Save the map that saves lives

On April 25th, 2015, Nepal was hit by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, killing over 8,000 people and injuring more than 21,000. The earthquake shook infrastructures, leaving many homeless, and damaging few of the most popular world heritage sites in Nepal. In the following days, aftershocks, rain and bad weather made rescue operations and relief work difficult.

I’m part of a community of mappers and cartographic emergency responders called the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). HOT along with OpenStreetMap, a global community of over 2.1 million members, activates to help humanitarian agencies in times of crisis to provide up-to date geospatial information about settlements and infrastructures. HOT invites volunteer mappers to map buildings, settlements, roads, schools, hospitals, water sources, helipads, open areas and anything that can have a practical application in aiding disaster response.

Mapping Internally Displaced People Camps

The Nepal earthquake had a few of us not sleep for weeks. We mapped and worked with the single local agency in Kathmandu – the Kathmandu Living Labs – to understand the needs of aid responders on the ground, identify priority mapping areas, procure digital aerial and satellite imagery, design print maps, and communicate the needs to the global community over Skype and Internet Relay Chat. During the earthquake, there were over 30 mapping projects involved in mapping different parts of Nepal.

High contrast print map of Dudhpati village. Highlights humanitarian features – OpenStreetMap

USGS earthquake shake map on top of physical features to identify intensity – Mapbox

Within the 48 hours following the quake, over 2,000 mappers quadrupled road mileage and added 30% more buildings and infrastructure data. This is in addition to the data created by the local community well before the quake. These maps and data were used by agencies like the American Red Cross, Canadian Armed Force and the Nepalese National Army to support the effort of saving lives. Maps save lives.

Captain James Borer, Canadian Armed Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team and Captain Animesh Adhikari, liaison officer for Nepalese National Army, discuss with local authorities about roads status, in Sindhupalchok District, Nepal. Photo by Corporal Kevin McMillan.

These maps and numbers are powerful – more powerful than the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill from the Government of India. The bill proposes to control acquisition, dissemination, publication and distribution of geospatial data both within India and by Indian citizens outside the country. The Bill will make years of work of millions of geographers, cartographers, and technologists around the world, including mine, futile and potentially illegal or criminal.

Flooded Streets helped anyone find streets that are safe or otherwise in Chennai

In January 2016, when Chennai was hit by a massive flood that displaced over 1.8 million people, citizen collectives and organisations came together to the rescue. With fellow cartographers and volunteers, we created a map to identify flooded streets to facilitate transporting food, water and consumables into the city from elsewhere. Earlier, in October 2015, when parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan were hit by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake, volunteers got together to create maps, but unclear mapping laws made it complicated.

Soon after, I wrote about what change I would like to see in the HOT community – being able to work closely with traditional agencies.

The proposed Geospatial Information Regulation Bill has the effect to shutdown Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team in India and silence volunteer mappers, cartographers, and data analysts who support humanitarian response, basically stopping them from saving lives. The Bill prevents any individual or organisation from using satellite or aerial imagery; it also blocks the use of assisted equipments to collect geospatial information and the possession of such data. This means that, from now on, no one will  ever be able to make a map of India, or parts of this country, for anything – humanitarian or business – without the approval of the authorities.

The potential consequences of the Bill are dramatic. Preventing people from making maps affects how they live in our country, it breaks down disaster response, and troubles our economy.

We need your help to save the map.

I went to the Survey of India.

I went up to Dehradun last week to do a workshop on OpenStreetMap and Mapbox at the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing.

IIRS is run by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). They are also neighbors to the Survey of India – the national mapping agency. SoI governs all mapping activities in the country, maintains the National Map Policy and enforces publishing the correct international borders.

Recently, Google Maps got into trouble for large scale mapping activities without the permission from SoI.

SoI campus in Dehradun is massive and houses the only printing shop in India at the moment. They also sell some of the treasures and I was aiming for this.

The first day, they closed the store as I walked in at 4.45PM  and refused to let me do anything except for looking at the catalog; worth the walk. They sold maps worth 850 INR that day.


The most recent map catalog. 1993

I went back the next day, right after the workshop to see more of the map room and talk to the folks there.

Gentlemen there told me that they don’t print much maps anymore. Congress government cut down funds. But SoI is not concerned, he said – ‘we are over 200 years old, most of the maps are complete now, you know.’

He pointed me to this map and said the state geospatial centers have lost their power and don’t do any printing at all. ‘People aren’t buying these maps.’ – well, duh, of course.


Everything except the toposheets are stored here

I talked about how they update the maps and they didn’t have much idea, not surprising. But I found out that SoI stores all vector data in DWG. You can buy the road network in DWG for ~ INR 6000.


