Mapping the world’s danger zones

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A SAUNDERTON-based charity is working with the UN to look at ways to help the thousands of Syrians who are ‘displaced’ following the death of 5,000 civilians during 10 months of civil unrest.

MapAction usually provide on-the-ground volunteers to update sophisticated maps showing aid agencies where the worst affected areas are – so resources can be used effectively.

But security fears have prevented the charity sending volunteers into Syria – and it is instead trying to draw up maps using information gleaned from the outside.

In the past the Bucks charity, which has Prince Harry as its patron, has helped out following the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, 2010 Haiti earthquake and monitored the 2011 situation in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

Chief executive Nigel Woof said: “We are doing some work mapping the displacement going on in Syria.

“But very few aid agencies are on the ground in Syria because it not accessible.

“It is not a permissive environment for aid agencies to work in at the moment.”

The charity was formed in 2002, and is funded by the UK government and private donations.

Trained volunteers are sent to disaster zones and using laptops they update maps with real-time information from the ground.

The teams use a system provided free to them by Aylesbury-based digital mapping service ESRI.

Mr Woof says: “We couldn’t do what we do without ESRI.”

If volunteers can’t connect to the internet they carry mini-satellite dishes, which are small enough to fit into a pocket, so they can beam the information via satellite.

All the maps are provided free to aid workers and agencies.

During the 2010 Pakistan floods the charity provided detailed information for a disaster zone the size of Germany.

The maps show where the problems are, the obstacles in reaching the affected areas and the exact work being done by each agency in each area.

“We don’t want any overlaps or gaps,” says Woof. “That is why the maps are so crucial.”

The charity was formed in 2002 and has 35 ‘deployable volunteers’ three full time and three part time staff.

Mr Woof says: “It just happened to be a group of people in Buckinghamshire who came up with the idea. It could have been anywhere but it happened to be in Bucks and that’s where we’ve been since.”

>To learn more about the charity visit