Finding data on the Syrian conflict

Finding credible data on the conflict in Syria has been a difficult endeavour for both journalists and policy-makers. One approach many have been finding useful is the use of crowdsourced maps. Syria Tracker and the Women Under Siege Syria chapter are the most noteworthy crowdsourcing initiatives that aim at mapping the conflict in Syria with the help of local volunteers.

Syria Tracker has considerable geospatial data on the number of civilian deaths, recorded by volunteers, and “resulting from the Assad regime” since March 2011. Although this dataset must be taken with a grain of salt, as it only represents the work of activists working again the government, it gives detailed accounts of the causes of deaths (either through air strike, gun shot, bomb or the use of chemical weapons) and the victim’s identity (gender and age).

Women Under Siege monitors acts of sexual violence which are reportedly committed against men and women. Open Street Map is another crowdsourcing initiative, on a global scale, which geospatial experts contribute to for the sake of good mapping. In Syria, Open Street Map offers comprehensive maps on the country’s main roads, natural resources and facilities location (such as hospitals and schools).

By translating this geospatial data into a GIS (geographic information system) software (known as ARC Map), one can visualize if there is a correlation between different aspects of the conflict.

The following map, for example, shows the location of refugee camps surrounding the Syrian borders, the major border crossings into the country and the main IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps within the country.  All camps are obviously close to transit points and to major roads.

Refugee Camps and border

The next map shows the location of all of the IDP camps and the location of the main waterways (rivers and lakes) within Syria. This is important because it shows that the livelihoods of the internally displaced is closely linked to access to water (as you can see most camps are situated near a waterway).

IDP Camps and Water.j

In the end, the availability of geospatial data on conflict areas, (and in this case on Syria), is bountiful. However, this type of data is not available to the general public. I was able to acquire all of the data above for free but one must acquire technical skills to be able to make sense of the data. GIS is one way, among many others, to spatially visualize data.

Mapping the conflict in Syria

For the data story assignment, I would like to present data that I found on the current conflict in Syria while working on a GIS project. I will be using crowdsourced maps such as Syria Tracker and Open Street Map, which are based on the work of local volunteers, to map the conflict in Syria.

I am currently leaning how to use GIS, which is the study of geospatial information, and I thought it would be interesting to use the geospatial data I am currently working with, to tell a story, a story of conflict and its link to geographic features.

Syria Tracker has geospatial data on the number of deaths “resulting from the Assad regime”, recorded by volunteers on the ground since March 2011. Although this data must be taken with a grain of salt, it gives a good overview of patterns such as female as opposed to male casualties, and the location of casualties amongst the opposition forces and the population living within opposition control.

Open Street Map on the other hand, gives an overview of the main roads, waterways and land cover in Syria. By overlaying different data sets, one could visualize if there is any link between conflict density and proximity to roads for example.

Below is an example of a crowdsourced map which shows the main roads in the country. I plan on producing a more comprehensive map for this assignment but please let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement.

—  Elissar