Suriname: Heavy floods - MapAction sends volunteers to provide situational mapping support

News and Press Release
Originally published
MapAction has deployed a team of six volunteers to Suriname, South America to provide situational mapping to the United Nations and the Government.
Since 1st May, torrential rains have affected the entire South and parts of Central Suriname causing several major rivers to rise rapidly and submerge an area of approximately 30,000 km2. According to first assessments made by the National Coordination Centre for Disaster Control (Natioaal Coordinatie Centrum voor Rampenbeheersing, NCCR), a total of 37,000 people have been affected.

The President of Suriname requested assistance from the United Nations and the international community to coordinate and strengthen relief efforts in the affected areas. Two volunteers from MapAction arrived in the capital, Paramaribo, on Saturday afternoon to assess the situation and four other volunteers arrived Tuesday evening. The first two volunteers to arrive in Paramaribo quickly set up a mapping cell alongside the UN Disaster Assessment centre, located in and supporting the Suriname Ministry of Defence.

MapAction will provide all agencies involved in the relief effort with vital maps depicting the evolving situation and showing vital information, such as transport links, areas affected and where aid has been distributed, to support the aid agencies efforts.

17 May: Full Team Established - 26 maps produced to date

The two elements of the team finally came together late on Tuesday (16th) evening at the hotel, after the main party arrived in Suriname on Tuesday.

After Nigel gave a short briefing to the new arrivals, David accompanied Nigel to the Disaster Centre, while Sylvie, Hamish and Chris settled into the hotel. At the Centre the MapAction space is alongside the UN OSOCC in a separate room. The space allocated in an air-conditioned room, shared with others, is proving a good working environment and a particular boom to printer operations.

Today (Wednesday 17th) the team assembled at the Centre and began to get down to work. Visitors came asking for maps, though not in the quantities that we had experienced in previous major disasters (this owing to the smaller numbers of NGOs in situ). The Surinamese senior army officer in charge of the disaster relief effort visited the MapAction cell and expressed his satisfaction at the contribution that MapAction was making. MapAction comprised principally, at this stage, Toby and Nigel; though most people here of course were/are unaware of the considerable work done behind the scenes by the main party en route, and other MapAction GIS specialists in the UK. About 26 maps have now been produced.

Our maps are on ReliefWeb , the UN portal on the Internet and have also been sent to Alertnet, the humanitarian website of Reuters. Telecom Sans Frontieres, who have a team here at the Centre, have asked for a map showing humanitarian relief sites in the interior that possess radio or satphone communications. Other maps show specific river lines with the disaster situation depicted in a given region, and smaller scale maps that show the overall situation. We have asked for processed data from recent satellite imagery acquired under the International Charter, which will come to us from our partners in project Respond: UNOSAT and Sertit.

Nigel at time of writing is conducting an area assessment by helicopter. He has taken his GPS and intends to take waypoints of specific sites as well as track-log the flight route for reference purposes. We are told that the Netherlands have a warship en route for Suriname that will contribute several Lynx helicopters to aid in relief efforts; they are due to arrive tomorrow.

We have been made very welcome and the Centre authorities are looking after the aid workers very well.

16 May: Main Team Sets Off For Suriname

Early this morning the Main Team set off for Suriname and Nigel and Toby continue map production in the UNOSOCC in Paramaribo.

The Main Party finished preparations, principally selecting and packing kit and doing much GIS work, until midnight on Sunday. After three hours sleep, Sylvie, Chris Phillips, Hamish and David travelled to Heathrow and caught the 6.30 flight to Amsterdam. Sylvie and Chris then went together to obtain the visas from the Suriname embassy, while Hamish and David parked the heavy kit into an overnight storage container at the airport. With the important visas obtained they spent the afternoon and evening downloading data and other GIS tasks before an early bed, ready for the flight on Wednesday to Suriname.

Nigel and Toby meanwhile were located in the UN OSOCC that has now been established in the MoD and in fact they have a separate air conditioned office away from the noise and heat. This is a much better environment to produce maps (no more soggy map paper) and they have a map board installed in the OSOCC lobby to display maps. It has been a busy day and plans to get around the desks in the NCCR fell by the wayside but the OSOCC is now becoming well organised.

