GeONG Conference - West Africa Ebola Outbreak - Six months of sustained efforts by the OpenStreetMap community

Ebola Outbreak - Cumulative OSM objects created
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Sep, 27 2014
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This two days CartONG 4th Forum of Geographic Information for Relief and Development GeOnG event in Chambéry (France), September 22-23, was the opportunity for many Hotties to meet with participants from 76 humanitarian organizations and professionnals. This year thematic was "Turning data into actionable knowledge". Streaming of some presentations should be available after the conference.

The humanitarian and development community exchanged with geographic information professionals once again to share new advances in mapping and information management technologies. There was a significant presence of OSM contributors and Hotties to this conference that participated to roundtables, workshops and Speed Geek session.

The aim of GeOnG is to reflect over current practices and upcoming challenges in the field of geographic information for humanitarian purposes. Given the large number of data collection tools and means to access and store data, GeOnG 2014 made the focus to learn more about data analysis tools, to discuss successful experiences and issues.

CartONG staff involved in the Ebola Outbreak Response and Pierre Béland
besides the Gueckedou map. This map was the start of this West Africa Ebola activation

 Various roundatables were offered. The Epidemiology cartography roundtable animated by Pierre Micheletti, was the opportunity to MSF and ACF to show how they integrate Cartography in their processes, and the challenges and successes of these actions.

 The Citizens volunteers and crowdsourcing roundtable animated by Andrew Braye from Red Cross UK was the opportunity for MSF, Red Cross and HOT representatives to exchange on various aspects of Crowdsourcing.

Yvan Gayton (MSF-UK) and Jorieke (HOT) presented their Lubumbashi mission early in 2014. Pete Masters from MSF-UK presented the Missing Maps project. I myself made a presentation about the OpenStreetMap response to the West Africa Ebola outbreak. A summary will be presented below. I insisted about the importance of a structured approach, to not simply organize mapping parties, but to complete the map with essential informations. We need Programs in various Development countries to acquire and publish geolocated data with appropriate OpenData licence. The Administrative limits, Locality place names and vital infrastructures are key elements to let Maps play a significant role for a quick response to disasters and epidemies.

 Specific topics and practical issues, hands-on workshops are also a key feature of GeOnG.

 Leo Martine from CartONG and from Guillaume Allègre from OSM-fr animated a workshop on collecting Data with OpenStreetMap (Smartphone OSM tracker, Field Paper).

 Various presentations of Tablet supported Form Data Collection Applications based on ODK (Kobo ToolBox and Wepi) showed the potential to integrate OpenStreetMap Offline map and geolocation functions to better develop the OSM ecosystem with humanitarians. These tools are widely used by the humanitarian community to collect data in the field.

 Frederic Moine and Aurelien Jacoutot as volunteers of CartONG, presented a workshop on UAV imagery and risk management. We had the opportunity to see the work done particulary in Haiti, and the various softwares to handle the drone navigation and the post-processing.

 I animated a workshop on Using and Exporting OpenStreetMap data. Thanks to Nicolas Chavent who animated with me and to Jean-Guilhem Cailton, Augustin Doury, Pierre Giraud and Fred Moine who  exchanged on various aspects of OSM and exports.

At the GeoGeek session, Nicolas Chavent presented the Espace Francophone project through which local OSM groups from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Togo, Bénin, Niger, Tchad are active in OSM with various forms of support provided by mappers from North in actions supported by theOrganisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).


OpenStreetMap Response to Humanitarian Crisis West Africa Ebola Outbreak, 2014 Case


Click to view the presentation from Slideshare

 A tremendous effort was made by the OpenStreetMap community for the last six months in the West African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak. Plus a lot of volunteer efforts by Andrew Buck and myself for the coordination, Jean-Guilhem and Mikel on the Imagery, and others that participated to the Support team for Mapping Validation, Wiki documentation with specific examples related to such activations, etc Various partners are supporting us providing Imagery, organizing Mapping partys, bringing in more people to participate. We haved received a lot of attention from the medias and the humanitarian organizations. I am also pleased to see the credibility that OSM gains as an international organization of volunteers supporting the UN Agencies and the humanitarian organizations in these Relief actions and the support we receive from various partners. The professionnalism of the OSM commumity and the capacity to respond quickly and offer the various Maps and services is really appreciated.

OpenStreetMap is the biggest OpenData community in the world. This is exemplified by the Ebola Outbreak activation where  Prof. Pascal Neis from the Heidelberg University estimates that the Remote Crowsource effort over Internet in the last six months comes from more then 100 countries.  We see a revolution in the way the citizen collaborate with UN Agencies and humanitarian organizations, supporting them through internet. Since Haiti in 2010, such major activations offer the opportunity to this OSM community to address humanitarian crisis by providing detailed and accurate maps. Through the ecosystem with developpers, we see a robust infrastructure, and map and services that respond to the humanitarian community and the economic actors that try to reactivate the economies quite affected by this epidemy.