I bought as many as I could.


1979 Bangalore

SoI is still the primary organisation that the planning commission resorts to gather data for urban planning and infrastructure – much of this is outsourced to small agencies across the country.

Geohackers in the news!

Finally, we have some attention from the media! Featured on the third page of the New Indian Express.
Geohackers shows the way in Open Mapping
About two years ago, in an open map party held in Hyderabad, some geeks sowed the idea of forming an open technology mapping consultancy team. Now, the idea has grown into a full-fledged, non-profit, open technology mapping consultancy team called Geohackers.

The team, which consists of seven active members and several contributors, gives consultancy services on open mapping for different organisations and projects, free of cost. The team is also contributing to the Open Street Map, a project to make free and open maps.

“With the belief in the ideology that information has to be free, we undertake consultancy works and training for students on cartography,” said Sajjad Anwar, a coordinator of the open map team and a student of the MES College of Engineering, Kozhikode. The contributors include several technology freelancers and techies, working in different parts of the world, he said.

Explaining that the Geohackers might be the first consultancy service on open mapping in the country, he said, “We thought about starting an open mapping consultancy team to impart the ideology of open mapping to the people, as the need of such a consultancy is high in the country.”

The team is involved in several open mapping projects such as Assistance for Maps for Making a Social Change project and Heritage Walks.in project.

“The first project was sponsored by two NGOs- Centre for Internet and Society and Tactical Tech and we have conducted several workshops and training classes for the social workers on how to use open maps. The training and workshops were held in New Delhi and Ahmedabad,” he explained.

“Heritage Walks.in is a unique project to help tourists. People can download maps from the website www.heritagewalks.in for free,” he said.

At present, the mapping of heritage sites in Ahmedabad, Kozhikode, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram has been completed.

“The project is aimed to cover the whole India. More heritage sites will be added to the website shortly,” he said.

For mapping purpose, we use GPS devices and free satellite images. The open mapping foundation has contributed two such devices for the purpose, he said.

Arky’s blog about the news is here

Accessible Navigation Project at Center for Social Innovation

Very lately blogged. Too many things actually happened. Good and bad. Pycon 2010 was awesome. Met a lot of people and ran through the to-do list ticking all the items for Pycon. Felt really great.

Since a month we are associated with the Braille Without Borders, Center for Social Innovations, Trivandrum to develop an accessible navigation system for Android. Met Rahul Gonsalves (twitter.com/gonsalves_r),  Administrative Director of CSI and we are in!

The HTC Desire phone which can be hacked will arrive in November. Currently experimenting the Android SDK using the emulator.

More details, coming soon. Project is named Beacon, as Arky suggests.

Rendering Maps: A quick how-to

After a bit of mapping at the Technopark, we planned to render the map offline. This being a step towards the Fort Cochin Heritage Walk Mapping. So, I banged into the #osm channel on irc.oftc.net with the question, the first answer was Mapnik. But Mapnik, essentially, requires you to generate the Postgresql database instance out of the .osm file using osm2pqgsql or osmosis.
But, the quick method is to use Osmarender. The following steps would let you render a good .osm file into a map.

  1. Dowload the xml or .osm data subset of your area of interest.
  2. If you do not have installed subversion system, type sudo apt-get install subversion
  3. Now, you need to get the latest source files of Osmarender, for that type  svn checkout http://svn.openstreetmap.org/applications/rendering/osmarender/
  4. cd to the directory. Probably cd /home/<user_name>/osmarender/
  5. Type  apt-get install xmlstarlet
  6. Now, call the magic!
  7. Type xmlstarlet tr ~/osmarender/xslt/osmarender.xsl  -s osmfile=<file_name>.osm  ~/osmarender/stylesheets/osm-map-features-z17.xml  > <destination_file_name.svg>
  8. You’re done!

Now you should get an svg of the map. I got something like this by tweeking the stylesheets a bit

Map
Map

You can further make additions to the stylesheet files and adjust the parameters to suit your needs. More information is available at the Osmarender wiki.

SciPy.in India 2009

The first version of SciPy.in India Conference is being held at Technopark, Trivandrum. Thank God, despite of the minor accident, I was able to make to it. Not only me, we have a team of 14 guys!

The Team!
The Team!

The conference began with the inauguration by Travis. He is a wonderful guy.
Travis Inaugurating the conference.
Travis Inaugurating the conference.

And we had a lot of good sessions in two days!
A Session by Travis on Traits and Chaco! Really enjoyed!
A Session by Travis on Traits and Chaco! Really enjoyed!

A bit of mapping inside the Technopark Campus.
Mapping!
Mapping!

And now, getting ready for the tutorials!