Crisis mapping with open source tools: The case of the 2017 monsoon floods in Nepal

Remember the citizen-driven disaster response in Nepal, after the 2015 earthquake? We need that all over again right now because there are larger-than-usual floods. Not much we can do as Edgeryders (as we’re mostly around Europe), but maybe this:

Sumana and her group of citizen crisis responders in Nepal have asked for the following maps:

  1. maps to figure out which areas are hardest hit (ideally recent satellite images)
  2. population density maps of the affected areas, for prioritization of relief
  3. incident map that shows which roads are blocked due to landslides

Here are several proposals for our fellow responders in Nepal for suitable solutions:

1. Self-made and ready-to-go crisis mapping

OSM uMap is, to my knowledge, the best freely available crisis-mapping software to date. It can be installed on an own server, or used online for free. I (@matthias) already created a OSM uMap crisis-map for the 2017 Nepal floods here:

Floodmap (2017 Nepal floods) - uMap

Everyone with that link can access and edit that map right away in order to add crisis-relevant information: waterlogged areas, roadblocks, population density as custom map layers and so on. Sumana may request @matthias to transfer ownership of the map to her or somebody of her group with an OpenStreetMap account (create one here), to get admin access.

The map is however only a standard uMap map, with a few customizations. So you can as well create your own, as documented in topic “Creating a “Points of Interest” map with open source tools”, chapter “3.1. Creating the POI map”.

2. Post-disaster satellite imagery: create if needed

Of course if there is free satellite imagery of the affected area, you’d use that (perhaps ask UNDP Nepal if they are aware of recent imagery). If there is none yet, there are options to task a satellite with capturing it.

According to this price comparison list of all the satellites available for that, the minimum price tag for such a job is 1600 USD for a 100 km² area (the minimum size), at 50 cm/px resolution, using the GeoEye-1 satellite. This price assumes you can order it through a university or other academic institution, which gives a 30% discount.

(This is based on web research only, I have no experience buying satellite imagery yet.)

3. Asking for a SBTF side deployment

The Stand By Task Force is a well-known and potentially the best Internet group of volunteers who do crisis mapping very professionally, and have done it before. A local group will probably not meet their activation criteria, but you can still get help from them by asking for a side deployment. This means they forward the request to their volunteers, who will decide on their own if they want to join the effort.

4. Other experiences and best practices from the 2015 earthquake response

Please refer to the “How-To for Community-Driven Disaster Management”, which I wrote with the experience of the 2015 Nepal earthquake response in mind.

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