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The Modern Cartographer

The Modern Cartographer

It sounds glaringly obvious but humanitarian organisations can’t help people if they can’t find them.

In an age where information is only a click away, it’s easy to forget that there are still areas of the world that we know relatively little about.

A map is a powerful indication of its creator’s own subjective view of the world and it’s easy for social, political or economic agendas to determine what gets plotted. Some areas are simply too dangerous for mapmakers to go and the information quickly becomes out of date.

This means millions of communities around the world are not represented on any accessible map, making it difficult for humanitarian organisations to create targeted responses to emergencies.

However, an innovative mobile app will now enable members of public to help aid workers locate communities affected by natural disasters, disease outbreaks or conflict.

MapSwipe was developed by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as part of the Missing Maps project, a collaboration between the American Red Cross, the British Red Cross, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and MSF to map the world’s most remote regions.

Users search satellite imagery and tap on the screen when they see features such as buildings, roads, rivers and landmarks. The information is then sent back to community volunteers, who use it to create detailed maps, which are used by humanitarian organisations to plan risk reduction and disaster response activities.

Areas of Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan are among the first to have been mapped, as well as the border regions of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, all of which were affected by the devastating Ebola outbreak.

There is even an offline mode for contributors, although users will need to download the satellite imagery through an internet connection first before they can start mapping. The app developers recommend downloading the imagery while you have a wifi connection to avoid costly data charges.

MapSwipe is available to download for free for anyone with an Android or Apple smartphone at mapswipe.org.