June 23, 2016
OpenStreetMap is a map of the world, created by people like you and free to use under an open license.
An interactive, editable global mapping program founded by Texas Tech University has reached a big milestone only seven months after its creation. More than 1 million changes have been made recently to the world’s free, editable public map, OpenStreetMap (OSM), by university students worldwide, who have united to create and use open spatial data to directly address development challenges for some of the world’s most impoverished countries.
The YouthMappers network of chapters organizes a global community of learners and scholars to work locally and exchange collaboratively to create resilient communities. Thus far, 27 universities in 11 countries have joined the effort. The program seeks to not just build maps, but to build mappers, supporting universities and colleges to offer meaningful global learning experiences; create geospatial data where it is needed most; build a socially engaged citizenry; enhance long-term scientific capacity throughout the world; and foster youth exchange and leadership.
“You can visualize the problems and visualize the solutions with mapping. If we can then do it using collaborative technologies, it can bring us together to address the development issues around the world that are among the most pressing on our planet,” said project director Patricia Solís, a research associate professor of geography in the Texas Tech Department of Geosciences. “But most importantly, the learning potential for making real connections to other places and other students is profound. Youth Mappers not only builds maps — we also build mappers.”
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) generously supports this program through a grant from the U.S. Global Development Lab’s GeoCenter. Founding partners are Texas Tech, George Washington University and West Virginia University. Inaugural chapters have been formed at:
Capitalizing on web-based open geospatial technologies, the program seeks to cultivate a generation of young leaders to unite and exchange on open and shared platforms, in order to create resilient communities and to define their world by mapping it together. YouthMappers enlists and supports the talents of the world’s university faculty and students to expressly link supply and demand for knowledge. It addresses specific needs for geographic information to specific development objectives in targeted countries, creating new, quality, localized geospatial data in unmapped places of the world where USAID works to end extreme poverty. YouthMappers leverages academic community involvement to synergize with and fill a unique niche among a growing set of actors related to volunteer humanitarian or crisis mapping, and to expand action to address longer term and chronic development.
The million edits contributed to improving food security in Bangladesh, health and disease prevention in Mozambique and disaster preparation and assistance in Ecuador. In Asia, students mapped water bodies and fish ponds as well as roads and buildings to directly support Feed the Future agricultural programs in the Khulna region of Bangladesh. In Africa, malaria prevention and control remains a major U.S. foreign assistance objective and critical for ending preventable child and maternal deaths for populations suffering extreme poverty. Once remote mapping for these districts is complete, USAID and Peace Corps volunteers along with their counterparts on the ground will add local knowledge. Data will improve the efficiency and reach of 2016 spraying campaigns for malaria prevention.
In Latin America, Ecuador has suffered threats of volcanic eruption as well as earthquakes. In August 2015, the nation declared a state of emergency after Mount Cotopaxi shot ash seven miles into the air. The volcano has continued spewing ash and steam, causing continued concern for those living in vulnerable areas nearby. USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is helping to increase the amount of OSM open spatial data for the region, since many highly populated areas are nearby, including the nation’s capital, Quito. YouthMappers were focused on generating road and building data for disaster planning and evacuation but then shifted to join others in the OSM community to map the areas of the country affected by the April earthquake, where the maps were immediately put to use by the humanitarian and relief agencies to assist victims of the natural disaster.
All new data created by YouthMappers is open and accessible to the public using the OpenStreetMap platform and tools to ensure it is freely available for the greater public good, particularly local populations planning for the welfare and vitality of their own communities. Open spatial data created will be used in meaningful research and analysis to directly address specific international development challenges. Students gain new skills and also can use this data in their own research in a great variety of studies on issues that lend themselves to be visualized through mapping.
This initiative was formally launched in November on Capitol Hill as part of National Geography Awareness Week, and the network was inaugurated in February. New chapters of students are still being formed and are welcome to join the network. Find more information about YouthMappers here and profiles of each chapter here.
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