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GISCorps and the Darfur Event Mapping Initiative

By Nicholas Hauk: Calgary, Peggy Wu: Pennsylvania, Brian Mladenich: Oregon, Megan Winnenberg: Ohio, Ryan Kemna: Washington DC

"Most immediately, this database will be cross-referenced with available archival satellite imagery to try and find images of attacks collected the day the attack occurred. In addition, the dataset will be shared with UN and other inter-governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations as a showcase piece to encourage them to do something similar, ideally with GISCorps help!"

Lars Bromley, Project Manager, AAAS

Figure 1: An overview of the makeshift Krinding encampment in West
Darfur.©UNHCR/K.McKinsey (July 2004)

In the latter half of 2007, the GISCorps undertook a project in affiliation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Known officially as the Darfur Event Mapping Initiative, this is part of an ongoing project started in 2005 by The Science and Human Rights Program of the AAAS and funded by the MacArthur Foundation. GISCorps volunteers were tasked with documenting the physical conflicts and geocoding (the tracking of event locations by obtaining the x-y coordinates) in Darfur, Sudan and Eastern Chad, a region that has seen hundreds of thousands killed, and has left millions displaced.

Five GISCorps volunteers participated in this project. These volunteers include Nicholas Hauk, Ryan Kemna, Brian Mladenich, Megan Winnenberg, and Peggy Wu, and these dedicated folks tackled the project remotely in locations within Canada and the United States. The process featured a thorough inspection of many reports, news flashes, and articles which had been drawn from various media sources, human rights and aid organizations, as well as world and regional government bodies and unions. Primarily, the volunteers were to track incidents of attack, and provide geo-coordinates associated with the location of that attack.

Information provided for a conflict could vary considerably, as the reports were obtained from various sources and from different standards. Information tracked by the volunteers included the location of the event, the number of people killed or injured, the type of attack and alleged attacker(s), the date of the event, and related source information. Such data was compiled into an Access database via an input form, which can be seen below in figure 2. Having a central database allows researchers to search through the events based on any number of variables the volunteers tracked.

Figure 2: Darfur and Eastern Chad Events Form

Another benefit to geocoding the conflicts is to convert those events into data points for visual representation and geographic analysis. This would not have been possible without the volunteers documenting the x-y coordinates. Finding the correct or exact location was a common challenge cited by the volunteers. While the volunteers had access to a place-name fuzzy-matcher and a Sudan settlement shapefile (see figures 4 and 5 below), often a location would come up with a different spelling than expected, or too many similarly-named places would locate in very close proximity. In either case, it was difficult to decipher the exact attack location. Insofar as what the volunteers gathered, one can begin to look for spatial patterns, hot-spots, and problem areas for certain groups of people or their alleged attackers (see figure 6 and 7).

Figure 3: The newly established camp at Farachana began receiving relocated refugees
on January 17. Over 1,000 refugees have been moved to the camp in convoys running
every other day from the border. ©UNHCR/H.Caux

The combined resources-the database, the geographic analysis and the visual representation of the events- could further assist in estimating the effects of mass atrocities in Darfur, and provide additional information for international human rights groups, such as the International Criminal Court.

Finally, of course, there is the human side of the conflict. Many of the reports and articles contain tragic and horrific stories, including those of personal accounts. A common feeling among the volunteers is the fact that such a database and visualization tool will help to get the word out about the ongoing rights violations in the region.

Figure 4: Screen-shot of a portion of Western Darfur in a mapping document with Darfur
settlements featured
Figure 5: Screen-shot of a search for 'Tawil' on the Darfur and Eastern Chad Fuzzy Matcher

By leveraging available resources today, from with today's world of satellite images, to the internet, to GIS-tools and related software, there is the capability and the opportunity to advance social equity. This project truly has served as an "initiative", whereby the GISCorps and AAAS have partnered to integrate a process that documents current and future world conflicts in a centralized database and serves as a platform for further research. Project such as this will bring more awareness to the ongoing human rights violations around the world.

"This has been an invaluable experience, from learning about Darfur, collaborating cross-country, to working remotely to bring GIS technology in the forefront of those who know very little about GIS. This remote mission is an efficient way to leverage current technology to advance social equity. I relish the opportunity to work with GISCorps again."

Peggy Wu, GISCorps Volunteer

Figure 6: A plot of attack events generated from geocoded data - AAAS

"while voices of dissent may be small and singular...it is their constant effort and dedication that inevitably brings them to the forefront. If enough people keep protesting and raising awareness, maybe one day they might accomplish something."

Nicholas Hauk, GISCorps Volunteer

Figure 7: A Density Grid of attacks generated from geocoded data - AAAS