Mapping forgotten places
Reported in the Guardian newspaper today are plans to map the world’s forgotten places. As the report discusses a surprisingly large number of the world’s cities in some of the poorest countries are unmapped. While local agencies can muddle along using photocopies or out of date and low resolution aerial images for day to day activities, the problems associated with the lack of accurate and current maps are exacerbated during times of conflict or natural disaster. Without access to reliable digital maps, local emergency response teams and humanitarian agencies often lack the necessary spatial data, such as accurate road network information, that they rely on to provide aid and help reconstruct local communities.
One solution to the problem is the soon to be launched Missing Maps Project, a collaborative project involving among others Médecins Sans Frontières, the American and British Red Cross, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. The plan is quite simple – create digital maps for every settlement on Earth as part of what is described as ‘ nothing less than a human genome project for the world’s cities‘. Building on the volunteer crowd sourcing data capture techniques developed by OpenStreetMap, the project will make satellite imagery available via the OpenStreetMap mapping interface.
Volunteers can then log in from anywhere in the world and start digitising road and river networks, building outlines and other infrastructure, in effect creating basic but current digital maps of the cities. Local volunteers then add street and building names and the completed maps are posted back to the Missing Maps head office in London. With end-to-end crowd sourcing and the probably largest team of volunteer mappers ever mobilised, the project aims to map the world’s poorest urban areas within two years and provide a global open access and open source dataset to support local communities.