At the GeONG, I had the opportunity to exchange with the various organizations and see the perception they have of the OSM community and the efforts we make in the context of the Activations to support their field actions. They are quite impressed by what is done by the OSM community for the Ebola Outbreak and quite interested by the various exports available.


But these efforts are incomplete if we cannot add essential informations to the map such as the Administrative limits, road names and geolocated features such as Place names and vital infrastructures. To be more efficient, we need more participans to this ecosystem around OSM, particularly in the humanitarian sector. In Development countries, often such data are not available when a new disaster arize. Then how to progress with this?

OpenData - Ecosystem to develop

We can say that the OSM community is very efficient to prepare a «Black and White » map. But we need the local people and the humanitarians in the field to « Color » this map with thematics.

Ebola Outbreak Workflow

 We started this Activation March 23 at the request of MSF Switzerland. CartONG assured the GIS support to MSF in implementing this new GIS approach in Epidemy management. They bought Imagery for Geckedou (250,000 people), Macenta and Kissidougou. They later said that they were quite impressed by the capacity of the OSM community to react quickly and map these three towns in one day, adding the buildings and roads.

 CartONG sent a GIS officer in the field in march and three others with the resurgence of the epidemy in june. This helped us to adjust to the priorities, receive feedbacks from the field and update settlements data, revising place names. The Red Cross also joined in participating to the Coordination of this Activation. We also joined with the International Coalition to support West Africa in august and coordinated with OCHA, WHO and others.

 Except the first three images, all the imageries acquired for this Activation were provided free. We generally use the Bing Imagery. But since there were areas for which we needed new high-res Imagery, the HIU unit of the US State Department, Airbus Space & Defense and Mapbox. They also supported us in to process the imagery and host it on servers.

 Task Manager Jobs : Tracing corresponds to a surface of

200km x 200km


Below are the various steps of the workflow for this Ebola Activation.

  • Identify Areas to map, services to provide, priorities : Coordination with CartONG / MSF, Red Cross, UN-OCHA, WHO

  • Interface with Field GIS officers through CartONG

  • Imagery acquisition, processing, host imagery on servers (OSM-Fr, HIU and Mapbox servers)

  • Digitize from Imagery the roads, villages outbounds, buildings

  • Data Imports for Administrative limits, Locality names (OpenData needed)

  • Infrastructures data collection : An ecosystem to develop with humanitarians plus data preparedness programs. ODK the solution?

  • Support the Crowdsource mapping effort – Coordination via the Task Manager, Learning material, Mapathon, Communications

  • Daily update for GIS analysis, Mobile devices maps and road navigation. Are also available : Online Map and Road navigation, Paper maps, FieldPapers


The contribution of the OpenStreetMap community to the Ebola Oubreak is unprecedented with more 8 millions objects, Sept. the 22. More then 90,000 km of roads, 650,000 buildings and 20,000 Place names have been added in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone,



OpenStreetMap crowdsource effort - Analysis of the contributors profile

 OSM Experience of contributors from creation date of their account

New contributors – Account opened after Mar.25 2014

  • 0-5 months
  • 6-12 months
  • 13-23 months
  • 24 months and plus

 The various Diagrams presented in the Slideshare show the increasing participation of new contributors has the Activation goes on

  • 39% of contributors
  • 18.5% of total contributions

Over the last month, increasing participation with nearly 50% of contributions in the last few weeks

  • Motivating for the new contributors to start participating to OSM
  • Contributors from 102 countries (Estimation by Prof. Pascal Neis, Heidelberg University)


The majority of contributors participate for two days or less, this both for new contributors and more experimented. The more experimented participate to various activities such as Mapathon and train new contributors. They also assure a follow-up of the mapping in various ways, either through the Task Manager validateion function owr various  tools such as Osmose.  The HOT community looks at various ways to accompany the new contributors and retain them.

 In blue at the bottom of the map, we see the progression of the New contributors particularly over the last month. A good challenge for the community to integrate, support these new contributors while assuring quality. Our Support teams validate, provides Material, and exchange with these contributors to support them.



As I was moving to Chambery, I was very pleased to be informed about the Hewlett foundation Grant to support this Ebola Response. This Grant will help us to even better respond to this crisis and others in the future. We should be able to build a more efficient Ecosystem with the humanitarian organizations in the field. And as I am writing this Blog update, I prepare to move to the Open Data Regional Conference Latin America and the Caribbean (Condatos) in Mexico City.