A look at the ideas and projects we're working on as we strive to grow and improve ReliefWeb.

Visualizing humanitarian information through interactive maps

By Akiko Harayama

Producing rapidly changing and complex information is challenging at the best of times. Combine this with a sudden onset emergency, time constraints, a myriad of stakeholders with different information needs, and ensuring that information is in an easy-to-understand format, the task becomes even more difficult.

So, in order to address some of these challenges, OCHA’s Visual Information Unit (VIU), with technical support of ReliefWeb, has further developed the interactive map Beta released in December 2012, to now also include humanitarian information, situation timelines and improved maps.

This pilot version of the interactive timeline map has used data collected during Typhoon Haiyan to simulate how multiple humanitarian data and information could be visually displayed in one place.

Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines on 8 November 2013, affected over 500 municipalities across nine regions and more than 15 million people. During the humanitarian response local authorities collected daily toll data at the municipality level. This helped humanitarian responders track the extent of the devastation. However publishing this information and comparing the changes over time proved to be a challenging task.

This interactive timeline map is designed to visualize this large amount of data by incorporating maps, timelines and information in one webpage. The tool offers:

  1. Visualization of multiple pieces of information in a single location. This example includes information on affected people, displaced people and damaged houses.

  2. You can select dates and to see how the data changes over time.

  3. A timeline that provides an overview of key events.

  4. Real-time funding data visualization, fed via OCHA’s Financial Tracking System (FTS) API.

  5. An additional visualization of key data by region in bar charts.

The map is designed to display information you collect and input, making it ideal for rapidly developing humanitarian situations. It is connected to an online spreadsheet or database and simple to update, edit or add new categories of information. As more information becomes available, you can easily populate data which is then reflected on the map.

The code for this project is open source and available via github so that any advanced developer can use/edit/revamp it for their purpose. With further development and your feedback, we hope to make this a downloadable tool can be easily embedded into any website.

As mentioned, this is the pilot version of this interactive timeline map. The data and information used is for development and testing purposes. To make this pilot become a tool for humanitarians, we are seeking your feedback on how you would apply this tool and how to improve its functionality. If you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement, please let us know by either leaving a comment below or contact us.

Check out the new interactive timeline map