The Missing Maps project

The most crisis-prone parts of the developing world will be mapped within two years. With your help we can directly improve the lives of some of the planet’s most vulnerable people.

This is the aim of the Missing Maps Project, an open, collaborative initiative founded by Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT).

Volunteer mappers

We are going to recruit thousands of volunteers to map parts of the world most vulnerable to humanitarian crises; places that are vulnerable to natural disasters, disease outbreaks, epidemics or conflict.

The maps we create will be available to use by everyone, everywhere, benefitting NGOs like MSF and the Red Cross but also local people; helping them to have something so fundamental that most of the world take for granted.

To reach our goal, we need the Missing Maps Project to be the biggest instance of digital volunteerism the world has ever seen.

The project is being run through Open Street Map, which guarantees that the data collected and the maps that come from it will be free, accessible and without restriction forever. Not only this, but the maps are live, meaning that anyone can add to, correct or develop them. Essentially, a Wikipedia of maps.

A comparison of a hand-drawn MSF map in Katanga, DRC, with a map of Lubumbashi, DRC, made with Open Street Map. The Lubumbashi map was plotted by students of the University of Lubumbashi and the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team.

Become a humanitarian

By supporting the Missing Maps Project with your time, you can directly contribute to MSF's humanitarian medical activities. We use maps every day to get to patients, to assess the needs of crisis-hit communities, to track disease spread and to respond to local events.

Currently, the maps NGOs use come in all shapes and sizes. All NGOs collect geographical data of some sort but you may be surprised to know that the maps we use are very often drawn on a piece of paper by someone who has been there.

By collaborating via the Missing Maps Project and uploading all the data we gather to Open Street Map, we can help build a detailed and useful map of the world that is so much more than the sum of its parts, meaning we can get to patients quicker, track diseases more effectively and better understand where the needs of the people are greatest following an emergency.

How can you help?

There are three stages to creating a base map. You can get involved in any of these.

Firstly, we need to trace the features of the target location. Using aerial photographs as a backdrop, we can literally trace road networks, buildings and landmarks to build a line drawing of the area.

Next, we need people in that area to physically take printed copies of these traces out to add the detail. The trace gets printed out into A4 sections using a tool called Field Papers.

People go to the area of the map represented on their specific page and write the local names of neighbourhoods, roads, buildings, lakes, etc on to the paper trace. Each printed page has a unique identity and bar code.

Lastly, the hand written notes on the field papers need to be transferred on to the digital map. This can be done by uploading the field papers using the bar code or by simply going through the physical papers and typing in the notes.

The first and last stages of this process can be done by anyone, from anywhere. You just need to sign up to Open Street Map and spend a little time learning how to use it. Once you are comfortable, you can start.

Mapping Parties

Alternatively, come to a mapping party where Missing Maps Project volunteers get together to map a wide geographical area all at once.

During the party, mapping experts will be on hand to help you get started and to answer any questions – it’s also a lot of fun! Our mapping parties make a big impact in a very short space of time.

How can you get involved?

The Missing Maps Project is run via a mailing list: we send out the tasks that need doing and details on mapping parties and events.

Sign up here and we'll be in touch soon.

Alternatively, you could host your own mapping party. All you need is some space, a wifi connection, a little knowledge and willing friends (although snacks always go down well). Get in touch via the mailing list or Twitter if you have any questions or need any help with any of the above.

Thank you for joining us. Your collaboration in Missing Maps Project will directly improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world.

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