Preparing for disasters with open map data and tools - learning through anticipatory action in Zimbabwe, Liberia and Timor Leste

Room: Auditorium 2

Saturday, 11:30
Duration: 20 minutes (plus Q&A)


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  • Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT)

Historically, the open mapping movement’s disaster focus has been response, but evolving local capacity, insight, technology and partnerships mean new anticipatory action and disaster preparedness open mapping methodologies enable a transition from reactive to proactive approaches to disaster management.

This talk explores key findings on the transformative role of open mapping in this topic, demonstrated by three HOT collaborations; Anticipatory Response Program in Zimbabwe, Flood Tracking Project in Liberia, and Mapping for Anticipatory Action in Timor-Leste, plus analysis of post-disaster data demand from NGO and government responders.

The talk will also surface insights on how OSM communities can increase their own disaster resilience and preparedness through mapping.


Building on the foundations laid by the Missing Maps project, HOT is developing partnerships, data models and mapping campaigns that augment remote mapping efforts of humanitarian mappers (largely building / road network basemaps) through work with local communities, government and other actors creating data and analysis at a community level to conduct proactive disaster management.

Anticipatory Response Program, Zimbabwe In Zimbabwe, a country impacted by disasters such as floods, cyclones, and droughts, the Anticipatory Response Program (ARP) explored anticipatory response through:

  • Identifying gaps in anticipatory planning, preparedness, and response that could be addressed with open geospatial data and tools.
  • Understanding the limitations in data tools and infrastructure supporting anticipatory action.
  • Stimulating opportunities for joint project collaboration between community organizations, disaster agencies, and the Open Mapping hub - East and Southern Africa.
  • Strengthening participation and ownership.
  • Developing data models through stakeholder identification of information relevant to the enhancement of disaster response

Data collection involved mapping relevant features to inform better response capability by Caritas Zimbabwe and other stakeholders in Muzarabani district. This was conducted via remote and field mapping using open mapping tools and updating OpenStreetMap and Mapillary in 14 wards. Features included buildings, roads, and relevant points of interest (POIs) such as health facilities, shops, markets, schools, water sources, flood-prone road sections, religious centers, and public toilets.

Data analyses evaluated suitability of POIs as evacuation centers and cash voucher assistance points and evaluated proximity to communities, thus visualizing community vulnerability to disasters and contributing to local contingency planning.

Specifically, this information served as input to hazard maps and Multi-Hazard Contingency Plans (MHCP) for the pilot wards, ensuring authorities are prepared for disasters, and response efforts are supported by high-quality relevant geospatial data.

Tracking Flooding in Rural Liberia

Coastal settlements of Liberia - 565kms of mainly lowlands, hosting mangroves, swamps and nine river estuaries - face climate risks such as flooding, rising sea levels, and coastal erosion. Coastal cities experience annual average precipitation of >500mm, causing floods and sea erosion that disrupt livelihoods and damage properties and infrastructure.

HOT’S Open Mapping Hub - West and Northern Africa, iLab Liberia and OSM Liberia collaborated to address urgent needs of the Commonwealth District in Grand Cape Mount County.

An open, participatory mapping approach was used with key stakeholders to accomplish:

  • Mapping stakeholders and climate change-related interventions
  • Filling gaps in existing datasets, plus visualizations and decision-making tools for government and humanitarian actors.
  • Increasing climate resilience awareness through focus groups, radio programs, talk shows, town hall meetings, and resources for use by local authorities, youth, and women’s groups.
  • Mapping building footprints, road networks, waterways, and land use and collecting field data on buildings, education, health, commerce, infrastructure, waterways, and other amenities to provide detailed information on the vulnerability, exposure, and flood hazards for more robust data analysis.

Data products were developed based on requirements and use cases from the National Disaster Management Agency, Liberia National Police, Ministry of Health, Environmental Protection Agency, Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation, Liberia Land Authority, Liberia National Red Cross Society, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services, Ministry of Public Works, Liberian Hydrological Services, Liberia Geographical Society, and others. Access to reliable data analysis hinders stakeholder’s disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery initiatives.

These actors can now develop resilience programs to support the people in the district and adopt tools and workflows for other affected counties across Liberia.

Mapping for anticipatory action in Timor-Leste

Timor Leste faces natural disasters, including cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, and heavy rainfall. This is exacerbated by inadequate infrastructure and many communities who, despite developmental strides, grapple with poverty and food insecurity.

Local map data plays a pivotal role in addressing these issues proactively, offering crucial support to local actors in decision-making and impact-based forecasting, but was incomplete and lacking depth.

The Red Cross Crescent Climate Centre and Timor-Leste Red Cross worked with HOT’s Open Mapping Hub - Asia Pacific and OpenStreetMap Timor-Leste community on mapping, community engagement, and surfacing insights into areas at risk from floods, landslides, and other climate-related hazards.

After identification of priority areas based on natural disaster risks, remote mapping and field mapping campaigns created basemaps augmented with relevant local features, including specific building features indicating susceptibility to floods or other hazards, such as minimum foundation height and building materials. Alongside open geospatial data, qualitative information on community perspectives on previous disasters / responses was collected using surveys, focus groups and SketchMap.

The generation of geospatial data necessary for anticipatory action was complimented by key insights, eg. on flood impacts on livelihoods and a lack of essential early warning systems.

However, there is high motivation, engagement, and interest in proactive local community action, incorporating open mapping, and opportunities for extending the initiative through government and community collaborations.