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Another Way to Help Humanitarian Efforts in Nepal: Start Mapping

Citizen cartographers around the globe are tracing and checking roads, buildings, and open spaces to assist people on the ground. You can help.


The numbers keep rising from the massive earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday. As of Monday morning, authorities confirm more than 3,800 have lost their lives, with at least 6,500 injured. And with thousands of Nepalese and international citizens still missing, governments from across the globe are pouring in aid and effort to locate them.

Halfway across the planet, what can a person do? There are many reputable organizations with a presence in Nepal and a demonstrated capacity for disaster relief: Oxfam is "preparing to launch a rapid response to ensure food and water reaches those in need," and Unicef and Save the Children are on the ground, too. Any donation amount should help those efforts.

But in situations like these, sometimes typing in credit card information just doesn't feel like enough. So here's another suggestion: Go help out the good efforts at OpenStreetMap, the open-source mapping platform powered by citizen cartographers all over the world. Members of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) have been updating Nepal's earthquake-affected regions since Saturday, tracing and checking "roads, buildings, and open spaces (for helicopter landing)" so people on the ground can get where they need to go with accuracy.

You don't need to be in Nepal to lend a hand (the OSM platform uses fresh satellite imagery to help you update their map), and you don't need to be a professional cartographer, either. It helps if you've used OSM before, even if only to play around with mapping your own neighborhood. But if you haven't, learning the basics isn't too hard. Here are two step-by-step guides that will show you how to do HOT remote mapping, and here's a specific list of tasks that the HOT team is prioritizing in Nepal.

If you happen to live in Washington, D.C., here's more good news: there's a multi-day humanitarian mapping summit being held* later this week. Whatever your approach, if you've ever been curious about this whole open-source mapping thing, it's never been a better time to start.

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that the summit will be held at the offices of Mapbox.

About the Author

  • Laura Bliss
    Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab. She writes about the environment, infrastructure, and cartography, among other topics.