Italy's you, your host at TED talks daily in the wake of devastating crises like pandemics or natural disasters, the people hit the hardest are often literally not on the map. And living in places that aren't mapped at all can lead to untold suffering. A project called Humanitarian Open Street Map or hot, as volunteers and community workers step in to do what some governments cannot by mapping vulnerable areas with their cell phones. Today's Ted 20-20 talk from Hotstix. Director of Partnerships Rebecca Firth details this free, open project that helps map unmapped places.
How it's actively changed communities and in times of disaster has saved lives.
Like Ted talks, you should check out the TED Radio Hour with NPR. Stay tuned after this talk to hear a sneak peek of this week's episode. When Hurricane Rita hit Puerto Rico in twenty seventeen, we all watched as a disaster played out on our screens, at least 160000 people were displaced and nearly 3000 people died. Electricity was cut off to the entire island and some neighborhoods didn't get power back for 11 months. Many of those watching didn't know how to help.
Some donated to international NGOs. Some lobbied their elected officials. But as with so many crises, so many of us simply gave in and felt helpless. The humanitarian open street map team, also known as hot, we did something different. We mobilized 6000 volunteers across the world who mapped every home and every road in Puerto Rico, responded, then used those maps to assess the state of buildings and roads and to provide emergency funds, Wi-Fi and phone charging points to people whose homes were damaged.
All crises, including the covid-19 pandemic we're living through right now, have devastating characteristics. But many of them have one thing in common. The people hit the hardest are often literally not on the map. Right now, more than one billion people live in places that are not mapped. If you look those places up online, you'll see nothing but a blank. And that blank isn't just a huge statement of disrespect to our fellow human beings. It's an injustice causing very direct, very real and very avoidable human suffering.
So what does not being on the digital map actually look like? I live in Peru and a few months ago, some community health workers asked us to help them map. Obviously, where they were wasn't mapped. So to get there, we asked the local mayor to draw the route. This piece of paper was hard to follow. He put some numbers on there that he assured us will travel times. But as we were driving along, this did not correspond to a reality.
But this isn't about me getting lost or about shaming someone, about drawing skills. I think how inefficient it is to manage a team who need to work in this place without a map to tell them what they need to go. Then once they're in the right village, how can they collect some data and associate it to that place? Those community health workers know that needs in this region high, particularly anaemia and malnutrition among children. They just don't know where those children are or what is causing that problem.
They want to be able to locate the home of every child under five. But how can they do that without a map after a brief training? We went out to make a map and this is what those community health workers produced. This map has everything you need to navigate, like the rivers and bridges, but it also has every local landmark, the school, the football pitch, the plaza. And I'm pleased to say that a few weeks ago we got a call from those community health workers and they're using this map in their response containing covid-19.
So you might be thinking, why aren't these places on commercial maps? In short, mapping the most vulnerable places in our world just hasn't been a priority for profit companies whose business models typically rely on advertising and data sales. This leaves out the poorest communities and means that individual aid organizations create maps for the small areas that they're working in, in offline systems, which rapidly become out of date when a project ends. So what we have here is a lack of easily shareable and easily updatable data.
But we also have a solution. We met with a tool called Open Street Map, which was founded in 2006 and is a free open source tool which anyone can use to map the world. Just as anyone can read or edit an article on Wikipedia, anyone can use or edit the map in open street map and the resulting map is public good, free and open for anyone to use, creating one map for all of us. It works in two phases.
Buildings and roads might not be on the map yet, but you can see them clearly in satellite imagery. Volunteers working anywhere in the world turn satellite images into maps through drawing the buildings and words on top of them. We call this a base map. On average, each time a volunteer logs in, they make an area less than 10 kilometres squared, but add all those contributions together and you come up entire cities in just a couple of days. And second, local mapping, people living and working in the places where mapping take that base map and Cullerton, for example, identifying is this building a school or a hospital?
Those people add information you can't see in a satellite image. We found people able and eager to map and even the most challenging situations worldwide. And we've optimized the tools to work on smartphones costing as little as thirty dollars. Additionally, the tools work offline so people without regular access to cell service can still contribute, adding things to the map as they go about their daily lives and then uploading when they get access to cell service or Wi-Fi. In 10 years, we've seen people from all walks of life take part refugees of that broken water points.
Rural women have added place names in indigenous languages, and in doing so, people become active agents of change in their communities. Since 2010 has engaged over 200000 volunteers who've mapped an area home to more than 150 million people in Open Street Map. Those maps have been used by search and rescue operations to free hundreds of people trapped in collapsed buildings after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. They've been used to provide polio vaccinations to children across all of rural Nigeria, and they've mapped the camp's routes and new homes of more than eight million refugees fleeing South Sudan, Syria and Venezuela.
We work with the biggest humanitarian organizations in the world to make sure these maps have impact. The Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres, UNICEF, to name a few, and we currently have a queue of more than 2000 places needing to be mapped. So that's the story so far. But wouldn't it be great if these places were on the map before they were in crisis? Now we're ready for a step change. Over the past few years, we've gained access to global, regularly updated satellite imagery, machine learning and I hope and human matters to work more efficiently and worldwide.
More and more people are willing and able to map their communities over the next five years will engage one million volunteers who will map an area home to the one billion most vulnerable people across 194 countries. To achieve this, we need to do three things. First, we need to grow our community to one million members who will build a world where everyone, everywhere is represented. We'll set up a network of regional hubs to train and support those volunteers to map the vulnerable places in their own countries.
Second, we need to invest in technology. Right now. You can add something like a building or a local landmark to the map in just a few seconds. But learning to map and mapping easily and quickly on a mobile can be a problem. We need to invest in technologies to make mobile, and it's the map possible at a massive scale. And third, we need to raise awareness. Aid projects across the world need to know that these maps are free and available for them to use and that they can request maps for the areas that they're working in.
For me, this is one of the most wonderful things about this project. It isn't really about hot or any single organization. It's about creating a foundation on which so many organizations will thrive. Whatever we do, disasters and crises that will still happen and humanitarians will still respond to them. Development programs will continue. But without maps, all that critical information about what to expect in a community before they get there with open free UP-TO-DATE maps, those programs will have more impact than they would do otherwise, leading to a meaningful difference in lives saved or improved.
But it's so much more than that, it's 20, 20 and one billion people in our world are not visible. That's wrong. This is a tool through which every citizen of planet Earth can become known and seen to literally be put on the map. My peers complain about being too over connected. So how can it be possible for more than a billion people to remain invisible? Luckily, this is a problem. Even the laziest among us can help to solve if you can swipe left or right.
You can help map this morning and influence life changing decisions this afternoon. Frontline health workers and humanitarians are literally waiting for you. Thank you. A pandemic, protests over systemic racism, the economic recession, so much has happened this summer.
We are coming through one of the most challenging periods in the lives of most of us. I'm a new samadhi lessons from the summer of 2020. That's next time on the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Subscribe or listen to the TED Radio Hour wherever you get your podcasts.