Geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems and remote sensing have been increasingly used in public health settings since the 1990s, but application of these methods in humanitarian emergencies has been less documented. Recent areas of application of GIS methods in humanitarian emergencies include hazard, vulnerability, and risk assessments; rapid assessment and survey methods; disease distribution and outbreak investigations; planning and implementation of health information systems; data and programme integration; and programme monitoring and evaluation. The main use of GIS in these areas is to provide maps for decision-making and advocacy, which allow overlaying types of information that may not normally be linked. GIS is also used to improve data collection in the field (for example, for rapid health assessments or mortality surveys). Development of GIS methods requires further research. Although GIS methods may save resources and reduce error, initial investment in equipment and capacity building may be substantial. Especially in humanitarian emergencies, equipment and methodologies must be practical and appropriate for field use. Add-on software to process GIS data needs to be developed and modified. As equipment becomes more user-friendly and costs decrease, GIS will become more of a routine tool for humanitarian aid organisations in humanitarian emergencies, and new and innovative uses will evolve.