06 Nov 14 26 Nov 14

Missing Maps launch: Unprecedented collaboration gets underway

Friday 7th November sees the official launch of the Missing Maps project. Missing Maps is an unprecedented collaboration between Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT).

The aim is to map the most vulnerable places in the developing world so that NGOs and individuals can use the maps and data to better respond to crises.

Join us for the launch!

The Missing Maps launch will be livestreamed from 6pm to 7.30pm GMT and will feature presentations from three of the founding members on the aims and ideals of the project.  This will be followed by a live panel discussion on ‘Open-data, mapping for disasters and geospatial information: improving lives through digital activism’.

There will also be simultaneous launch events in the UK, USA, Canada, Indonesia, Germany and the Philippines.

Find out more about the launch

Why do we need maps? 

Maps and mapping are a well-established and essential part of disaster response. Having up-to-date, comprehensive maps freely available for immediate use is crucial for emergency coordination.

Maps made through the Missing Maps project cover areas most vulnerable to disasters, such as flooding, or epidemics.

Because there is no commercial justification for Google and the like, these areas are usually unmapped. The Missing Maps creates base maps via OpenStreetMap, meaning they are open-source.

Because the maps and the data are freely accessible, they can play a significant role in aiding coordination between NGOs involved in responding to fast-moving disasters and provide a real resource for local people in the area. 

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.

The process

Maps are created in five stages by volunteers working both on the ground and remotely around the world. First, aerial imagery of the area is obtained. Then, features such as roads, building and rivers are traced from satellite imagery by volunteers around the world, creating a digital ‘base map’.

This base map is accessed by teams of local volunteers who print it off in sections before walking the area to find out - for instance - the road names, types of roads/paths and designations of the area.

These ‘field papers’ are scanned and uploaded, and volunteers add these details to the digital map. This step is called ‘tagging’.

Lastly, administrative divisions are added to the map meaning that, for example, if a patient presents to an MSF clinic, where they live can be pinpointed with enough accuracy to be able to follow trends in infectious disease.

Current applications

The maps are currently  being used as part of the response to Ebola in West Africa by the Red Cross teams  seeking to engage with communities and provide education about the disease with the aim of preventing its spread, and by MSF medical teams who, upon the presentation of a patient at a clinic, must carry out contact-tracing whereby every person the patient has been in contact with since showing signs of sickness is identified and checked for signs of the virus. 

While the push for accurate maps in the effort against Ebola is ongoing and concurrent with the alarming spread of the disease, the aim of the Missing Maps Project is to have accurate, open-source, freely downloadable maps of areas vulnerable to catastrophes prior to their occurrence, as well as to provide maps of areas of operational and medical importance to professionals and local civil society alike. 

Join us

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

More Stories