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Anticipatory Mapping for Climate Resilience in Timor Leste




What if the place you were looking for could not be found on any map? Not because it's hidden, but because it was never mapped. And what if people in need were living in unmapped places? How can we locate and reach out to them, especially in the face of a disaster? These questions are currently bothering humanitarians and scientists aiming to expand Anticipatory Action in Timor-Leste. In order to tackle this challenge, a new approach has been piloted in Timor-Leste: Anticipatory Mapping with the Red Cross Climate Centre, Timor Leste Red Cross, and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Read the full Report.


What is Anticipatory Action?

Anticipatory Action is a proactive strategy aimed at preventing or mitigating forecasted hazards before their full impact is felt. This approach, based on predictive analyses, seeks to move away from reactive, ad hoc measures after a disaster and instead promotes early intervention by implementing early actions. It marks a transformative shift in the humanitarian system, transitioning from mere reaction to proactive initiatives ahead of potential disasters.

Why is Anticipatory Action expanded in Timor-Leste?

Timor-Leste, one of the world’s newest nations with a population of 1.3 million, is a Southeast Asian island country characterized by a tropical climate. The nation faces heightened vulnerability to natural disasters, including cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, and heavy rainfall, exacerbated by inadequate infrastructure. Its wet season spans December to May, while the dry season prevails from June to November. Timor-Leste is significantly influenced by the El Niño Southern Oscillation, impacting rainfall patterns and contributing to droughts and epidemics. Despite developmental strides, a substantial portion of the population grapples with poverty, and the reliance on rain-fed agriculture by over 70% of the population amplifies vulnerabilities to climate-related challenges.

What can Anticipatory Action look like in Timor-Leste?

In October 2023, the Food and Agriculture Organization of Timor-Leste activated its Anticipatory Action Protocol (AAP) for Agricultural Drought linked to the El Niño phenomenon after clear signs of impending dry conditions had emerged in September 2023. As the drought risk escalates across Timor-Leste, protective measures for farming households will intensify until the peak, expected around February/March 2024. Tailored community-specific Anticipatory Action plans, co-developed with local communities, will be implemented to proactively mitigate the impact on agricultural production and prevent food insecurity. These plans encompass repairing water-access systems, installing pumps, expanding water storage, diversifying food production, implementing cash-for-work schemes, and providing multi-purpose cash through adaptive social protection for the most vulnerable households.

Approach: Using OpenStreetMap in Anticipatory Action in Timor Leste

OpenStreetMap (OSM) serves as a collaborative, open-source mapping platform empowering users to create, edit, and share geographic data and maps—an integral component for Anticipatory Action. The completeness and maintenance of local map data play a pivotal role, offering crucial support to local actors in decision-making and serving as a fundamental input dataset for impact-based forecasting. Leveraging the power of OSM becomes instrumental in generating exposure data, facilitating the development of detailed plans that can be quickly activated to trigger Anticipatory Action.

Anticipatory Mapping employs scientific analysis and tools to identify and prioritize high-risk, unmapped areas (Case Study: Sudan). This method guides volunteer mapping efforts to map high-risk areas long before an actual disaster takes place by initially focusing on remote mapping activities, using satellite imagery to map buildings and roads in priority areas. Subsequently, ground teams enhance the base data with additional information not visible on imagery, such as the locations and capacities of health sites or schools. This mapped material facilitates the development of impact-based forecasting services and developing early action protocols for Anticipatory Action, aiding in identifying likely impacts and exposure, and planning early interventions in these areas.

Designated as a priority mapping location, Timor-Leste drew attention due to its high exposure to diverse hazards. In order to tackle them, high-quality data and maps of communities are essential to understand people`s exposure and vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, mainstream map providers like Google Maps lacked accuracy and completeness in these areas, emphasizing the importance of OpenStreetMap. This open-source platform not only captures geographical data but allows for focus on social and cultural values, diverging from the purely economic focus of commercial map providers. Yet, despite some available OpenStreetMap (OSM) data in the region, it had shown to be too incomplete for use in effective Anticipatory Action planning.

Project Approach

The essence of this initiative lay in enhancing OSM mapping high-risk areas in Timor-Leste with people in Timor Leste trained through HOT’s Asia Pacific Hub’s OSM Guru Program (see previous work in Timor Leste) and supported by the Red Cross Climate Centre.

Beyond map creation to provide communities and decision-makers with accurate up-to-date maps, the project also sought to empower people with the resources to safeguard their lives and livelihoods. Through rigorous remote and field mapping, engagement with communities, and review of existing hazard data, the project aimed to provide accurate insights into areas at risk from floods, landslides, and other climate-induced hazards, enabling Anticipatory Actions plannings in the areas.

