Best practices for social change and environmental action

Archive for the ‘Mapping’ Category

WEAP for freshwater

In Climate, Energy, Environment, Government, Growth and Development, Health, Mapping, Sustainability, Tools, Water, Weather on April 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Anyone who works in the fields of natural resources, environmental sustainability, or climate adaptation is likely to be familiar with the acronym IWRM — meaning Integrated Water Resource Management.   If that acronym actually describes their work, they are probably getting to know a newer one: WEAP the name of a software tool  for Water Evaluation And Planning.  This tool is especially useful for NGOs, agencies, and planners in the developing world where IWRM has become a cornerstone for healthy economic growth and community well being.

The creator of WEAP – the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) – recently introduced version 3.0 of the software, which was developed by its US center based at Tufts University near Boston.  The great virtue of the software is that it encompasses much of the current practice and know-how of IWRM practitioners around the globe.

SEI describes WEAP as “a laboratory for examining alternative water development and management strategies.”   As such, it is a functional and versatile addition to the toolbox of models, databases, spreadsheets and even other software systems currently in use worldwide.

The software now has three operational modes:

  • A water balance database for maintaining water demand and supply information.
  • A scenario generation tool for simulating water demand, supply, runoff, streamflows, storage, pollution generation, treatment and discharge and instream water quality.
  • A policy analysis tool that evaluates water development and management options, and takes account of multiple and competing uses of water systems.

SEI has a licensing arrangement by which organizations in developing countries can obtain and use the software at no cost, supported by a progressive fee structure for individuals, institutions, and companies in higher-income nations. That certainly seems fair to this writer.

The WEAP site includes excellent tutorials and educational materials.  A trial version is also available.  To access all of this, you do need to sign up for the site’s WEAP Forum, but that shouldn’t be an issue for any professional involved in the conservation and management of the planet’s vital freshwater resources.

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Where in the world is the latest outbreak?

In Disease, Health, Mapping, Online on April 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm

The recent Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder included a panel on “Superbugs and Pandemics” that highlighted — among other things – the many uses of Healthmap.  This is an interactive global mapping site that aggregates news and information from sources such as the World Health Organization, Google News, and the ProMed information service on disease outbreaks.

Click to expand

As a “crowdsourced” tool, it’s not perfect nor verified for accuracy. But it’s quite useful as a window on very current public health problems for NGOs engaged in the sector, government agencies allocating assistance, crisis relief organizations monitoring the global situation for certain types of illness, or public health researchers tracking the vectors that contribute to those illnesses.

Travelers would also find Healthmap an effective way to see if their destinations are experiencing outbreaks that might affect their plans or their preparations.  Because it enables users to search by disease, nation, or region, it can produce helpful detail that is both targeted and specific.  The system has also gone mobile with the Outbreaks Near Me application for the iPhone and Android platforms.

Healthmap is the brainchild and creation of Clark Freifeld and John Brownstein at Children’s Hospital in Boston.  A quick summary of how they did it ran earlier this year in Fast Company. The Healthmap site includes excellent tutorials and some background information for the general public and health practitioners alike.

Put the Earth to work

In Communication, Mapping, Media, Online on March 31, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Geography can mean many things to a cause-oriented NGO or nonprofit: organizational framework, operational constraints, strategic opportunities, cultural boundaries…to name just a few.  Now, thanks to the enterprising folks at Google, geographic knowledge can be a brilliantly effective communication tool for conveying the scope and detail of an organization’s work.

Google has a rather extensive nonprofit outreach facility for the popular Google Earth application. It has the potential to become an ideal channel for global initiatives in particular because it supports visualization of key issues geographically, often in remarkable detail. But it can also be an engaging way for local and regional organizations to tell their stories.  It’s all a matter of scale, a concept that has almost become synonymous with Google Earth and the growing array of online mapping tools.

While there is much to consider and learn about this channel, it is quite feasible to develop and implement the following potential applications.

  • Images and information overlays illustrating  geo-political issues, regional initiatives, crisis points, trends, and human interest stories.
  • Placemark-based perspectives that illustrate concepts using snapshot views.
  • Narrated “tours” based on specific themes and concepts; the viewer can “fly” from one point to another automatically, or at the click of a mouse.
  • Embedding of these features within websites, blogs, and presentations.
  • Collaboration features that enable group work, enhancements and additions to all of these.

This is a low or no-cost way to add functionality to an online presence. Yet, its real value is in its potential to make the full scope of the organization’s work and outreach more accessible, understandable, and engaging for multiple audiences.

Google has an abundance of  resources to help make the most of this tool.  The showcase gallery should give you a sense of the possibilities.

Google Earth Outreach