Crisis Maps: Harnessing The Power Of Big Data To Deliver Humanitarian Assistance

Patrick Meier | Forbes | May 2, 2013

Editor’s Note: Patrick Meier is an internationally recognised thought leader on the application of new technologies for crisis early warning, humanitarian response, human rights and civil resistance. He is currently Director of Social Innovation at the Qatar Computing Research Institute.

Crisis-mapping technology has emerged in the past five years as a tool to help humanitarian organizations deliver assistance to victims of civil conflicts and natural disasters. Crisis-mapping platforms display eyewitness reports submitted via e-mail, text message, and social media. The reports are then plotted on interactive maps, creating a geospatial record of events in real time.

The first generation of these humanitarian technologies was powered by free, open-source software produced by organizations such as InSTEDD, Sahana, and Ushahidi. For example, Ushahidi (the name means “witness” or “testimony” in Swahili) developed an interactive-mapping platform linked to a live multimedia inbox and used it to document violence that erupted in Kenya after the disputed presidential elections of 2008. Eyewitnesses sent reports of ethnic attacks and other violent incidents to the Ushahidi Web site via e-mail and text message. Ushahidi then plotted the location of each incident on a Google map, creating a public record of events.