Online Mapping Shows Potential to Transform Relief Efforts

In Japan after the earthquake and tsunami, crowd-sourced maps have helped give local relief workers a clearer picture of the situation on the ground as they set priorities for food, shelter and sanitation services. The Web maps are also being used to track the fighting in Libya and the needs of refugees fleeing that conflict. But a new report says that the potential of online mapping to transform humanitarian services will not be realized without better coordination and communication between digital volunteers and veteran agencies in the relief field, like the United Nations and the Red Cross.

The report, “Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies,” is a collaboration of four groups — the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Vodafone Foundation and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. It will be presented Monday at an international aid and development meeting in Dubai. Humanitarian groups say that the crisis-mapping response to the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010 was striking proof of the potential of new mapping tools, and the report is largely about lessons learned there.