Red Cross team in Haiti looking at a map

© Claudia Janke/BRC

Want to improve the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people – without opening your wallet or leaving your home?

Then you need to join the Missing Maps Project. Volunteers across the world are going online to create maps that could help people survive and recover from crisis.

Why are maps important?

Some of the places in the world most at risk from disasters – whether floods, food crisis or conflict – are not fully mapped. This can make it much harder for governments and humanitarian organisations to reach people with vital aid and support in emergencies.

Good mapping also makes it easier for the British Red Cross and others to carry out long-term development work. This work makes communities more resilient, improving lives and ensuring there is less need for help if a disaster does happen.

Finally, with access to better maps communities can do more to grow and prosper themselves – tackling issues such as poverty that leave them vulnerable to crisis.

The project is a collaboration between the British Red Cross, American Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontiers and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). But any group or individual can get involved – the more people step up, the more vital maps will be created.

So how does it work?

By tracing roads, buildings and other features from satellite photographs, volunteers across the world can build the first stage of each map.

The next step is done by people in the area being mapped, who will add local names to each feature.

A final stage – transferring these handwritten local notes to the digital map – can also be done by volunteers anywhere.

The results will be added to Open Street Map – a massive digital map of the world, updated thousands of times a day. It’s free to use and can be edited by anyone, like a Wikipedia for maps.

But although it is updated thousands of times a month, there are crucial blank spots around some of world’s most vulnerable places. Which is why the Missing Maps Project is so important.

Mapping team

Who can join in?

Anyone with an internet connection. You’ll just need to spend an hour or two learning how the process works, then you’re ready to go – and there’s always support available from the Missing Maps team. You can give a few hours or much, much more.

You can also catch up with other volunteers at special mapathons running throughout the project. These special events see people coming together in the same place for a few hours to map a particular area. Mapathons are fun, relaxed and a great chance to meet other like-minded volunteers.

Tempted to sign up for some easy, convenient and incredibly important volunteering? Visit the project sign-up page to find out more.

Follow The Missing Maps Project on Twitter and Facebook.