MSF Targets Nigeria’s Isolated Communities in Missing Maps Mapathon

The Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)Doctors Without Borders is set to hold its first-ever Southeast Asia Missing Maps Mapathon on August 1. During the Mapathon, volunteers will focus on Nigeria, enabling medical teams to deliver much-needed aid to the area’s isolated communities. The Mapathon initiatives have played an integral role in previous medical operations, including West Africa’s Ebola Outbreak and Chad’s Measles outbreak.

For the Inaugural Mapathon, Nigeria would be the African state focus, the country has been dealing with various health emergencies since 1996, including Malnutrition, Meningitis C, Cholera. Also,  studies have shown that 58,000 Nigerian women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth and Niger State has experienced issues involving lead exposure and measles outbreak. Prior to the Mapathon, MSF has been working with Nigeria since 1971, providing aid to those affected by the Biafran Conflict. With the Mapathon, neophyte and expert-level mappers alike would make it easier to send aid to Nigeria’s Isolated communities.

The Project Missing Map was founded by the MSF, in partnership with the British Red Cross, The American Red Cross and the Humanitarian openstreetmap Team (HOT).  It intends to use the power of crowdsourcing to produce accurate, up-to-date digital maps of the world’s little known or forgotten areas. Inspired by Wikipedia, the “OpenStreetMap” platform offers the opportunity for people to participate in making accurate, up-to-update maps, and contribute meaningfully to medical humanitarian work in corners of the world where map information is incomplete, despite the rapid development of information technology like satellite photography and Google Earth, many resource-poor countries are still blank spaces on the map. 

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, the Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, and the Nepal earthquake in 2015, the keyboard generation completed mapping the disaster areas very rapidly, and their maps became reliable tools for relief work. In 2014, MSF co-founded the “Missing Maps Project”, which prioritizes mapping vulnerable areas prone to disasters and epidemics. Equipped with more accurate maps ahead of the emergency, humanitarian workers can better follow the impact of natural disasters and epidemic outbreaks, as well as the movements of displaced populations to save more lives.

MSF has organized a number of collective mapping activities, “Mapathons”. Volunteers come together to help locate buildings, roads, pathways and water sources based on satellite pictures. The SouthAsia Missing Maps Mapathon, the first of its kind, seeks to prove that it’s possible to solve the mind gap and save lives with three tech tools, a click, a hashtag and a satellite Image. 

With the OpenStreetMap tool, Mapathon volunteers trace maps over satellite photos. Their output then undergoes two sets of validation, first by remote experienced Mappers and then by local volunteers. Afterwards, volunteers add proper labels and other relevant details to the maps. Numerous examples exist demonstrating exactly how critical maps are to relief aid operations. During West Africa’s 2014 Ebola outbreak, the lack of maps for certain affected areas hampered efforts to fight the virus. To address this, MSF brought a Geographic Information System (GIS) officer to Sierra Leone. Mapping the areas proved to be a crucial component in MSF’s teams being able to treat diseases, prevent its spread and provide quarantined patients with access to Food, Water and Healthcare.

With properly mapped information, humanitarian organizations can plan risk reduction campaigns and disaster response operations more effectively.

“Having proper maps really made a big difference to using our time and resources more efficiently,” affirmed Theresa Berthold, project coordinator for MSF’s Chad Emergency Response Unit. “We could plan according to the confirmed locations of villages and draw up our schedule accordingly. With proper maps, our surveyors could easily navigate their way to the villages and the selected households, making the work much easier and quicker”.


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