Comparison of a hand drawn map of Katanga, DRC with a map of Lubumbashi, DRC, made with Open Street Map. The Open Street Map was plotted by students at the University of Lubumbashi. Image credit: Medicin San Frontiers.

Public invited to assist international aid efforts by mapping remote locations

Exeter students are calling for help to compile and digitise detailed maps of uncharted areas of the world. Volunteers for the Missing Maps project will use satellite images to help map an area, identified by the British Red Cross, in order to assist humanitarian efforts in that region.

Members of the public are invited to take part in the Missing Maps project at the University of Exeter Students’ Guild on Thursday 29 January. 

The Missing Maps project will enable charities and aid agencies to accurately track the spread of disease, provide access for emergency response teams to crisis-prone areas, and allow faster access to vulnerable places in the event of natural disaster and conflict.

Exeter Student’s Guild Missing Maps project is led by fourth year Engineering student Ben Andrews, assisted by first year English student Fae Krakowska.

Ben Andrews said: “We encourage anyone who would like to contribute to humanitarian aid efforts to come along to our Missing Maps project launch. The event will be a chance to learn more about the aims of the project, socialise with like-minded people and get involved in what we hope will become the largest digitally-run humanitarian project in history.”

The British Red Cross has asked the Exeter students to map the Diyala Governate in Eastern Iraq. Conflicts in the region have displaced around 180,000 people. Some live with host families, others rent or squat in unfinished structures and vacant buildings. More live in tents or make shelters with plastic sheeting. The objective of aid efforts in the area is to help displaced people get vital healthcare and hygiene support. Some people can access healthcare in larger towns, but others have been cut off by checkpoints and have few options. Aid agencies need accurate maps that enable targeted interventions in the region.

The mapping process itself involves three stages. Firstly, volunteers trace over satellite images, labelling roads, buildings and woodland which is then saved onto an online database to form what MSF call “a Wikipedia of maps”. Secondly, the maps are forwarded to ground volunteers in the respective areas, who add specific detail to the maps, such as street names. Finally, humanitarian organisations use the finished maps to plan the most effective disaster response and prevention methods.

Dr Damien Mansell, Senior Lecturer in Geography at the University of Exeter said: “This project offers a rare opportunity for staff, students and the public to directly contribute to international humanitarian aid efforts in a local capacity. One of the most exciting aspects of the project is its availability to everyone, anywhere, providing that the volunteer has access to the internet.”

Founded by Medicins San Frontiers (MSF), The British Red Cross, The American Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), the Missing Maps project is a brand new initiative that aims to compile and digitise detailed maps of uncharted areas of the world.

Mapping Parties, at which volunteers collaborate to map large areas in one session, are being held worldwide and anyone can get involved.

Students, lecturers and local residents are invited to attend the Exeter Students’ Guild Missing Maps project launch which will take place in Pieminister at Exeter Student’s Guild at 18:00 on 29 January.

Following the launch there will be regular mapping sessions, during which volunteers will work together to map specific areas.

Date: 28 January 2015

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