Navigating the streets of London has never been easier, thanks to smartphones.
Today, we have become so used to using accurately padded out street maps that it’s easy to forget the hassle they spare us on a daily basis.
But the luxury of having directions at the tip of one’s fingers is by no means a global norm. The reality is that many of the places in the developing world most prone to natural disasters are literally ‘missing’ from any map.
Which is where global project Missing Maps comes in. Founded in 2014, it is putting the most vulnerable areas of the developing world on the map, bringing together thousands of volunteers all over the world to trace satellite imagery into OpenStreetMap. These outlines are then transformed into detailed spatial plans by community volunteers from the areas being mapped, adding information such as names of streets and building types.
This work is vital. Without such basic geographical information, first responders often end up making ineffective decisions about relief aid when natural disasters strike. As a result, hundreds of millions of lives are either lost or torn apart every year.
Identifying with its inclusive and collaborative spirit, Qubit couldn’t resist joining the Missing Maps mission as part of our Pledge 1% initiative. To this end, we hosted our first ‘Mapathon’ in early April, offering our basement space to the Missing Maps London contingent for an evening.
Miraculously, we had no problems fitting 90 members of the public into our kitchen and ensuring a strong wifi connection (the recurring Mapathon curse!). Missing mappers and a handful of curious Qubytes worked hastily through the evening’s project, mapping villages in the Mamou region of Guinea, where the current lack of spatial information of villages is preventing the Guinea Red Cross from effectively distributing health programmes.
At the end of the evening and 40 Domino’s pizzas later, the Missing Maps crowd were still surprisingly alert and keen to continue. It’s easy to see how the infectious friendliness and enthusiasm of this growing community fuels their motivation and commitment. But as a present Qubyte put it, perhaps the most infectious thing about the Mapathon is the satisfaction of spending an evening making a tangible contribution towards issues in the world we so often feel alienated from.
Photo Credit: Pete Masters