UN report calls OpenStreetMap “foundational” to disaster risk reduction

GENEVA — Some 4,000 people came from Canada to Vanuatu to figure out how to save lives and rebuild communities in the wake of floods, earthquakes, landslides and the like at the recent Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction.

The fifth edition of the “Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction” (GAR) launched at a packed session during the biennial, invite-only event. (I was there for Resiliency Maps, more takeaways soon. For now, check out the Legos.)

Here’s what the 472-page report has to say about open data and open source in a section devoted to open-source software:

“One area where open data and open source cross paths is in crowdsourcing. Growing interest in the use of crowdsourced data to solve certain kinds of data problems has led to the development of a number of layers in use within risk science. A notable example is the use of OpenStreetMap, which is foundational to almost all risk sciences.”

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and The Missing Maps both made a strong showing at the five-day event — with a busy booth, a mapathon and a number of lightning talks.

A case study in the report also highlighted a crowdsourced mapping project in Dar es Salaam that HOT participated in.

Working to get better information about devastating floods, a consortium of local academic institutions and NGOs working with the Tanzanian Commission of Science and Technology, the Tanzania Red Cross Society, the World Bank and community members formed Ramani Huria in 2015.

As of October 2018, Ramani Huria has mapped neighborhoods covering roughly 3.5 million residents in over 228 communities. The maps inform actions related to drain cleaning programs and evacuation planning, supporting the establishment of 10 emergency flood response teams. “The collaborative approach acts as a mechanism to engage and inform community members and local government to simultaneously change behavior and support community action.”

But the report states there’s more work to be done to promote the value of crowdsourced data.

“Because there is still some reluctance to rely on crowds to answer important contextual information about risk, exposure and vulnerability, these systems are supplemented in some cases with “expert opinion” to reinforce the pedigree of the data,” the report writers note.

It’s something we’ve seen with Resiliency Maps. Often the first question that officials or the general public ask about our project is “What about bad actors?” “Aren’t you worried people will mess up the maps?” The answer: Not really. Then we send them to the Wiki page on vandalism.

Check out the full “United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction 2019 Global Assessment of Risk Reduction” report here.

This is part of our series from the recent Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, stay tuned for more.

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