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News — 28 April, 2023

Notes from the field: The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Fabrizio Scrollini, the new Director of the Open Mapping Hub for Latin America and the Caribbean, shares his impressions of the first days of work with the Hub team, what has been done and what is to come.

Monday 17th April was my first day as the Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). I find myself in Tulum , surrounded by local leaders, local government public servants, HOT partner organizations, and my colleagues Céline and Pete, who have offered a warm welcome.

The Open Cities México project is coming to an end in Tulum, leaving behind complete and high-quality geographical information for this town and surrounding localities. Literally thousands of people whose locations were not represented in the official map and therefore not considered in local planning are now included. But those of us who work with data know that this is not the full story. It’s about how these communities have been recognized, treated with respect, and contributed to the development of this area in southern Mexico. The map is necessary, but just the beginning.

Information, combined with action and education, is the key to advancing community development. No one can build their future if they don’t really know where they are. Tulum will face its own challenges in terms of development, climate change, and sustainability, but now it will do so with a more complete and shared knowledge of its territory. This will not guarantee sustainable development, but it is essential foundations upon which all parties can have have informed dialogue about how they will evolve in the future, and what shared risks they face. What I saw in Tulum has several ingredients of what we want to build in Latin America and the Caribbean.

One year ago, HOT launched the Open Mapping Hub - LAC and its initial phase has been one of exploration and experimentation with local and regional actors and communities. These actions, led by my colleague Celine Jacquin and Philip Hippolyte and their teams, in Latin America and the Caribbean respectively, demonstrate the value that HOT offers to the region.


In the coming time, the Hub will be designing a strategy to listen and act alongside the mapping community, local and national governments, as well as thematic communities and organisations and institutions with a social purpose, in order to structure our work. In particular, we want to focus on what humanitarian mapping means in Latin America and the Caribbean, what the regional priorities are, and to design methodologies to work together, leveraging HOT’s ability to catalyze the mapping community in service of the region’s development and humanitarian challenges.

Anyone who has worked in Latin America and the Caribbean knows that this region is diverse, that its needs vary depending on the context, and that it offers unique challenges and opportunities. Its strength is its diversity of language, challenges, and ways of approaching solutions. Migration, inclusion of indigenous communities in the governance of the territory, resilience and vulnerability to climate change, as well as governance of geographical data, are just some of the topics that emerge as obvious.

The Hub naturally cannot cover everything, but it can choose priorities, seek allied organizations and communities, and be part of a global movement from its mapping expertise. Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the earth, said a wise Greek to explain how a lever works. Geographical data is a place to literally stand on, and we will use that leverage to contribute to the development of our region. We hope you join us.