Past Features

May 19, 2008 (Vol. 7, No. 9)

Professor's Geographic Models Help Myanmar Relief Efforts

Yuri Gorokhovich
Professor Yuri Gorokhovich
Professor Yuri Gorokhovich (Environmental, Geographic, and Geological Sciences) is part of a team using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to develop computer models to predict the geographic distribution of populations in Myanmar affected by Cyclone Nargis. He implemented GIS models and created maps of the areas at greatest risk from the storm's effects.

"Post-disaster efforts require at least approximate knowledge of the relative distribution of the affected population within the area of disaster," said Professor Gorokhovich. "This helps to allocate humanitarian aid and plan how to reach the affected population…it is important to know not only the total number of affected people but also where these people are to plan relief efforts."

More than 3.2 million Burmese are potentially affected by the cyclone, based on the research by Professor Gorokhovich and his partners at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. Major health threats for cyclone survivors include typhoid, dysentery, and malaria. Measles outbreaks are also a worry for children.

Professor Gorokhovich's role was to create a geographic model of the area, using data publicly available from various sources on the storm surge and flooding, and then to map the potential affected population within the flooded areas and surge zone.

The team members also included Gilbert Burnham, Shannon Doocy, and Courtland Robinson from the Center for Refugee and Disaster Response at Johns Hopkins. The team was formed after the Asian tsunami of 2004, when Professor Gorokhovich and Dr. Doocy met at the World Health Organization conference in Thailand. Afterwards, the team applied for funding from the National Science Foundation, which was granted in 2006.

Professor Gorokhovich's work using GIS models to potentially save lives following disasters has been nationally recognized. Last year, he presented research at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America on how the 2004 tsunami affected the population of Sumatra, which found a high correlation between the population actually affected, as gathered from field data, and that predicted by a GIS model after the tsunami struck.

Professor Gorokhovich's area of interest includes rapid disasters, such as cyclones, earthquakes, floods, and landslides, as well as slow hazards, such as sea-level rise and glacial retreat. He also uses GIS multicriteria models to study coastal land conservation in Long Island Sound and the vulnerability of certain coastal areas in Alaska to a rise in sea level.

The maps and a list of the affected communities are available at www.jhsph.edu/burmacyclone.