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News — 19 August, 2011

Activation in Somalia

HOT has activated to improve OSM, for the drought and famine crisis in East Africa. Read on for the background, the actions we're taking, and how you can help.

The unfolding of drought and famine emergencies is substantially different from sudden onset natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding, and volcanoes. The crisis is usually predictable for months, and its transition to an emergency is largely political and logistical, rather than events out of human control. That makes it a lot harder for response agencies to know when to start responding, and the same goes for volunteer mapping. HOT saw this was coming, and we finally saw the signal when Ushahidi announced their crisis mapping project with the Somali diaspora

Since it's nearly impossible to get mapping on the ground, we need to focus on imagery and data import sources. To start, Bing is ok in some parts of Somalia, like Mogadishu.

We've been negotiating the licensing for import of key data sets, from the UN and others. We've had an excellent response, and have the clear to import Common Operational Datasets, and the fairly comprehensive "MadMapper" data set. These are all detailed on the WikiProject Somalia page.

Schuyler is leading the import effort, and just today, completed the first step of importing 9500 placenames into OSM! He's detailed the process in posts on the HOT list (1 2). The process needs your help, as there's a lot of manual checking of this data needed. Please make yourself known on the HOT list if you want to help out.

There have been private discussions with imagery providers and distributors about making Somalia imagery available to the OSM community. This is part of ongoing negotiations, and we're making pretty good progress, but there's a lot of details to cover. Hopefully soon we'll have imagery, which can really unleash all the mappers out there to build up open data of Somalia.

Finally, there are actually groups on the ground which might have GPS, and might be able to help. This is especially sensitive in this crisis, but we're trying to figure out what's possible.

If you want to help out in any way, again the best approach is to join the discussion on the HOT list, or get in touch direct with the HOT Board.