Tag Archives: disasters

The Importance of Accurate Information During a Crisis

By Luisa Ryan

Below is the front page of a Liberian newspaper from March this year, at the beginning of the current Ebola crisis.


Clearly, the image of the “Ebola victim” is inaccurate, looking more like a screen grab from a horror movie than photojournalism. It evokes fear, it does not inform.

As the Ebola virus has spread across several African countries, the importance of accurate information has been increasingly highlighted.

Aid workers have stressed the importance of getting credible information to people in infected areas on the need to – at least for the time being – change some cultural practices. Funeral traditions, for example, need to change from cleaning and touching the dead, as corpses can still spread the disease. Eating bush meat and other daily practices are also being warned against.

Medical professionals know how the disease spreads, but getting this information to communities has proved problematic. Fighting rumors is problematic. Building trust in communities that have legitimate reason to mistrust outsiders or government agencies is problematic. Many Liberians, it has been reported, didn’t believe Ebola existed until months into the outbreak. They thought instead that it might be a government scheme to profit from donor money being spent on health initiatives in other countries.

This highlights the need not only for accurate information in times of crisis, but also the importance of a tradition of accurate information in times of peace. If the public doesn’t trust the media, or government information, during calm times, it has no reason to trust it when accurate information matters most.

Media development can help build credible media institutions that not only help people to make informed decisions in their everyday lives, but also when information may be lifesaving.

How Crowdmapping Attempts to Stay Ahead of Natural Disasters

By Adam Bradbury

When an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010 it left unimaginable destruction in its wake. Relief and aid workers scrambled to provide assistance to those in need, but a lack of knowledge about the layout of Port-Au-Prince slowed aid efforts. One of the many lessons learned after the 2010 Haiti earthquake was the value of up-to-date maps in response to humanitarian crises.

OpenStreetMap is an online community of mappers that are committed to improving the state of global mapping. Following the earthquake in Haiti, many of OpenStreetMap volunteers got together and created a detailed map of Port-Au-Price in order to provide valuable contextual information for aid workers on the ground. The first of its kind in Haiti.

haiti map

*Open Street Map, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Years later, when the powerful typhoon, Haiyan, struck the Philippines in 2013 over 400 member of Open Street Map came together, and in real time, were able to update maps in a matter of hours. Lessons from the earthquake in Haiti and other humanitarian crises advanced mapping efforts throughout the aid relief campaign. Below is a picture of Tacloban, Philippines before and after the mapping project was completed.

 phillipines map

* How Online Mapmakers Are Helping the Red Cross Save Lives in the Philippines, Robinson Meyer


In early March of 2014, the U.S. Department of State inserted itself into the game of crowdsourced mapping by introducing MapGive, which builds upon existing crowdsourced mapping efforts made by groups like OpenStreetMap. The engagement of the U.S. Department of State with the crowdmapping  movement is in an attempt to assist in humanitarian responses, disaster risk reduction, and sustainable development. Having a detailed map ahead of the crises, instead of in response to one is now the goal.

What many don’t realize is despite Google Maps perceived omnipresence in the digital mapping arena, many of the most at-risk communities for natural disaster lack any sort of accurate mapping information. The logistical nightmare of aid relief without accurate maps speaks for itself.  MapGive is an effort to change that.

The U.S. Department of State, through the Imagery to the Crowd (Ittc) initiative, publishes high-resolution commercial satellite imagery where volunteers can easily map them into the larger OpenStreetMap project. MapGive combines the muscle of the U.S. government with the passion of the global mapping community to improve future humanitarian efforts.

The expansion of digital mapping has the potential to improve the relief efforts in some of the most geographically volatile regions on Earth. Mapping these regions is a worthwhile goal, not only to improve the efficiency of first responders to inevitable humanitarian crises, but also to place, for the first time, many communities ‘on the map’, as it were, where previously overlooked.