Gaza map round up

by Jon Thompson on January 10, 2009

Stefan Geens over at Ogle Earth has done a great job of compiling UN maps and imagery of the Gaza situation and it is all available for viewing in Google Earth via this network link.  In the meantime Mikel Maron has been working frantically to update the Gaza portion of OpenStreetMap.  He writes about the latest developments over at his personal site Brainoff.com.

OSM Impressive work all around but I need to gripe about what I see as an antiquated way of approaching humanitarian disasters at least as far as mapping is concerned.  The fact that I am looking at a PDF overlaid in Google Earth rather than a KML file generated from the original data by the UN is absolutely absurd.  This is how we have been doing it since at least 2003 with little headway made in the direction of digitizing the necessary data and presenting it in a modern rather than archaic manner.

A PDF!?  Really!?  Come on.  People are dying and we get a PDF!?  I am sorry to be so blunt, and I know the GIS folks at the UN are working hard to give us critical data, but someone over there needs to tackle this bureaucratic issue and deal with it once and for all.  We have been talking about this for way too long and all I can hope for is that either Google or OpenStreetMap can accelerate their data collection and make UN maps irrelevant.  At this rate it doesn’t appear that that will be hard to do.  Sad that a volunteer collective effort like OSM could put one of worlds largest organizations to shame.

I’ll never forget the day I walked into the  coordination meeting following the 2005 Sumatra earthquake (aka Nias earthquake) and pinned to the wall was a turn of the century Dutch map that had beautifully hand scripted village names and terrain details but little else.  I remember sitting there and thinking, “We’re about to put teams and equipment onto an island that has been flattened and the best they can do is a 10″x12″ map that is over 100 years old!?”

We can’t keep doing this.  We need to evolve.  There are too many people relying on us.  It is time to work past licensing issues, or whatever the real issues are, and start making substantive changes.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

{ 3 trackbacks }

Brain Off » Misconceptions and Objections to Gaza Mapping: My Response :: Mikel Maron :: Building Digital Technology for Our Planet
January 11, 2009 at 5:18 pm
Mapless in Gaza | humanitarian.info
January 12, 2009 at 5:03 am
draussen » Die Macht von offenen Karten für Entwicklung
February 14, 2009 at 2:49 pm

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrick Meier January 10, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Amen.

Peter Miller January 11, 2009 at 1:31 am

This rendering of the OSM Map is more up-to-date and contains more detail. The other rendering referred to above (mapnik) is only updated once a week on about Wednesday so is missing our work since then….

Einar Bjorgo January 12, 2009 at 6:58 am

Dear all,

We are happy to see the interest in our satellite maps for Gaza. As head of UNOSAT’s Rapid Mapping Unit, please allow me to make a few comments.

Our products (maps/analyses) are made in a format and distributed through means carefully discussed with humanitarian aid workers. By far the majority of these prefer PDF maps as they can be printed easily and used in the field for reference. The products are not primarely for web mash-ups and bloggers, but for humanitarian workers in the field and decision makers in regional and headquarter offices.

UNOSAT has regularly issued KML files and we do have a dedicated online mapping service where people can make their own maps. So there is in fact a policy to share in this format upon request. We are also now developing WFS and WMS distributions of our results.

We are collaborating with both OpenStreetMap and Google in data exchange and distribution. As for the Nias earthquake, we posted several satellite derived maps online and sent e-mail notification to field teams about their availability.

We are more than happy to engage in constructive dialogues, which we already have with a large humanitarian community, including new and innovative ways of sharing geographic information through satellite solutions.

admin January 12, 2009 at 7:31 pm

Einar-

First off, let me say that I admire and appreciate UNOSAT’s efforts. As a veteran field worker I have used your materials on numerous occasions. That said, allow me to respond.

Our products (maps/analyses) are made in a format and distributed through means carefully discussed with humanitarian aid workers. By far the majority of these prefer PDF maps as they can be printed easily and used in the field for reference. The products are not primarely for web mash-ups and bloggers, but for humanitarian workers in the field and decision makers in regional and headquarter offices.

As I mentioned above I spent the better part of my career in the field, sometimes at the very point of the spear, in places like Liberia, Indonesia, Iraq, South Sudan and Ethiopia. In early 2004 I arrived alone in Chad to set up operations for my organization during the Dafur refugee crisis. I also ran my department stateside for a large INGO. For various reasons I am now a blogger but I still run a small INGO that, in 2007, was active in the field. I think I am the person you intend your maps for.

To that end I will have to say that almost none of the field people I know believe that a PDF or GIF format is sufficient. Aid workers are very good a making do with what they are given and so we make do. I can almost guarantee you that if you ask any of them what they prefered they would immediately tell you that they would like maps in as many formats as possible so that they can put them to the greatest use. This need for redundancy is key in everything we do in the field. Just as we would never rely on one comms unit, one spare tire, one radio check, we will never settle for one map format.

UNOSAT has regularly issued KML files and we do have a dedicated online mapping service where people can make their own maps. So there is in fact a policy to share in this format upon request. We are also now developing WFS and WMS distributions of our results.

While I am glad to see that you are publishing in KML I unfortunately don’t see those links at Reliefweb. Please provide a link to those files and I will be happy to post about them. Please also provide a link to the web mapping service. I have been checking Reliefweb for years and was unaware they were there. Lastly, while I am not familiar with WFS and WMS formats I can only say that I hope the service has offline functionality as that is typically how we work in the field.

We are collaborating with both OpenStreetMap and Google in data exchange and distribution.

I am heartened to know that you are working with both OSM and Google. While I know that OSM is looking at offline functionality I am not sure the same can be said for Google.

As for the Nias earthquake, we posted several satellite derived maps online and sent e-mail notification to field teams about their availability.

I was the Site Manager for an INGO in Medan before, during and after the event. I ran an ambulance service which medevac’d wounded from Polonia Airport to local hospitals. It was also my job to fully support our teams on Nias and Simeleue including providing them with the most up to date maps. While I am sure you did send notifications I do not remember seeing them. And, while I could have accessed the maps online the field teams had limited access to anything online. It was a busy time and I still only remember the Dutch map and the 200% zoom copies taped to the wall.

We are more than happy to engage in constructive dialogues, which we already have with a large humanitarian community, including new and innovative ways of sharing geographic information through satellite solutions.

As am I. That is why I have worked tirelessly in both public and private to initiate those dialogues and bring the issues to the attention of all those involved.

Let me just say that I use this blog as a platform, when necessary, to publicize issues which directly impact my fellow field workers. Even though I am no longer in the field I still have an obligation, perhaps now than ever before, to fight for what I know from my years of service is critically needed by those at the tip of the spear and at a headquarters level.

I appreciate your service and hope to maintain this dialogue as I have I done with so many others.

Best regards,

Jon

Leave a Comment