Humanitarian Mapping

Posted by Theresa Quill, Social Sciences Librarian
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team logo

Many of the world's most vulnerable places are still not adequately mapped. When disaster strikes, this lack of accurate map data makes it extremely difficult for first responders and aid organizations to get where they're needed. That's where humanitarian mapping comes in! Humanitarian mapping is a combined effort between communities on the ground and "armchair cartographers" using satellite imagery to trace roads, buildings, and other features on a map. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (HOT) is the most widely used platform for this type of work. HOT began after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when organizations like the American Red Cross quickly realized that up to date and detailed geographic information for Haiti did not exist. Compounded by the fact that the earthquake dramatically changed the known landscape, there was an immediate need for better maps. HOT enlisted volunteers to map Haiti using a process called digitizing, where volunteers basically trace features they see on satellite imagery. This means that you don't have to have any GIS or mapping experience to be able to contribute! Over the years, HOT volunteers around the world, including at IU, have responded to crises such as the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and more recently earthquakes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. 

If you're interested in joining the growing number of humanitarian mapping volunteers, consider attending a mapathon at IU! Sign up for the listserv to stay in the loop and check the library's website for new events. You can also register for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team or try the new app, MapSwipe.  Every little bit helps. 


"the importance of the maps the contributors helped create could be felt firsthand. That is because when someone's home is outlined on the map, it means something. It means it exists." - Jose Oliver-Didier & Victor Ramirez. OpenStreetMap Puerto Rico




What is a Mapathon?