24 November 2021
Strengthening Geospatial Data Capacity to Respond to Crises in Somalia
UN Photo/Logan Abassi
story highlights

Through the Data for a Resilient Africa initiative, statistics officers in the State of Puntland in northeastern Somalia had begun expanding their demographic and infrastructure data capacity to help coordinate COVID-19 response efforts.

Their expanded skills proved critical when Cyclone Gati struck Somalia in November 2020.

The State of Puntland in northeastern Somalia has enhanced its data capacity in the face of COVID-19 and tropical Cyclone Gati, thanks to training in using geospatial data for emergency response.

Speaking about challenges faced during the pandemic, Abdirisak Adan, Head, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at the Puntland Statistics Department (PSD), underscored a lack of infrastructure for data collection, limited public awareness, limited financial and human resources, and ineffective information sharing and coordination. In addition, since most of Puntland’s population is nomadic, with many internally displaced people, access to reliable population data is limited. Given the “fluctuating population dynamics,” timely, accurate, and reliable data is critical to informing planning and monitoring of emergency response and recovery strategies in Puntland.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) partnered with the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) for the Data for a Resilient Africa initiative. The initiative sought to strengthen data ecosystems to better respond to the pandemic and to give countries the necessary resources and tools to respond to future crises. As part of this initiative, and to address the need for better data to inform Puntland’s pandemic response, Somalia’s National Bureau of Statistics, including the PSD, and GRID3 (Geo-Referenced Infrastructure and Demographic Data for Development) partnered to help the government access and use demographic and infrastructure data for responding to COVID-19.

The partnership began with a request for support in accessing and using high-resolution demographic and infrastructure data in responding to COVID-19. Following on this success, through the Data for a Resilient Africa initiative, the GPSDD and ECA facilitated more cooperation opportunities. Over a two-month period, GRID3 provided a virtual training and certification course for statistics officers on spatial analysis of gridded population data. The workshops equipped them with geospatial tools and capabilities, such as producing a data visualization hub, which could support the COVID-19 decision making. These tools and skills proved critical to the response to Cyclone Gati.

On 22 November 2020, PSD officials completed GRID3 capacity strengthening sessions and had begun using GIS skills and tools to finalize a report analyzing the results of the region’s first-ever Health and Demographic Survey. On that same day, Cyclone Gati hit the coast of Puntland. Drawing on the skills and techniques acquired during the capacity strengthening sessions, PSD used geospatial data to effectively coordinate the state’s emergency disaster response, as well as monitor the cyclone and assess its impact. Subsequently, statistics officers were able to identify the location of villages and critical infrastructure, such as roads, schools, and health clinics, affected by the cyclone.

Since they had just been trained to respond to COVID-19, and using geospatial tools from the training, the PSD officers were able coordinate data-driven relief efforts. For example, they were: ready to use GIS tools to monitor the cyclone; able to quickly assess its impact; and able to identify and map the cyclone’s path and magnitude, as well as assess the number of villages, roads, and other infrastructure in its path to assist with preparedness, emergency, and recovery efforts.

The response coordination team was able to: determine where the impact was greatest; locate damaged buildings or injured residents; extrapolate the number of people affected; and identify vulnerable groups and internally displaced. PSD was able to estimate that around 10,000 households or 60,000 people lived in the worst-affected areas in Puntland. Nearly 180,000 people were impacted by the cyclone, losing their livelihoods, shelter, and other basic resources and an estimated 42,000 more were displaced.

Abdifatah Mohamed, PSD Director, explained that with the support of GIS tools and skills training, the PSD was able to determine in real-time the cyclone-affected areas and intensity levels, as well as extract disaster information about affected points of interest such as hospitals and schools and cropland flooding. Without such information, anticipating and making targeted responses to damage caused by Cyclone Gati would not have been possible. Such a targeted COVID-19 response relies on the same skill sets and datasets.

However, in the longer term, the lack of accurate demographic data on Puntland remains a major challenge. Still, this partnership has demonstrated how strengthening capacity can lead to rapid data collection and reporting to support decision-making in times of crisis. The Somalia National Bureau of Statistics and GRID3 are continuing their collaboration by expanding these skills nationally. [Between Crises: Puntland’s Response to COVID-19 and Cyclone Gati] [GRID3 Press Release] [GPSDD News Story]

This article was written with support from the UN World Data Forum Secretariat. Read additional SDG Knowledge Hub stories about the UN World Data Forum, data impact, and news.

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