Every year, natural and man-made disasters are responsible for 100,000 deaths and affect or displace nearly 200 million people. In developing countries, people are especially vulnerable to disasters because they are “missing” from many of the maps that guide disaster relief efforts. The Missing Maps community comprises nearly 80,000 volunteers working to create maps of vulnerable communities using high-quality satellite imagery of areas that have never been mapped before. These maps inform humanitarian organizations’ disaster response efforts. The geographic information is used to estimate the number of people in affected areas, to determine where to look for survivors and deliver supplies, and how to route evacuations.
The University Libraries hosted a successful Humanitarian Mapathon at the Davis Library Research Hub this month that supported the Missing Maps project. The student-led Humanitarian Mapathon brought together volunteers to contribute to the Red Cross project mapping the Ayeyarwady Delta area in Myanmar. This area of Myanmar is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters; in 2008 a cyclone killed over 77,000 people and displaced about 2.5 million people. The mapathon volunteers contributed to maps that will improve disaster preparedness in this area.
During the event, participants were taught how to use the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) Tasking Manager to find humanitarian projects in need of maps. The HOT Tasking Manager allows volunteers to search for projects based on the geographic location, the level of project urgency or by the organization requesting maps (such as Red Cross, PeaceCorp or UNHCR). The mapathon participants also learned how to use the web-based OpenStreetMap (OSM) editing platform to add geographic features such as buildings and roads. OSM is a free, editable map of the world, being built by volunteers – even people with little or no mapping experience can easily contribute using the platform. OSM, a UK-based non-profit project that was inspired by the success of Wikipedia and the proprietary nature of most spatial data, was created in 2004 and has since grown to over 2 million registered users. Members from all over the world contribute to humanitarian projects and respond to disasters in real time.