AID creates electronic maps of Balkans

To give relief workers assisting the thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees displaced by
the conflict in Kosovo a clear picture of the region, the Agency for International
Development this month issued detailed electronic maps created with a geographic
information system.


The agency’s disaster assistance response teams are working at refugee camps at
Kosovo’s borders with Albania and Macedonia. The teams are armed with color maps made
with ArcView GIS 3.1 from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. of Redlands,
Calif., said Nate Smith, a cartographic information specialist in the Office of Foreign
Disaster Assistance. When printed, each map measures 8.5 inches by 11 inches.


When the agency began pulling together maps for its assistance teams, AID found that
towns and villages often had more than one name because the Serbians and the Albanians had
each named them, he said.


“No unclassified maps included the detail or the dual-naming indexes for the
Kosovo region,” Smith said. “The goal of the map product was to provide a subtle
form of information coordination so that all humanitarian organizations could work off the
same geographic foundation.”


The first relief teams on the scene in Tirane, Albania, and Skopje, Macedonia, used
military and commercial maps. But Smith decided that all relief organizations needed
common, detailed maps.


Using BeyondMail 3.0 from Banyan Systems Inc. of Westborough, Mass., and AID’s T1
lines, Smith early this month sent a 112K Albania map and a 135K Macedonia map to field
team members, who could view them on their notebook PCs and print them.


The agency also posted the map to the AID Web site at www.kosovo.info.usaid.gov. To
view it, a user must click on the link for U.S. AID Factsheets About the Humanitarian
Crisis in Kosovo.


“I wanted to provide the relief teams with quality GIS data so they could take the
ball and run with it in Kosovo,” Smith said.


The National Imagery and Mapping Agency in June of last year gave his office a
wall-size map of Kosovo, 200 map index books, a CD-ROM that included all the maps and the
freedom to use the materials as needed, he said.


During the first week of the Kosovo conflict, Smith decided to use them, inserting the
CD-ROM into his PC, a Dell 400-MHz OptiPlex GX1 with 128M of RAM, a 4G hard drive and
Microsoft Windows NT 4.0. Smith called up ArcView and let the mapping and GIS software
work its magic, he said.


“You first have to identify your audience, then you need to think about where the
detailed mapping is needed,” Smith said. “The available maps could not give
detail on the border crossings so crucial in that region. I wanted to supply that vision
in the map.”


Smith manipulated data sets on the CD-ROM by adding dots, circles and ovals
representing population centers and elevations.


Using the GIS, each map graphic, such as those identifying a town or road, linked to a
set of fields in a database.

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