The OpenStreetMap Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to enable people to freely develop geospatial data. In short, it is the Wikipedia of mapping. Entirely operated on volunteer power, any individual can map an area of their choice to add and maintain data. OpenStreetMap is open data, meaning anyone can use it as long as they are credited.

In April of 2015, mappers leaped into action to help with the Nepal earthquake. Within hours, volunteers had Nepal mapped in much greater detail than ever before. Using areal imagery, GPS devices and low-tech field maps, the OpenStreetMap volunteers created a thorough and accurate map for disaster relief organizations to use.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team partners with relief organizations to map the areas that need immediate aid the most. Because of these efforts, disaster relief organizations can act quickly with knowledge of how to locate people at risk and how to best deliver goods and services.

Halfway across the world, a couple of civil engineering students at the University of Washington chipped in using OpenStreetMaps to help with Nepalese disaster relief. One graduate student James Lew describes his experience saying, “There’s a tendency to want to do the major cities and the infrastructure that’s closest to the major highways, but as you get further and further out, there’s still houses out there that are dis­con­nected. It’s really cool to draw a box around them and say, ‘there’s a family here, don’t forget them.’”

Mapping has a profound role in humanitarian aid. Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL) is a small nonprofit that creates active “crisis maps” using OpenStreetMap data and real-time data submission. KLL created that allows people in the field to report in real-time what areas need the most aid. KLL then highlights the areas, showing humanitarian aid organizations where they should focus their attention.

Although the organization is small, KLL’s live crisis map has been incredibly valuable to nongovernmental organizations, the local government and even the Nepalese Army in the weeks after the earthquake. Real-time mapping has given relief workers a new edge in delivering quick and efficient help after a crisis.

– Hannah Resnick

Sources: Forbes, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Kathmandu Living Labs, University of Washington
Photo: Kathmandu Living Labs