Humane: Do Some Good
Maps of Courage
Paul Revere rode through the streets one famous night to warn his neighbors that the British were coming. He didn’t need a map. He was on familiar terrain. Today, there is a similar need to warn entire communities about an invasion. This one, however, is not coming by land or sea. This invader is a disease called Ebola. Right now, in Africa, volunteers are going village-to-village, door-to-door, to sound the alarm with the intention of educating everyone on ways to protect themselves and eventually eradicate the threat of Ebola. These brave volunteers, mainly from foreign countries, need a map to get around.
Thankfully, Open Street Maps, an organization of volunteer mapmakers, has been diligently and speedily creating detailed maps of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, marking out every village, street, river, and road.
Fast Company published an article on October 22, 2014 that tells the story. Here is an excerpt:
Google Maps is so comprehensive that you can use it to plan a New York City subway trip down to the minute. But in the parts of West Africa affected by the Ebola epidemic, Google barely has the roads mapped out. More often than not, the names of villages are missing--and sometimes the village altogether.
“Google's business model is selling advertising, so it's simply the business case,” says Andrew Buck, a volunteer coordinator with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). “Starbucks isn't paying for Google to advertise over there so there's very little incentive for Google to improve its maps.”
Organizations working in the three hardest-hit countries, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, need doctors and medical equipment. But they also need something more basic: maps to help aid workers get around the country and do the difficult job of checking village by village for victims of the disease.
That's why organizations like the UN, Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders have turned to OpenStreetMaps (OSM) for their map data. Commonly referred to as the “Wikipedia for maps,” OSM is a crowdsourced mapping project that brings together mappers on the ground using GPS devices with map editors working remotely.
A subset of the OSM community, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) has taken on creating more robust maps of the affected countries in West Africa. HOT is a specialized team that responds to international humanitarian crises by corralling OSM volunteers to gear their efforts to impacted areas.
Using free and open source software designed by them specifically for this purpose, HOT has been able to produce detailed, freely available maps.
For the rest of the story, go here.
To volunteer as an offsite or onsite mapmaker with Open Street Maps, go here.