Geographic information systems (GIS) become increasingly important to international humanitarian organizations such as the International Red Cross (ICRC), as René Saameli, the ICRC's GIS coordinator, explained in a recent interview. GIS becomes especially useful when operating in the aftermath of a natural disaster or other humanitarian emergencies. "It's vital to know where the beneficiaries are, how to reach them and what infrastructure they already have. Obtaining a map that provided this information used to be quite difficult, or simply impossible because the map didn't exist. Today, basic maps are much more readily available. And a lot of progress has been made with GIS methods that enable us to map and share this information. In fact, they have completely revolutionized the way we work." says Saameli.
Saameli also stresses the importance of crowdsource generated mapping data: "GIS tools and collaborative approaches drawing on data gathered by networks of volunteers are becoming increasingly important for humanitarian organizations. These tools and methods make it possible to gather and exploit invaluable local and worldwide data that was previously non-existent or too complicated to process. This helps us improve the ICRC's efforts to come to the aid of those in need."