Mapatones: 500 volunteers gather to make the maps of Doctors Without Borders

When Doctors Without Borders teams arrive in an affected area they encounter hundreds of problems. One of those that can escape us the most, because we give it so much

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When Doctors Without Borders teams arrive in an affected area they encounter hundreds of problems. One of those that can escape us the most, because we take it for granted in our day to day, is the absolute absence of maps with relevant information , such as roads, points with clean water or important buildings (schools, hospitals ... .). The good news is that anyone can help change this and only have to contribute their time. Also, you do not even need to leave the house.

A proof of this - although in this case it was necessary to leave home - were the 15 'mapatones' held on Thursday of last week simultaneously in 14 cities in Spain on Thursday of last week. In them, more than 500 people gathered to help map remote areas where MSF intervenes in countries such as Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe or Mozambique.

The 'mapatonians' connected -the majority, from their laptops- in each of the locations and got down to work with the three tools that the program uses: point, line and polygon . Each of these vector figures serves to demarcate, for example and respectively, sources, roads or buildings in a quadrant that, in turn, was obtained thanks to satellite photographs taken by services such as Bing.

So, what at first was an unknown area, but of which there are images, little by little began to have 'personality' and details: here is a path, this looks like a building ... The volunteers explored the quadrant from their screens and gave meaning to the shapes they saw. And when finishing one quadrant, for another.

Then, a person with experience in the area validates their work and adds information in layers. In this way, what was a satellite image without additional information becomes a complete map of the area with the help of the volunteers.

In total, according to the Missing Maps website (the association behind the mapatones, formed by MSF , the humanitarian team of Open Street Map and the British and American divisions of the Red Cross ), almost 80,000 people have made more than 46 million of editions that have allowed locating about 40 million buildings and more than one million kilometers of roads and roads.

Although it was not the first of these events organized by MSF (in Spain it did it together with geoinquietos), it was the most crowded to date. Urko, a 43-year-old geographer and member of the Geographers 'and Geoinquiets' Association who attended the latter, is already a veteran. He does it, according to EL MUNDO because he feels he can help with his knowledge.

"These initiatives are very effective, " he says, because people with a lot of knowledge about cartography often go there. In addition, its cost "would be very difficult to assume" for non-governmental organizations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres. Thus, as Urko explains, if 1000 people attend and each one dedicates 4 hours, the organization obtains 4000 free hours of work.

Finally the figure was closer to 1,250 hours of mapping , which is not bad either: a person would need to work without rest for 52 days (or 156 in days of 8 hours) to match it. Alejandra, an engineer who holds a master's degree in disaster management who also attended the map of the Faculty of Civil Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, sums up the sentiment: "if we do not do it, nobody will do it" .

The importance of maps

But how did the idea come about? According to Juan José Arévalo , MSF geographic information systems coordinator, one of the pioneers was the team in charge of epidemiology of the office in England. And is that cartography is one of the best tools to combat (and understand) epidemics: a look at a map can provide much more than reading the data of a spike in a table.

They are also vital for vaccination campaigns, as they confirm where there are roads and, more importantly, how these roads can be traveled. "For some you can only go by motorcycle, in others by car and sometimes you have to go by boat," Arévalo explains.

In addition, of course, there is the use - more pedestrian and just as necessary - of equipping people on the terrain with maps of the area . They can print them, take screenshots or, as Arévalo account, even occupy the entire wall of one of their buildings. In any case, Open Street Maps data can also be exported for use on other platforms.

Map from home

After the map, anyone can ride one in his own house. All you have to do is enter Open Street Map, register or register and enter the HOT task manager (the striking acronyms chosen by the humanitarian Open Street Map team, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, in English), choose a task and get to map.

Luckily, you do not have to dedicate yourself to it professionally and, luckily, the organization knows it: there are three levels of specialization (beginner, intermediate and advanced) and it is necessary to have spent a few hours mapping to move from first to second . The maps will be simpler and, in any case, the work will always be reviewed and validated by a specialist. It is a controlled contribution with a safety net.

It is also not necessary to be in front of the computer to contribute with the mapping of needed areas. The MapSwipe application -developed, among others, by MSF and HOT- allows anyone to take advantage of the subway ride to work to contribute their bit. And, as Alejandra said, "if we do not do it, nobody is going to do it".

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