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News — 06 September, 2017

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and UNHCR work together to empower refugees and hosting communities in Uganda

Uganda is the center of the world's fastest growing refugee crisis: every day around 2,000 people stream across Uganda's borders fleeing famine, drought and violence in neighboring countries. The South Sudan-Uganda refugee crisis is becoming a test for donor governments to show that the extraordinarily progressive and open-door policy to refugees of Uganda is a viable, humanitarian and sustainable alternative to how refugees are hosted in several countries in the Middle East and Europe.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have joined forces to support the Uganda policy for the most vulnerable of the Persons of Concern, by empowering Refugees and Hosting Communities with the tools to ensure that their voice is represented in the important decisions around the creation and daily management of refugee settlements.

In the framework of the program “Crowdsourcing non-camp refugee data” funded by the Department of State, Office for Refugees and Migration of the United States Government, HOT works to provide information management assistance to humanitarian organizations responding to the needs of the refugees. Through training, capacity building and transfer of knowledge, the program fills blank spaces in maps and plans for the Refugee Settlements and Hosting Communities, providing a Common Operating Picture on refugees needs for food, health assistance, water and sanitation, and nutrition.  This is combined with alerts for Protection, cases of Gender Based Violence, and an overall deep humanitarian look at the needs of the Refugees and Hosting Communities.

On the 28th and 29th August 2018, HOT and UNHCR staff launched a series of coordinated Mapathon events to ensure up to date information on refugee settlements and hosting communities where critical humanitarian operations are carried out.

The first Mapathon took place at UNHCR Sub Office in Arua, North Uganda, with remote connection from UNHCR Country Office in Kampala. Over 18 international organizations attended the meeting, with more than 40 participants including representatives of Refugee and Hosting Communities.

The main target for the Mapathon was to obtain updated information on key refugee settlements and the associated hosting communities of Imvepi and Rhino. Here important decisions are ongoing, including the opening of a new settlement extension to host 60,000 refugees and the planning of a further extension for over a 100,000 refugees.


Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team Project Manager, Melissa Rogans, leading the field work to engage Refugees and Hosting Communities in Rhino Refugee Settlement, in coordination with partner organizations MapUganda, and UNHCR


Over 18 humanitarian organizations, and more than 40 individuals, attended the Mapathon event at UNHCR Office in Arua District, including participants from refugee settlements and hosting communities

During the Mapathon event, various tasks were set. The task set for Arua district saw 202 km of roads and paths mapped, as well as 1250 new buildings identified. The task set for Adjumani district saw 102 km or roads and paths mapped, and 1500 new buldings identified. Rhino and Imvempi settlements were also 100% completed during the first day of the Mapathon, and the data cleaning is currently in process.

Following the Mapathon, HOT and UNHCR led a field work mission to characterize the information collected and build capacity among humanitarian workers, refugees and hosting communities.


In just one morning of the field activity over 71 raw data points in Ofua Zone 6 Refugee Settlement in Rhino Camp where collected: 50 WASH points, 2 Financial Services, 14 Schools, and 5 Health facilities. These were made accessible to the Kampala team together with the Arua Team on the same day for verification. 


Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team with MapUganda and UNHCR working in Rhino Refugee Settlement

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team with MapUganda and UNHCR working in Rhino Refugee Settlement 

Melissa Rogans, Project Manager, HOT, Uganda:

My role as Project Manager is to add a humanitarian aspect to the world of mapping. How this is done, is by developing best practices in involving Refugees and Hosting Communities in data collection. As a requirement by Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and UNHCR, this allows for a more transparent, and steadfast delivery of data which tends to the every day needs of the Refugees and Hosting communities. By involving the refugees and hosting communities, we have looked into creating a multisector approach of data deliverance. For example, a partner organization would only look for data related to their Organization, such as a specific NGO looks into WASH facilities. By giving the Refugees and Hosting Communities the tools to collect the data themselves, they are able to identify if that WASH facility is functioning, but also whether there is enough lighting or secure locks for safety. By pinning the information into the data collection system, that information is then sent to the necessary partners in real time, and allows for a more thorough inspection.

On my trip to Arua, we visited the Ofua zone 1, Rhino camp, and met with the representatives of the settlements and Hosting Communities who would be involved in the initial phase of the data collection. During this time, I handed over invitations to the Mapathon to the Chairman of Ofua 1, where we agreed to have a representative from each of the 6 villages in Ofua zone present, and much to our delight, all the representatives were present at the event. The keen interest of the Refugees and Hosting communities to be involved shows that there is a necessity to bridge the gap between humanitarian needs and data collection. Overall, our trip to Arua allowed for us to be made more aware of the needs of the Refugees and Hosting Communities with which we worked with, and will continue to work with in the future. A strong relationship has been created between HOT, UNHCR, Hosting Communities and Refugees, as well as a major involvement of Partner Organisations to ensure that the delivery of information is in compliance with humanitarian needs from this point on. I look forward to seeing a growth in Refugee and Hosting Community participation in all future events, and forming stronger relationships with all involved.

Letter of Invitation to the Mapathon sent out by UNHCR

Handing over the Invitation to the Mapathon to the Chairman of Ofua 1


Nicole Yohe, Information Manager, HOT, Uganda:

As an information manager, my role is to ensure the quality of information products produced and the process in which information is requested and delivered to our partner organizations. Information management during humanitarian emergencies increases support of coordination between humanitarian partners and is a critical part of any operation. The South Sudanese refugee crisis in Northern Uganda is no exception. By organizing Mapathons and data collection trainings for humanitarian partners and refugees, we are able to show how data collection and remote mapping can bring together several partners to improve humanitarian services across all sectors in refugee settlements.

On the third day of the Mapathon event, I conducted a training on data collection tools we would use to collect data in the Ofua Zone of the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Arua. Data collection tools such as, OpenMapKit and OpenDataKit Collection, were used in the field to collect data on WASH, Health and Education sectors in the Ofua Zone. After the training, refugees and NGO participates used their personal smart phones to access the tools to collect the necessary data in the field. These tools are based on OpenStreetMap, and are deployed to empower refugees and hosting communities, allowing them to play an active role in the decisions that have impact on their lives.

After a morning spent collecting data in the field, all participants returned to the UNHCR field office in Arua to upload all data on the OSM server for export.  I, along with the HOT team are currently analyzing the data collected in the field and sharing the information to remain transparent for all partners, ensuring collaboration and quality information. I look forward to continuing the partnership between HOT and UNHCR Arua- building a strong information management network in Northern Uganda to support emergency coordination by analyzing and sharing information about the refugee crisis throughout each sector. The information network is comprised of HOT, UNHCR, NGO partners, local and national government offices, host community members and refugees themselves.


Gift of the United States Government - Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration - US Department of State