Not If, But When

Hello Friends, Colleagues and Family Members,


It is day 18 in the Philippines and a whirlwind of activity has commenced since the six AidData Fellows landed in Manila. Now that we have oriented ourselves, this is my first post to keep you updated on our efforts . Throughout the next few weeks I will be incorporating maps, blogs and videos to illustrate our work.

But now to start with a bit of written context:

The Philippines

The Philippines is currently ranked 3rd in the world for highest risk of natural disaster. Here, its not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when a disaster will happen. When it does, the people need to know where to go. And these disasters could happen at any time. For example, Metro Manila sits on top of the West Valley fault line, which is due for 7.3 earthquake – the same magnitude as that in Nepal – sometime in the next 50 years. But this time, this earthquake is happening in a city with a population of almost 11 million people in its greater metropolitan area.

The AidData Summer Fellows are working with Map the Philippines, an initiative to digitize communities and their infrastructure throughout the country. This is all spearheaded by the wonderful Celina Agaton: a connector, entrepreneur, and mover-and-shaker here in Manila. She is bringing government organizations, politicians, NGOs, students, GIS experts, and community members together into this enterprise.

Why? Because we cannot map alone.

3 of the AidData Summer Fellows in Makati, 1 of 16 cities in Manila

Open Street Map, an online platform that promotes open data and mapping collaboration among community members around the globe, serves as a Launchpad for this initiative. It’s the perfect tool because it’s free, easy to use and anyone (no matter where in the world) can edit. Mapping can be used as a humanitarian tool, for community empowerment, for business ventures, and can transfer into marketable skills for students. Once a solid base layer exists in OSM, the possibilities for analysis through GIS and other programs are virtually endless.


(If you are interested in learning to use OSM, see link here. Please contact me to learn more about OSM Volunteering)

This week, June 15th-June 19th, we are working alongside 30 Far Eastern University students in a 5-day OSM training. The goal of this week is to introduce students to the open source mapping and promote mapping innovation in the tech field.

Known for its strong computer engineering and technical programs, FEU represents the first university in the Philippines to hold such trainings. Lead by two of the top mappers in the Philippines:  Julius Bañgate and Erwin Olario students learn to edit online, using JOSM (a desktop plug in) and map in the field.

the training

My favorite day of training consisted of traveling around the University district, using field maps to record the area (some of the students who went out above). Five groups were deployed into the field, each group averaging about 30 new locations (restaurants, kiosks, and stores) in an hour and a half. This data was then uploaded or scanned into JOSM. This was then edited and directly added to OSM. The students are inspiring in intelligence, enthusiasm and creativity. One student has decoded the html of OSM and ran it through his mobile phone!


But why does this data matter?

An up to date digital map serves multiple purposes. In light of a disaster, it’s a living portal to tell aid crews where to go. For community members, it allows for consistently updated information. For instance, if a road is shut down for construction in a busy area it can be edited and updated by a user. Additionally, OSM allows for layer additions, such as a flood hazards map for Manila. This type of map can only be found on this website here.

As we enter Typhoon season in the Philippines the importance of this work becomes increasingly evident. But greater still is the need for collaboration and cooperation amongst actors,

because we cannot map alone.