Thursday, March 26, 2015

MISSING MAPS: HOW MAPS CAN SAVE LIVES

As you know, MAPS.ME data source is OpenStreetMap project, which is free, open-source and world-wide. The main bonus that we get is a possibility to have details that we can’t find in other map sources. Who else can show you fountains, benches and even trees? Not to mention the wide rank of different venues and objects that are marked carefully on OSM. 

But these maps are not only useful for travelers and locals in their trips and everyday life — these maps can save lives. And this is not a metaphor. How it could be? Please read further.

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A huge number of different settlements still remain a blank spot on the world map. They are extremely exposed to disasters and no one knows how numerous they are. Organizations that help these areas have to buy photocopies of local maps or use satellite maps without streets and even towns mentioned on them. Obviously, they also have to ask locals for help. Everytime they waste time trying to find the place they need, and each minute of delay costs life to somebody. 

People in Europe or USA can’t imagine their day without maps, but when a doctor of Red Cross ask a survivor from unknown place where his home is, and he hears, for example, “Bobere”, he never knows, if it is a street, a village or maybe an area. 

The Missing Maps project is a genius answer to this problem. It unites Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Red Cross, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) and other participants to create free maps for each settlement on Earth.

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HOT invented a method, which is simple and allows to join the project remotely. The first step is to get satellite images. Sometimes they are received from unexpected sources like USA government or Microsoft. Then pictures become available in OpenStreetMap, so volunteers from all over the world can join and help to literally trace the outlines of buildings, roads, parks and rivers. Thus they get a digital city map, though yet basic.

Then the map, which still lacks street and landmarks names is printed out. It’s time for volunteers who are physically located in the area. They take pencils, printed maps and start to write down names in every little part of the mentioned place. The completed maps return back to Missing Maps HQ where they are filled on OSM. As a result, there is a free and open-source map for any needs. Now doctors and help teams don’t lose time to find a place they need, they spend this time to help. This means more people can be rescued and cured.


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Before and after ... Monrovia, Liberia now has a free digital map to help the fight against Ebola, thanks to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
“Maps make us think of things like finding a restaurant on the web or navigating with a satnav,” says Harry Wood, a member of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team board. “But somebody also used a map for deciding which road the bus route should go down, and deciding where the road should be in the first place. When you think about it, maps are a basic fundamental knowledge tool, woven into our urban environment, and silently improving our lives in all sorts of ways.”