A global mapping network to support the Covid-19 response

Covid Tasks v2.jpg

Photo: Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT)

There was uncertainty about how mapping could be used to support response efforts in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. It quickly became clear, however, that the one billion people living in completely or partially unmapped communities risked being left out of life-saving programmes and unable to access to healthcare.

By the end of March 2020, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) put in place a plan to focus on three key areas:

  1. Help government agencies and responders to identify where unmapped vulnerable populations were located to plan for cash-based interventions
  2. Identify where at-risk populations of the most vulnerable people live, (including the population aged over 60 and those with pre-existing conditions such as HIV/AIDS) as well as identifying missing data on health infrastructure such as facilities, testing sites, pharmacies, laboratories and resource distribution centers
  3. Fund local mapping groups via Rapid Response Emergency Microgrants in places most at-risk.

Supported by the H2H Network, HOT coordinated the most extensive disaster mapping activation in its history, using OpenStreetMap -- an open-source, editable and freely accessible map of the world. Over the course of 2020, the response grew into a network of teams, online volunteers, national governments and local communities supporting mapping responses around the world.

HOT’s role in this response covered a wide range of activities, including managing remote mapping projects, validating data quality, engaging in humanitarian outreach, data management support and training, data analysis and visualization and web map creation.

As of January 28, 2021, over 22,800 volunteers have added 4.6 million map features to OpenStreetMap to support Covid-19 responses. These edits have included digitizing more than 4.1 million buildings and over 100,000 kilometers of road around the world.

This data has been requested by 33 local groups, organizations, and -- in one case -- an individual mapper looking to improve awareness of services in their city. In total, 28 countries have benefitted from HOT support through remote mapping, microgrants, local community efforts and training.

Within this context, the Covid-19 pandemic has driven a large and sustained humanitarian community effort.

Supporting Local Responses

Hyper-local mapping has been a cornerstone of this response. As local governments, ministries of health, public health and disaster management NGOs, and other local response organizations identified data gaps such as under-mapped areas and vital health services missing from maps, HOT coordinated with local data and mapping experts in the OpenStreetMap community, in the same country, to support them with data creation. The data they created was then recorded and shared in OpenStreetMap.

After a very successful initial engagement with mapping and training in Peru, H2H Network funding helped HOT coordinate mapping in eleven more countries (Anguilla, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mali, Philippines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago). Communities in six other countries (Brazil, Colombia, Marshall Islands, Nepal, Somalia and Sri Lanka) coordinated mapping campaigns on their own using tools developed or supported by HOT, such as the Tasking Manager, LearnOSM, and OpenAerialMap.

Additionally, seven local mapping communities received microgrants funded by HOT’s corporate partners (first round, second round) to maximize their impact. These grants enabled the acquisition of equipment to expedite and scale up their work and supported outreach and training to expand local mapping communities. H2H Network contributed to the impact of these microgrants by supporting training in creating and using geodata for the micrograntees and the relevant Covid-19 response organization.

Global Response

To support local communities’ efforts, HOT’s Disaster Services Team and volunteers mobilized the online mapping community to rapidly digitize satellite imagery. This global community is a network of local OSM chapters, informal communities, volunteer organizations, and individuals united by an interest in mapping for global good.

In Botswana, as a result of HOT’s support, over 70% of the country was prioritized for remote mapping. Since mapping began, about half of the remote mapping projects have completed and validated, enabling the Ministry of Health to deliver hygiene kits to remote villages. In Uganda, in addition to mapping, HOT provided training in creating and using maps based on OpenStreetMap to partner organizations such as the Ministry of Health and Médecins sans Frontières.

This data is available not just in-country to partners but also to global level responders, including UNOCHA, and other members of the H2H network such as MapAction, and CartONG. Free access to the data is on online platforms, including HDX, the HOT Export Tool, and OpenStreetMap exports. Maps can also be downloaded for mobile and offline use with services like Maps.me and OsmAnd.

In addition to supporting the Covid-19 response, the expansion of the HOT’s disaster services team has increased capacity to respond to future crises by engaging with and supporting the wider mapping community’s efforts. We are currently evaluating 11 additional countries in the Caribbean as part of a future joint hurricane and pandemic preparedness initiative.

Link to dynamic web map: