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How OpenStreetMap Helps to Curb Haiti's Cholera Epidemic

In order to respond to the current cholera epidemic in Haiti, it's essential that citizens, aid groups and others are aware of the locations of functioning health and sanitation facilities. The challenge is that maps showing this information don't currently exist -- at least not in a comprehensive and up-to-date way.

Guensmork Alcin is attempting to change this. He is working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to expand OpenStreetMap, a free and open source map of the world that has one of the most detailed GIS data sets in existence on Haiti. Guensmork, known as Guens, is training local IOM staff and folks from the International Committee for the Red Cross and the World Food Programme responding to the epidemic on how to use hand-held GPS devices to collect data to add to maps on OpenStreetMap. He is one of 30 Haitians recently hired by IOM to work full-time contributing to OpenStreetMap to improve map details and grow the community around it.

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

I first met Guens last March when I traveled to Haiti with the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). In the days immediately following the January earthquake, hundreds of volunteers from all over the world used recently liberated satellite imagery to trace roads, building footprints, and other map features of Haiti into the OpenStreetMap database. The data they produced quickly became critical to the response and was used on the GPS devices of first responders and as a resource in planning the response by the UN cluster system. As part of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, I was in Port au Prince to help UN and NGO staff understand how to use and participate in OpenStreetMap. We also wanted to find ways to engage with civil society members and NGOs with a long-term stake in Haiti -- and not just with the humanitarian workers that would cycle out after the initial stages of the response.

Guensmork Photo: Guensmork Alcin leading an OpenStreetMap training, courtesy of Todd Huffman

Guens became involved as a representative of the Cite Soleil Community Forum. He had seen aid workers survey Cite Soleil and believed that, with a little help in the form of a loaned GPS or two, the people of Haiti's most famous slum could collect this information -- vital to planning the distribution of aid -- themselves. Inspired by Mikel Maron's work mapping Kibera, Nairobi, we partnered with Community Forum to throw a a mapping party in Cite Soleil to bring folks together to learn about OpenStreetMap and find out how they could get involved and contribute to it by mapping their neighborhoods.

Importance of Accurate Information

Eight months later I returned to Haiti on the fifth trip undertaken by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Since that first mapping party, we've worked with Guens and other Cite Soleil residents to map first their community and then other parts of the country. The team they've built is collecting data critical to the cholera response, building the local OpenStreetMap community, and ensuring that the best maps of the country are created by Haitians and are free to use by anyone who needs them.

As the cholera epidemic worsens, the work that Guens and his team are doing is only more important. Accurate information about the location and quality of water and sanitation infrastructure and health facilities is critical to efforts to combat the disease. With the continued support of IOM, this data will be public, regularly updated, and available for use by all aspects of the response.

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