Map Makers respond to the Pakistan landslides

Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 10:05 AM


In January 2010, a series of landslides hit Atta Abad, in the Gilgit-Baltistan semi-autonomous region of Pakistan, causing loss of lives and blocking the Hunza River. Since then, the region and its 500,000 people are under continual threat from the rising height of the lake formed due to the landslide. Lake waters have already displaced about 20,000 residents; some villages are completely submerged while downstream communities are at risk from flood waves.

This event took the work of Omer Sheikh and Jabran Rafique -- dedicated individuals, exceptional Google Map Maker users & advocates -- to another level.

Omer currently lives in Lahore while Jabran resides in London. They live thousands of kilometers apart but have a shared commitment to map their country and assist their people as they cope with this disaster situation.

“From the onset of the disaster, the international community seemed to be hardly aware of the situation. Worst...I was unable to locate on a map where Atta Abad was! As a mapper, my first appeal went out to the Google Map Maker team, and Google Maps Pakistan,” recalled Omer.

Together, Jabran and Omer created a website, http://www.local.com.pk/hunza/, that uses the Map Maker API -- for raising awareness about the importance of this emergency and making disaster data more accessible and useful. The publishing of post-disaster imagery, made available by Google, is also allowing Map Maker users to provide unique mapping contributions (i.e. shelters, health centers, flood prone areas, etc), all to be brought online in near-realtime. The website is now recognized as a primary source of information for the Hunza disaster, and as such is being listed on the UN-Spider knowledge portal.

Jabran describes their mapping process: “The gap in information available to the public was obvious. After getting the latest imagery, we started mapping the area. We used Map Maker as our baseline data and started adding other feature of interested such as locations of towns, the extent of the lake, submerged bridges & highway sections.”


When asked about his motivations for becoming so involved in this effort, Omer explains: “We hope that our effort to make reliable information more widely available will help disaster relief managers and decision makers save lives and prevent more damage to the fragile economy of this remote region. In contributing to Map Maker, my desire is to establish a basic framework around which we can document, understand and bring transparency to the events taking place around me. We, as a mapping community, need to better demonstrate the benefits of online collaboration and the utility of tools such as Map Maker for rapid dissemination of information.”

This is the journey of two mappers who have used the Map Maker community as a basis to connect the ideas & skills of dedicated individuals -- for the better good of their own community. To contribute to the Hunza Landslide Relief Support please visit this website.