Improving Somalia’s Geospatial Data Capacity to Respond to Crises

Due to training in utilizing geospatial data for disaster response, the State of Puntland in northeastern Somalia has improved its data capacity in the face of COVID-19 and tropical Cyclone Gati. 

Abdirisak Adan, Head, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at the Puntland Statistics Department (PSD), highlighted a lack of infrastructure for data collection, limited public awareness, limited financial and human resources, and ineffective information sharing and coordination as challenges faced during the pandemic. Furthermore, because the majority of Puntland’s population is nomadic, with many internally displaced persons, trustworthy population data is difficult to come by. Given Puntland’s “fluctuating population dynamics,” fast, precise, and trustworthy data is essential for informing emergency response and recovery planning and monitoring. 

The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (GPSDD) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) collaborated on the Data for a Resilient Africa initiative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The effort aimed to improve data ecosystems in order to better respond to the epidemic and provide countries with the resources and tools they need to deal with future crises. 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 as part of this initiative and to address the need for better data to inform Puntland’s pandemic response. 

The collaboration began with a request for assistance in obtaining and utilizing high-resolution demographic and infrastructure data in order to react to COVID-19. Following this achievement, the GPSDD and ECA facilitated new collaboration opportunities through the Data for a Resilient Africa initiative. GRID3 presented a virtual training and certification course for statistics officers on spatial analysis of gridded population data during a two-month period. The training provided them with geospatial tools and capabilities, such as the ability to create a data visualization hub to aid COVID-19 decision-making. The use of these tools and skills was important in the aftermath of Cyclone Gati. 

PSD personnel concluded GRID3 capacity-building sessions on November 22, 2020, and had begun using GIS skills and tools to create a report assessing the results of the region’s first-ever Health and Demographics Survey. On the same day, Cyclone Gati made landfall on Puntland’s coast. PSD employed geospatial data to effectively organize the state’s emergency disaster response, as well as monitor and assess the cyclone’s impact, using the skills and techniques learned during the capacity strengthening sessions. Following that, statistics officers were able to pinpoint the locations of settlements and vital infrastructure affected by the cyclone, such as roads, schools, and health centers. 

The PSD officers were able to coordinate data-driven relief efforts since they had recently been taught to respond to COVID-19 and were using GIS tools from the training. They were, for example, prepared to utilize GIS technologies to monitor the storm, as well as identify and map the cyclone’s route and magnitude, as well as analyze the number of settlements, roads, and other infrastructure in its path to aid in preparedness, emergency, and recovery activities. 

The response coordination team was able to evaluate the most significant impact, find damaged buildings or injured individuals, extrapolate the number of people affected, and identify vulnerable groups and internally displaced people. PSD estimated that roughly 10,000 homes, or 60,000 individuals, lived in Puntland’s worst-affected districts. The cyclone impacted about 180,000 people, causing them to lose their livelihoods, homes, and other basic supplies, as well as displacing an additional 42,000 individuals. 

The PSD was able to determine in real-time the cyclone-hit areas and intensity levels, as well as extract disaster information regarding affected locations of importance such as hospitals and schools, as well as agricultural flooding, thanks to GIS tools and skills training. It would have been impossible to anticipate and respond to the devastation caused by Cyclone Gati without this information. The same skill sets and datasets are used in a tailored COVID-19 response. 

In the long run, however, Puntland’s lack of accurate demographic data remains a severe concern. Nonetheless, this collaboration has shown how building capacity can lead to faster data gathering and reporting, which can help with crisis decision-making. The Somalia National Bureau of Statistics and GRID3 are working together to expand these capabilities across the country.