They spent the morning with virtually no internet access but a friendly Suriname ministry official in the next office arranged a connection to a wireless network. Map production and update continued throughout the day fairly relentlessly. The only deadline missed was a sub-regional map for the ECHO Rep and he was happy to wait. The tightest deadline met involved producing two completely new maps for a press briefing at 1pm, with 35 minutes notice.

So as usual they are in good spirits and looking forward to the arrival of the rest of the team to further boost productivity.

15 May: Advanced Party Arrives, First Maps Printed

Nigel and Toby arrived at Paramaribo airport last evening just behind schedule at 16.40. After quickly passing through the airport they booked into the Eco Resort Hotel to collocate with the UNDAC Staff.

The UNDAC team are presently working from the MoD near the NCCR and with their help the advanced party were able to assess the role of MapAction over the next few days of the relief phase.

David Spackman (Director), after discussion with Nigel at lunchtime today, decided to deploy a main party of four to Suriname and so David, Sylvie Chesneau, Chris Phillips and Hamish Pritchard all met this evening to collect and prepare the equipment. Emerson Tan, Chris Dowden and Mike Sims, although not deploying, were also there to help. They will fly to Amsterdam early tomorrow to obtain their visas and then fly onto Paramaribo at 1215 tomorrow (Tuesday) arriving there at 1625 the same day to join Nigel and Toby.

Nigel and Toby printed the first of their first three maps at 19.56. In discussions with the UNDAC team the assessment at this stage is that there will be no opportunity to conduct field data collection: there are no functioning roads into the affected area, travel by boat to and from the interior would take several days, and air assets are limited to one Suriname helicopter in which the UN themselves have difficultly getting a seat for air reconnaissance work. However, locational data is reportedly being collected, at least by the military, and this may provide input for fairly detailed and useful situational mapping.

The situation on the ground in the affected area, we are told, is that the flooding is mainly restricted to the river banks (up to several hundred metres laterally) however the population -- who almost all live and farm on the flood plains -- have taken refuge on what are sometimes very narrow strips of land hard against the steep valley sides. Some sub-districts are reporting that between 60 and 100 percent of the population have been displaced. According to the Dutch hydrologists some river system levels are probably falling while others may still be rising.

Our intentions are to move into the UNDAC field base (not yet formally an OSOCC) at the MoD, to scope out our initial role in close support of UNDAC.

Overall a typically interesting first day in the field and many uncertainties remain. This seems to have many of the characteristics of 'classic' sudden onset disasters, and even though deaths are reportedly very low some 25,000 or more people -- two thirds of those living in the interior -- have been displaced from their homes and will have a wide range of basic needs currently unfulfilled. Our role over the coming days, as in other emergencies, will be to provide good information support for decision making by several humanitarian agencies.

13 May: MapAction Deploy To Suriname

Heavy rains since the beginning of May have inundated the Surinamese interior. About 25,000 people are reported to have been affected by the rising water levels, with the most severe damage occurring in the southwest and centre of the country.

Today a MapAction advanced party deployed to Paramaribo, the capital of Suriname, to meet up with the UDAC team and to access the role for MapAction. Nigel Woof and Toby Wicks deployed early on Friday to Amsterdam to obtain visas from the Suriname Consulate.

The afternoon was spent at the Hotel Atlantis on GIS data preparation in consultation with UK Base Team. A decision whether to send the main body of the team will be made at about midday on Sunday (14 May) after Nigel and Toby have had time to make their assessment of the situation in Suriname. The main body is on call to depart early on Monday 15th May.

Before they departed on Saturday they produced two maps of the country overview showing the extent of the flooding and also a map of the affected population. Nigel and Toby were busy en route and they continued with map production, as much as laptop battery would allow, and produced the second versions of these first two maps. They will arrive in Paramaribo at 1625 this evening, Saturday 13th May.

MapAction urgently needs funds to support its emergency mapping teams. Volunteers from this UK charity are currently in Suriname producing maps for the flood relief effort. But for all supplies/equipment/transport and accommodation we are completely dependent on donations. We receive no government funding at all. Our Team also assisted during the Tsunami in Sri Lanka and in Pakistan, mapping tent distribution after the earthquake. Checkout our website now to see what we do and how you could help.