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In a disaster situation, good maps can save lives. As a result, community-based mapping often plays a large role in Disaster Risk Reduction. While these maps are made by the local community in cooperation with NGOs, there is also a way for you to help out. Allow me to introduce you to Humanitarian OpenStreetMap.
During the Philippines’ national activity, we watched the video below, which tells the story of how NGOs and local volunteers put together maps showing who lives where, which households are specifically vulnerable during a disaster, and where emergency relief supplies are kept. At the moment, each NGO will often make their own maps of the area the work in; sometimes even by hand. Unfortunately, this means that it is harder for them to share their data with others. If all organisations could upload their geographical data to the same place, it would help anyone who needs a map of a specific area.
OpenStreetMap (OSM) is such a place. It is like the Wikipedia-version of Google Maps: anyone can edit it and add houses, streets, and even shop names. All you need to have is an OpenStreetMap account.
A group called the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) coordinates the use of OSM for humanitarian purposes. One thing they do is collect satellite imagery of humanitarian hotspots, which volunteers can then use to draw the terrain onto the map. In a disaster, HOT volunteers from all over the world can come together to rapidly create crucial maps of the affected areas. Here’s an example of the activity after the devastating earthquake in Haiti:
NGOs also make use of the OSM to plan their long-term programmes. Maybe they want to know where towns and other residential areas are located in order to plan a vaccination campaign. Or they want to know the locations of houses so they can map the outbreak of a disease.
This is where you come in: you can help trace satellite imagery to provide the very basic information that people need to start making maps - like the locations of houses, roads and rivers. To get started, simply go to the HOTOSM Task Manager and pick a task. For beginners, I would recommend going with one of the tasks set up by the Missing Maps project.
The Missing Maps project was set up by HOT, the Red Cross and MSF, specifically to serve the needs of the latter two organisations. They host ‘mapathons’ around the world, where volunteers will come together to do a lot of mapping at the same time. If you enjoy good company and free pizza, I would suggest taking a look to see if there are any marathons planned near you!
So what do the organisations do with the maps that the volunteers make? They will take them into the community, where local people will add information like house numbers and building materials. That information is then, again, added to the OSM by volunteers around the world.
Author: Ella Blom