Mapping to help relief workers in Nepal

A team works in Puducherry on the mapping project. Photo: S.S. Kumar

A team works in Puducherry on the mapping project. Photo: S.S. Kumar

As news broke out about the devastating earthquake in Nepal on April 25, many embarked on drives for donations and collecting relief material. However, as in the case with previous natural disasters in other places, not all things which reach Nepal are necessarily needed or useful for victims there. In the eagerness to help, it is quite possible that loads of unusable material end up in relief camps.

Gopinath Parayil, founder of Puducherry-based responsible tourism enterprise The Blue Yonder, who has worked in relief work in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake recalled how a container full of oversized jeans, and another of tuna cans reached relief camps there, in places where victims never wore jeans and were primarily vegetarian. “I have noticed that people wanted to help but did not know how to. In disaster zones, there is little facility for storage, and food stuff can get spoilt after long hours of transportation,” he said.

This is when Mr. Parayil heard from his friends from MapBox in Bengaluru, who were working on OpenStreetMap, an open-licence map of the world, built through crowdsourcing. OpenStreetMap data is said to be used by organisations like the American Red Cross, the World Bank, and others to support relief activities in Nepal. As volunteers update data on the OpenStreetMap, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) and the Kathmandu Living Labs (an NGO working in open data and civic technology) coordinate between rescue and relief workers on the ground and the OpenStreetMap community, while also lending training for people to contribute to the OpenStreetMap.

Mr. Parayil roped in volunteers from The Blue Yonder’s initiatives in Kozhikode, Kerala and office staff in Puducherry. After receiving initial training from the team in Bengaluru through Skype, the team in Puducherry and other places got working. Statistics show that 4,579 mappers from around the world have made 98,923 edits to the map so far, and that at least 3,145 of them are new to OpenStreetMap.

“It is simple enough to use with clear instructions. Anyone who uses email and browses the internet can use the map,” said Mr. Parayil. For the relief teams on ground, these maps can be downloaded on to their phones or print outs can be taken. “Almost all the staff at The Blue Yonder are first time users,” he added.

Crowdsourced mapping is a powerful tool, something authorities can use for town planning and administration, said Mr. Parayil. “The potential is immense. If governments can tap into people for collecting information on things like where garbage is dumped, it would be very useful in waste management,” he said. Mapping can be used in compiling information on diverse areas like ecology and history, he added.

Short training in mapping is offered in the Blue Yonder’s office in Kamatchi Amman Koil Street, Puducherry. Details are available on The Blue Yonder’s Facebook page and website.

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Printable version | Aug 17, 2022 10:04:25 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/mapping-to-help-relief-workers-in-nepal/article7189538.ece