micro grids, solar power or grid extension.
Tata researchers recognize the important economic benefits that can result from empowering people with electricity.
In Ethiopia, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) used Geographic Information Systems technology to plan the construction of Alternative Basic Education (ABE) schools. The technology enabled the organization to maximize on the funding that it had received by reducing the labor costs that would have been incurred in selecting appropriate sites for the schools without the aid of GIS.
IRC constructed ABE schools at 22 sites. The schools transition young child laborers from poor families into formal educational institutions like primary schools.
Maximize Agricultural Yields
Maximizing yields in agriculture to increase food production has been identified as one of the most effective ways of mitigating poverty.
Adoption of precision farming, which employs the use of Geographic Information Systems and remote sensing, enables farmers to manage application of inputs and control water usage in order to maximize returns and reduce costs.