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Posted on September 13th, 2016

How Humanitarian Open Street Map Uses Satellite Imagery for Development Initiatives

Screenshot of a user tracing previously unmapped buildings for the Peace Corps to inform the planning and installation of new water pumps which will improve sanitation in rural Togo, West Africa. (Image Credit: OpenStreetMap and DigitalGlobe)

In the fields of global development and disaster response, the need for up-to-date maps for implementing relief initiatives is critical. After large-scale destructive events such as natural disasters or war, many map features like roads and buildings may be altered or even completely destroyed. Further exacerbating the problem, many parts of the developing world still remain “unmapped”, without routes of transportation or even entire settlements being present on current maps. The purpose of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team is to organize online volunteers from around to globe to cooperate on crowdsourced mapping initiatives that assist aid workers, emergency response teams, NGO’s and government officials on the ground.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap is an initiative of the larger OpenStreetMap project, which is self-described as, “a collaborative project to create a free and editable map of the world.” By combining the power of OpenStreetMap’s open-source platform with the reach of its worldwide community of users, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap (known as HOT) is able to tap volunteers to quickly map sites using publicly available and privately donated satellite imagery.

A screenshot of the HOT-OSM Tasking Manager, detailing the needs and goals of its ongoing projects. (Image Credit: OpenStreetMap)

Users begin at the HOT-OSM Tasking Manager page, where dozens of mapping projects around the world are listed with brief descriptions of their end goals as well as the level of skill needed to contribute. Fortunately, many mapping tasks require no experience whatsoever, and HOT-OSM has even created a 10-minute crash course on how to perform tasks such as tracing roads, buildings and water features into the map. More advanced users are given the chance to contribute code changes and to create new databases for complex projects.

As previously mentioned, there are ongoing projects that individuals without any experience can accomplish and those that can be accomplished by users wishing for more of a challenge as well. To learn more and/or to contribute, visit

Fletcher Berryman
(970) 710-0909

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