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Mapping of Malakal, South Sudan (a partnership with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team)

GISCorps partnered with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) to map the city of Malakal, South Sudan to provide baseline data for the humanitarian response to the ongoing conflicts between government and rebel forces in South Sudan. Recruitment resulted in deploying 18 GISCorps volunteers from 9 countries to the first phase of the project. Volunteers were: Sheraz Ahsan (Pakistan), Aly DeGraff (USA), Elizabeth Ducey (USA), Geraldine Eggermont (Belgium), George Haskett (USA), Tim Hohn (USA), Shamira Ishmael (Canada), David Litke (USA), Heather Milton (USA), Jirka Panek (Czech Republic), Jared Pilbeam (USA), Snead Prasad (Canada), Oula Seitsonen (Finland), Laxman Sharma (India), Suthakaran Sundaralingam (Sri Lanka), Shibata Takeo (Canada), Leslie Zolman (USA), and Ryan Taylor (Canada, phase two).

By Heather Milton, GISP and David Litke

May 2014

In December 2013, fighting broke out in South Sudan between government and rebel forces. Malakal, a regional capital, was the center of much fighting; over 18,000 people sought refuge in the United Nations peacekeeping camp in that city and many homes and buildings were destroyed.

Relief agencies, coordinated through the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) requested that the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) begin an effort to map affected areas of South Sudan; and HOT coordinated with GISCorps to map the city of Malakal as one of its top priorities (as determined by the International Committee for the Red Cross). Within a month, the map of Malakal was transformed from essentially an empty space to one that showed every street and building in the city (figure 1 and figure 2).

Figure 1. OpenStreetMap of Malakal, South Sudan at the completion of the project.

Organizations like UNITAR, ICRC and MapAction can use this open-source online map to produce a series of thematic maps to evaluate damage done by the conflict and to support humanitarian relief efforts.

Figure 2. Detail of Malakal map, showing individual buildings in the city.

This effort served as a pilot project to assess collaboration between HOT and GISCorps. This collaboration brings together the online software capabilities of HOT and OpenStreetMap, with the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) expertise of GISCorps professionals, and the experience that GISCorps has in managing and coordinating volunteer work during a crisis. Severin Menard was the project lead for HOT, and Heather Milton was the GISCorps project manager.

The project used the iD and JOSM editors developed for OSM, and the Tasking Manager developed by HOT. GISCorps managed the project, and provided online documentation of project methods, and a question-and-answer document where volunteers could find answers to their questions. Skype was used for real-time communication between volunteers.

The project was accomplished in two phases. Seventeen volunteers participated in Phase 1 (January 8 to February 3, 2014), which used Bing imagery from late 2009. Fifteen volunteers participated in Phase 2 (February 7 to March 11), which took advantage of just-released DigitalGlobe Worldview-2 imagery from late 2013 (provided by the US State Department Humanitarian Information Unit) to update the map to conditions in Malakal just at the beginning of the conflict. Figure 3 shows the Tasking Manager website for Phase 2 at the completion of the project. The second phase of the project also allowed for the first test of the imagery offset database plugin for JOSM in a Tasking Manager job.

Figure 3. Tasking Manager website for Phase 2 of the project.

The average number of hours contributed per volunteer was approximately 29.5 hours. Three volunteers contributed 50 hours or more; 11 volunteers contributed between 15 and 50 hours; and 4 volunteers contributed less than 15 hours.  The total number of volunteer hours was 442. Over the course of the project, approximately 55,000 features (primarily buildings and roads) were added to the map. It also was determined that the imagery offset database could be successfully be used as part of a Tasking Manager job.

As a result of this project, HOT and the GISCorps Core Committee concluded that the partnership was effective, and more collaborative projects are planned for the future.

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