Step 1: Remote Mapping

Following the identification of priority areas based on natural disaster risk, the initial phase of Anticipatory Mapping commenced with the initiation of remote mapping tasks with international volunteers using HOT’s Tasking Manager. This involved the meticulous updating and completion of building footprints within designated focus areas on OpenStreetMap, achieved through the utilization of satellite imagery. The collected map data built the foundation for the following field mapping activities. AA_TL_Remote.png

Step 2: Field Mapping

Field mapping activities were organized by dividing mapping areas into smaller sections, typically comprising 50 to 100 buildings. Each team was then allocated a specific section to cover during the day. Below is an example illustrating mapping section plans for Laclo.

In the designated areas, comprehensive field mapping of all critical infrastructure buildings was conducted by first developing an OpenStreetMap data model and then leveraging an open source field data collection tool called KoboToolbox. KoboToolbox allows data collection through both a mobile app and web browser, serving as a versatile tool for gathering and storing the acquired data. Building attributes such as usage type and names were gathered during this mapping process. Specific building features indicating susceptibility to floods or other hazards, including minimum foundation height and building materials, were collected as part of the OSM field mapping. Additionally, qualitative information on buildings’ flood history was obtained from individuals present in the area, such as inquiries about past flooding incidents occurring at the building’s location (e.g., ‘Has this building been flooded in the past?)). This approach facilitated the gathering of valuable insights to aid in community preparedness for potential risks. Data quality of the collected data was monitored during and after the data collection process to ensure adherence to the OSM data model. FieldMapping_TL.jpg

Step 3: Assessing community knowledge of past flood events, impacts, early warnings and capacities

Gathering community insights on past flood occurrences, their impacts, and early warning mechanisms was a key aim of the project. To achieve this, focus group discussions were convened with villages in the targeted areas. During these sessions, the Anticipatory Mapping initiative was introduced, followed by dividing participants into smaller groups. While some groups engaged with questionnaires to document their responses, another group participated in an interactive mapping exercise utilizing the SketchMap Tool. This approach allowed for a dynamic exchange of information and facilitated the capture of diverse perspectives within the community.

The SketchMapTool offers the capability to generate printed maps of regions featuring OpenStreetMap (OSM) data as the base layer. These paper maps enable direct annotation of information, which can later be scanned. Through the attached QR code, the data can be digitized and georeferenced. During community meetings, the SketchMapTool proved invaluable in documenting details of historic flood extents, early warnings and capacities such as evacuation sites or natural protection areas.


Conversations with communities and data analysis revealed distressing realities: recurring floods had majorly impacted livelihoods, especially in rural areas where agriculture served as the primary income source. Interviews echoed the stories of long-term livelihood changes in order to adapt. For example, many farmers in the Laclo valley transitioned from rice farming to livestock and vegetable production due to the enduring impacts of floods on their lands. FloodMap_TL.jpg

Early warnings were extensively lacking in all assessed flood-impacted areas. Local population stressed the fact that receiving early warnings would be essential for taking early actions in the case of a flood event. The majority of interviewees stressed that they knew which actions they would take to secure their livelihoods and would be capable to do so (e.g. bring in the harvest early), if warnings were distributed early enough . All collected data on critical infrastructure, flood extents, and mapped environmental features were brought together to create maps of the communities for print. These maps will be printed and distributed to all communities which took part in the assessment. Below is an example of a community map, which was created for Pante Macassar. The map is set up in Tetun and the QR code on the right takes the viewer to the map extent shown on the print map directly in OpenStreetMap. ExampleMap_TL.png


This project highlights the success and importance of Anticipatory Mapping in Timor-Leste and partnerships with local communities. Timor-Leste is extensively lacking geospatial data. In addition, by filling in the maps of Timor-Leste, crucial baseline information is provided for Anticipatory Action plannings. Anticipatory Action is heavily reliant on complete and reliable input data to plan and design adequate actions. It is therefore essential to further expand Anticipatory Mapping efforts across Timor-Leste. What showed in all communities as major capacities is the motivation, engagement, and interest of local population to proactively take action.

Example of data available in Timor-Leste in Google Maps:MissingdataGoogle_TL.png

Example of data available in OpenStreetMap post-project:OSMfinished_TL.png

How to access this data: All collected data and tools of this Anticipatory Action project in Timor-Leste can be accessed as a data package through the HDX platform.

The interest and engagement in applying open-source geospatial tools has been overwhelming and is a huge opportunity to build local capacities and scale up locally-led replications of projects like this one in other regions across the country. Aim is that community members who once participated in guided mapping activities, take the gained capacities further and take ownership of the creation and maintenance of their data, supporting to document their physical environment and infrastructure.

This project was a collaborative effort fostering climate resilience initiatives and unified responses to potential disasters through partnerships between local stakeholders, Timor Leste Civil Protection Authority, National Directorate for Meteorology & Geophysics, Timor-Leste Red Cross, Red Cross Crescent Climate Centre, and the HumanitarianOpenStreetMap Team. Strengthening these partnerships further will be an essential focus on the way forward. As the digital cartography continues, this project serves as a digital advance in Timor-Leste, setting the stage for expanding Anticipatory Mapping effort. The goal is clear: to fortify climate resilience, support Anticipatory Action plannings across the Island, and enhance preparedness in the face of changing climate patterns and extreme events.