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Report and Pictures by Frank Chang


My role as a GISCorps volunteer for the Tsunami relief efforts was to serve as an expert advisor to the Global MapAid, a non-governmental organization (NGO), during its field evaluation in Indonesia that would evolve to a one-year project partnered with a local NGO or education institute.


The evaluation aimed to identify the current GIS needs and projects on the ground; and identify a local partner and its resources and needs. Then the GMA would work with its donors and funding agencies to develop full project details.


We visited many officials on the ground in Medan and Banda Aceh including the US Consular and other representatives from US Agency for International Development (USAID), Humanitarian Information Center (UN/HIC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organization (WHO), local provincial Public Work Department, militaries, other NGOs, and donors such as Asian Development Bank.

UN/HIC and UN/JLC (Joint Logistic Center) maintained a small map unit that was staffed by Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF). (GISCorps is currently providing five volunteers for VVAF’s Jakarta Operation.) All major military forces had their own mapping units and mapped the damaged roads and bridges independently. Other agencies had mapping or survey components attached to their specific projects. There were some efforts to share data such as Data Repository of the Geographic Information Support Team at University of Georgia (GIST). However, there were a lot of gaps and redundancy in needs of better coordination. On the other hand, among the 140 NGO registered with UN by mid February, GMA was among the only one or two that were specialized in GIS and mapping.

GIS Needs

We also visited Internal Displaced Population (IDP) camps and other damaged/affected area. The data on IDP Camps and the Temporary Location Centers (TLC) were seriously outdated. We could see a major need in real time data collection and mapping here. Major roads and bridges were rapidly repaired but their status was not updated on the maps. We met US Army Corps of Engineers from Hawaii District working on the road reconstruction. It will still be a long time to restore all the secondary roads and bridges. The water supply and sanitation was another major area that attracted many commercial interests including quite a few Japanese companies. Many mass buried sites would need to relocate due to their proximity to elements or villages where GIS would be used for new site selection. The other areas include debris removal estimation (currently using paper map), regional and city planning during the reconstruction, land ownership mapping and survey. There will be some new high resolution aerial photos around Banda Aceh provided by Japan and along the Western coast by Norway.

Local Partner

We identified a local university UNSYIAH that was actively involved in the Aceh Reconstruction Task Force. UNSYIAH itself sustained heavy loss of its staff and students during the Tsunami. It lost 110 lecturers among its one thousand plus faculty. Among them, 12 held Ph.D. degrees and 60 had masters. They also suffered 10% loss among its 3000 students. We made contacts with the Biology Department, which lost 16 of its 42 lecturers, and the Mathematics Department, which hosted a small GIS lab. GMA signed a MOU with the task force at the UNSYIAH for collaboration in developing detail projects that included training component that could provide data collectors to reconstruction agencies and advanced impact assessment on local ecological (including animal behavior) and agriculture systems. The UNSYIAH task force is now functioning as a think tank for the local government. Their short term hardware needs include computers, a scanner, a wide format plotter, GPS (the GIS lab had only one GPS, I donated my own GPS unit to them), handheld PDAs for data collections. They also need books, and visiting lecturers for short term lecturing in place of lost faculty.


The current situation here is not too bad. There is frequently conflicting information but in general, all the restrictions from the military are lifted. From what they told us, we need to go to the local police and to the Tsunami task force to get registered and get a card. They used to require a permit (blue book) to enter the Aceh Province. But now only reporters are required to carry them. We passed several police check points at night but they didn’t bother us. So, in general it is safe in the sense of military conflicts. But since 2/3 of the Banda Aceh is destroyed, it still requires caution traveling at night.

A photo essay from the Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh

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