In 1854 London physician John Snow collected addresses from victims of a cholera outbreak, put them on a map, traced the epidemic to Soho and turned off the contaminated pump. In doing so, he became one of the fathers of modern epidemiology. Yet a century and a half after Snow’s breakthrough, cholera and other diseases continue to kill huge numbers of people across the world. Part of the reason is a lack of basic maps.
Surprisingly, a large number of the world’s cities remain unmapped. Staff from NGOs trade photocopies of photocopies, scrawl the names of landmarks on post-it notes, use satellite images that lack street names, or just ask locals. The Missing Maps project crowdsources base map data for those regions where the most vulnerable people live. The objective of the project is to make this data available via an open database (openstreetmap.org), so that NGOs, local civil society, local government and individuals can use it to respond to crises whenever and wherever they occur. Mapping projects have already successfully occurred in Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo (Lubumbashi), Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
In South Kivu, DRC Medecins Sans Frontieres and other agencies have found their efforts to provide healthcare and identify and track disease outbreaks stymied by a lack of reliable, up-to-date mapping data. With a population and land area comparable to that of the Republic of Ireland, the importance of accurate maps is crucial to ensuring effective allocation of resources and a prompt response to outbreaks of infectious diseases, malnutrition and a host of other conditions. Partly supported by a £10,000 grant from Indigo, MSF will lead a Missing Maps project with staff and volunteers in South Kivu. A global network of volunteers will use satellite imaging and OpenStreetMap to provide base-map data. Following remote mapping work using satellite imaging and OpenStreetMap, a team of on-the-ground mappers working from six base towns in South Kivu will be dispatched to fill in the gaps and provide names of local landmarks, buildings and streets. The ultimate goal is to build up an accurate, realistic reflection of on-the-ground reality, which aims to replace the rather bare and featureless maps that currently exist of South Kivu.
The Missing Maps team hold mapping parties in Central London every month and are always looking for new volunteers. Visit www.missingmaps.org for details of the next event.