Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Moving Refugees

This is unprecedented! Two contributions from one person in one day!!

Firstly: A bunch of us got an e-mail today from John Marinos at the UNHCR Somalia. I begged and pleaded and he finally relented to me posting his message to the SDI-EA blog. Why? Because to it's got all (well, many) the right elements we seek in SDI-EA: innovative communication, collaboration within a community etc. etc. Of course, in my version of A Perfect World you'd be posting these data to the likes of SWALIM and/or DEPHA and, through the magic of interoperablnes finding it being served in ready-to-use guises through Google Maps or Google Earth, GIS clients and flat browsers, all at no extra cost. I guess we got a ways to go yet but I think it's a goal worth bearing in mind. Anyway, John's KML is posted at http://dewa03.unep.org/downloads/UNHCR_IDPs_Sep06_to_Aug07.kmz

"Dear colleagues,

"This email attempts to kill 3 birds with one stone... as the saying goes.

"1) I am distributing to the usual suspects, the latest version of the PMT [That's Population Movement Tracking for those of us outside humanitarian space. Mick] database. This version is the same as the one circulated last month but now includes the movements from August 2007. It is for your use, and if you'd like to post it for dissemination on GeoNetworks or DEPHA (as a WFS) then go for it. The attached zip file contains the data as a shape file, along with metadata and a document to explain the fields in the table.

"2) Also attached is the latest PMT map. Feel free to put this on ReliefWeb, GeoNetworks, OCHA-Somalia, or wherever.

"3) Lastly, I've been trying to find a way for people to see and appreciate the scale of IDP [Internally Displaced Persons a.k.a refugges that haven't crossed an international border. Mick] movements in Somalia. With the help of Craig Von Hagen, who forwarded a useful email to me we've put together a KMZ file that allows you to use Google Earth (v.4) to view the locations of IDPs and the reasons for movement - per month. It covers the period Sep 2006 until August 2007.

"By double clicking on the KMZ file below it should open Google Earth (assuming that you have it installed on your machine). It includes the districts of Somalia along with 12 maps (actually image overlays) each showing locations where IDPs have moved for that particular month (according to PMT reports received by our partners). Each location is color coded* by the reason for displacement** If you have Google Earth version 4 installed, it will recognize the time tags and a sliding bar will appear at the top of your screen - to the left of your navigation control. This will allow you to "scroll" through time and see the different monthly maps. Notice how Nov 07 had a lot of flood displacement? Notice the displacement because of insecurity from Feb till now, with a lull in May? The goal is to provide you with an easy to use (and very cool) tool to view the data we've collected on IDP movements this last year. The secondary goal is to stop me from making PP presentations with this same information.

"Some problems:
"* I don't know how to put a legend in Google Earth. Therefore there is a PDF attached showing what the different colored dots mean.
"** There are some locations that have 2 different reasons for movement in the same month. (i.e. Some people moved to Baydhaba because of drought, some people because of insecurity). In these cases only one reason for movement is displayed. I've tried unsuccessfully to fix the situation. I'll continue to try. Remember this is only a test!

"If you are one of the techies who would like more information on the methodology of the PMT project or on other Protection Cluster initiatives, don't hesitate to ask. If you're a non-techy and want to know more about the data we have available and how best to use it, don't hesitate to ask.

"I look forward to your comments on the KMZ file.

"Best Regards,"

Secondly, later also from John:

"In other exciting news. I've used my fancy new upgraded MapInfo to log onto DEPHA's Geoserver.
I've even downloaded the (old) Admin boundaries for Somalia. Look! Its there now. I'm using data on my PC thats sitting on your server. How cool is that!?!

"Now that I'm able to party with you guys, may I kindly request that you post some data sets that may of interest to the community.
"1) IDP settlements in Somalia
"2) IDP locations
"- these are different. #1 is the actual IDP settlement within various towns in Somalia. #2 are the towns/villages that have received IDPs over the last few months.

"Now that Somalia is covered I'm sure there are regional datasets that our Regional Hub can send over that people are sure to enjoy.

"Forgive me if I"m jumping the gun a little. You guys at DEPHA are not our personal data posters.. Let us know if you're interested in this data, then in what format it should be in to be the easiest for you to work with. Also bear in mind that this data gets updated frequently.

"Viva la EA-SDI!!!!

Not a bad day's work, I think.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Back to the Conservation Community, and our First Abject Failure

Hmmm. It would seem that my subconsience has been censoring me, probably to prevent embarrassment to both of us. I did in fact write this up a month ago and somehow have just not posted it...

The SCGIS conference back in July brought two important potential follow-ups for SDI-EA, one being with Kenya Wildlife Service to get them to start spinning their protected areas data into the World Protected Areas database (a long-standing goal, yet to be realized), and the second with the Africa Conservation Centre. ACC support SCGIS and are motivated players in the SDI game, and I see them as a potential lynch-pin on regional SDI service targeting the conservation and resource management communities.

So, John and I are off to Lan'gata to meet up with Lucy Waruingi and other friends. And, lo!, they have a little linux (Fedora) server running as their relay for e-mail via and always-on satellite link and with a static IP address. Looks like a piece of cake to get the geoserver in place and set up a Geonetwork node for them, avoiding some of the pitfalls we struck with ICRC. Wrong.

You think you've covered all that bases, that you've planned for all the hardware wrinkles and variants, which you have a good flexible toolkit able to provide the work-arounds you need. More wrong.

We have all our installation software on USB devices. Obviously. So convenient. Does Lucy's server see the USB ports? Of course not. Shoot. Do we know ho to get Fedora to mount the USB ports? Of course not, we only ever cut our teeth using Mandriva and the commands it provides are not the real, low-level unix ones and so we get caught out. Who knows: maybe the server, being intended solely as a mail relay, has some minimal kernel not built with such luxuries as hotplug support. The point is that John and I should better anticipate these realities. Once again, going back to first principles is shown to be the wise move and, once again, we get caught when we cut corners.

Yes, of course, plugging this knowledge gap should take 10 minutes on the net with Google but it's late Friday afternoon and everyone wants to go home and we look like donkeys anyway. Not the best of time for thinking straight. I still think it will be a great face-saver if the USB ports turn out to be kaput anyway, but I have no faith in this.

Oh well, no problem, I've got all the software on DVD as well. But: why won't Lucy's server read the DVDs? Shoot, again! It's not a DVD reader, is it? It's a CD-ROM reader, and of course the UNEP Brains Trust does not have the software on CD. Total frustration. Go home and drink beer.

So, of course, no we're well equipped with many copies of software on CD-ROM and low-level knowledge of how to talk nicely to USB ports on all sorts of linux systems, and look forward to mounting a triumphant return expedition to ACC to rescue our sullied reputations. But I can't help but wonder "What's going to catch us next time?"