UNU Master’s Students Hold a Mapathon for COVID-19 Resilience


  • 2020•06•30     Bonn

    Students of the Master of Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security Programme (GeoRisk; a joint UNU and University of Bonn programme) gathered online in mid-June to hold a mapathon for pandemic resilience in Brazil. Students mapped over 250 buildings, helping local organisations in Salvador, Brazil, to pinpoint areas in favelas that might serve as testing and hygiene-item distribution locations in the fight against COVID-19.

    Containing the virus in Brazil’s favela neighbourhoods is a major concern due to poor living conditions and the fact that many of their inhabitants are essential workers. For those responding on the ground (including local governments and NGOs), up-to-date maps and information are crucial, but access to such resources is often lacking.

    This is where mapathons come in. In these events, maps are created or improved by a group of remote mappers who trace satellite imagery into OpenStreetMap. Local volunteers then verify the map’s content, thereby producing a map that local authorities and NGOs can use in their responses.

    The 19 June mapathon was organizsd by the Uni Bonn Missing Maps Projectan initiative started by GeoRisk student Antonia Matthies in October 2019. This project is a part of a larger Missing Maps project that aims to provide NGOs and local actors with better data and knowledge for crisis response in vulnerable places.

    The mappers chose their task (COVID-19 resilience strengthening in Marechal Rondon, Salvador, Bahia) from a list provided by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, and received instructions, satellite images, and a map showing the area of focus. Each participant selected a specific area to work on, then identified structures and traced their outlines, with the goal of mapping as many structures as possible. The results were sent to a local organisation for official verification.

    For GeoRisk students, the effort provided an opportunity to apply their knowledge of risk, vulnerability and exposure, which are key topics addressed in the master’s curriculum.

    The group has held three online mapathons and mapped over 1,700 buildings in three countries since pandemic stay-at-home orders took effect.

    For more about the mapathon and the GeoRisk master’s programme, see the news story Master’s students hold mapathon for COVID-19 resilience in Brazil on the UNU-EHS website.