Responding to a humanitarian crisis is a race against the clock. Following a major natural disaster—last year's typhoon in the Philippines for example, or the 2010 earthquake in Haiti—displaced populations are often in immediate need of food, shelter, and medical assistance. Quickly transporting items and people between two points of a city is essential.
For years, however, the ability of NGOs to swiftly save lives has been slowed by a dearth in accurate mapping. Urban landscapes in many parts of the developing world are undergoing remarkable change, notably due to informal housing structures and accelerating migration. Yet mapping these burgeoning cities has been slow. In turn, humanitarians navigating these crisis zones, perhaps delivering a crucial box of IVs to a local hospital ward, have been without reliable layouts of the land. But a global mapping project is hoping to correct this.