On Friday I took part in a mapping mission.

It was part of The Missing Maps Project, a joint Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and Red Cross initiative to put the world’s most vulnerable people on the map.

This fantastic project is helping to create maps of unmapped areas, so NGOs, aid organisations and the local community can better target resources in crisis situations.

On 7th November, there were Missing Maps events around the world, each focused on mapping a different location. In London, at The Guardian’s HQ, we focused on mapping Baraka in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area which suffers from cholera and measles outbreaks.

One of the first things aid workers need to do when someone with cholera arrives at their clinic is find out where they are from. Without decent maps, this is incredibly time consuming, as teams have to drive around asking people if they’ve heard of the town or village they’re looking for. With more detailed maps, they can get to the location much faster and have a better chance of containing an outbreak.

Missing Maps 8
(Mappers in London)

How do you map?

It was surprisingly easy to get started and you don’t have to know anything about a place to contribute. I had a look at a great tutorial beforehand, which was simple to follow and meant I could get started right away.

Nick Allen from OpenStreetMap (OSM) was on hand to take everyone through the process and patiently answered questions all night, along with other OSM, Red Cross and MSF volunteers.

  • You choose a square and then it’s your job to use the simple controls to trace out the roads, buildings and other landmarks you can see on the satellite image. The more info you can provide the better, so if a building looks like a house, you’d label it as residential.

  • Once you’ve traced everything you can see, you submit your square and mark it as ‘done’.

  • Your square will be reviewed and marked as validated, invalidated or needs more work.

  • Once the map is as good as it can be, people who live in the place you’ve mapped, who are trained in mapping, take your map out into the local community and add street names and additional details.

  • This information then gets added back into the digital version, creating much  improved maps that are ready for use.

    Missing Maps 3(OSM map of Baraka after the event, vs Google Maps via Map Compare)

Guardian Cities did a great job of hosting the event (thanks for the beers and food to keep us going) and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Get involved

Follow The Missing Maps Project on Twitter to find out when the next event is happening, or watch a tutorial, then jump right in and get mapping!