National Societies need to be better equipped to collect information in the field, analyse it and share it with other actors, to monitor changes and progress more effectively and improve their response to outbreaks and disasters. To this end, from 16-18th of May, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies held its first training on GIS for the Latin America and Caribbean region, in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The training, designed in collaboration with the Red Cross Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Reference Centre (CADRIM) and the Refence Centre for Institutional Preparedness (CREPD), targeted volunteers and staff from 11 National Societies who had no previous knowledge in this field, introducing them to GIS and its relevance in the humanitarian sector.

More specifically, the participants were trained on how to use GPS technology (such as mobile phones) to collect and process data in the field, to use basic tools from the software QGIS to design and edit maps, and share the data collected on relevant platforms.

Special emphasis was given to promoting the use of GIS technology in vector control activities that are implemented by Nacional Societies as part of the Zika Caribbean Project. Through a practical exercise, participants collected GPS data with mobile phones, visualized it with QGIS, and produced maps that showed the location of mosquito breeding sites.

When asked about the course, one volunteer said: “The course was quite difficult as I got deeper in. However, it was more a case of it being introduced to me for the first time, which makes my understanding of it a bit elementary. I’m very sure that as I got this far, things will become easier”.

Many participants stressed that Red Cross National Societies in the region are aware of the usefulness of data collection and data visualisation tools but have not had the opportunity to learn about the technology and adopt it in their work: “There has always been the need in GIS and having a first-time participation of this kind has been wonderful”.

Despite the specificity and technicality of the topics addressed, participants were able to get a grasp of GIS technology and are now able to create basic maps, visualising a variety of information that can be used by National Societies to support their activities.

Fanor Camacho, Information Management Delegate and facilitator, explained: “The scope of this course goes beyond vector control. Caribbean National Societies are building capacity to produce useful maps for vector control, but it is not limited to this”, and specified that another introductory curse to GIS will be held in the Caribbean in December, and a similar training will be soon organized for National Societies in Latin America.