OpenStreetMap

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

Most Popular

  1. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.
    Life

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  2. a photo of a BYD-built electric bus.
    Transportation

    A Car-Centric City Makes a Bid for a Better Bus System

    Indianapolis is set to unveil a potentially transformative all-electric bus rapid transit line, along with a host of major public transportation upgrades.

  3. Charts

    The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams

    A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live.

  4. Transportation

    When a Transit Agency Becomes a Suburban Developer

    The largest transit agency in the U.S. is building a mixed-use development next to a commuter rail station north of Manhattan.

  5. a photo of a tiny house in Oregon
    Design

    How Amazon Could Transform the Tiny House Movement

    Could the e-commerce giant help turn small-home living from a niche fad into a national housing solution?

×