Quake Survivors Utilizing Open-Source Technology in Nepal




International coverage of responses to crises tends to focus on the major international aid organisations and the United Nations, but actually local responders are often more important. – Irin News[1]



UNOCHA - who does what where and whenIn the three weeks since Nepal’s Kathmandu valley region was rocked by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake,   have been tasked with search and rescue, and the provision food, health and shelter for thousands of people. The quake affected 3 districts, 5 municipalities, over 130 wards. Many of these communities are situated in remote and inaccessible regions have been the last to receive aid.

In a local effort to bring relief to these communities more quickly, a local organization, backed by a US organization is utilizing open map technology to make visible remote communities, open spaces for logistical operations to set up, and to highlight any and all areas that might hinder or help the relief effort.

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) is a US organization that partnered with Kathmandu Living Lab (KLL) to create a detailed digital atlas of the earthquake zone that can be populated by anyone with an hour to spare to learn how to use it.

The map is made of aerial images from satellites and volunteers can populate the map with any details that might help the relief effort. Open spaces for supply helicopters to land, streets between towns and villages, routes into the highlands or other smaller, lesser known communities can all be marked on the map so that relief experts can best execute their relief plans.


Real-Time Data


300px-HOT_Tasking_Server_JobCoordinating the logistics of a response can be one of the biggest challenges given that conventional entry points like airstrips and ports are often destroyed. According to Kathmandu Living Lab, governments in the Kathmandu Valley struggle with providing access to electricity, water and sanitation and are “severely limited in their ability to manage processes around transportation and urban planning.”[2]

When disasters strike countries with poor infrastructure and weak governments, , a real-time data-gathering exercise can be a more reliable, efficient and effective way to distribute aid  than relying on out of population or geographical data.

It also provides an opportunity for disaster victims to become part of the recovery from the get go. According to HOT, the technology is “simple enough for anyone to learn to use in under an hour” and thousands of people can provide data about building locations, the conditions of the roads and the population density of particular areas.

Every click on the map turns into a data point, allowing people to contribute intimate details of the area such as the material a building is made of. This  can drastically impact skilled responders’ missions, from the type of equipment they use to remove debris to the way they choose to undergo search and rescue missions.


Prepare and Respond


Prithivi 13 yo volunteer

Prithivi – 13 y/o volunteer at Kathmandu Living Labs

According to Blake Girardot, the activation coordinator of HOT, within 72 hours, 3679 mappers made 62,587 edits, including adding over 100,000 buildings.[3] Organizations like the Red Cross and UNOCHA were coming to them for information about how to conduct their responses. KML has registered their maps on quakerelief.com, quakemap.org and OSM today.

Data is pouring in from small local organizations, individuals and civil society community groups, which are offering information regarding their location, what kind of relief they are providing and what they need, in an effort to build a more coordinated relief effort. The organization has built a database of over 120 local organizations, whose information has been distributed to larger foreign agencies.

It is hoped that this technology can be utilized not only during the immediacy of a response, but also as a mechanism to provide better preparation for future disasters. By pinpointing geographical and urban areas that are exceptionally vulnerable to natural disasters, political or ethnic conflict, or are lacking health or sanitation services, organizers, authorities, and other interested parties may be better able to serve those living in such areas by preparing before a crisis occurs.

According to UNOCHA, the earthquakes have claimed the lived of over 8,000 people, and have destroyed over 300 000 homes. The flash appeal has been upped to $423M USD, and is expected to rise following the May 12 7.3 magnitude aftershock. 8.1m people are still in dire need of assistance.


International Effort



The  Disaster Relief International has led the response, providing $14M, while China, the US ODFDA, the Japanese Red Cross Society and the Republic of Korea have contributed $20M combined. Food security, shelter and NFIs, WASH and Logistics clusters are under duress, as 86% of the flash appeal funding needs are currently unmet.[4]

You can keep up to date on the crisis and its global response as it unfolds here. Kathmandu Living Labs is also posting regular situation reports. Check out HOT’s Maps here and try your hand at mapping here.

We encourage you to join the relief effort and donate to an organization of your choice.

Visit humanitariancoalition.ca to donate to a coordinated effort, or click here for a short overview of ways Canadians can contribute to the response. Alternatively, you can contact your local branch of the Nepalese Canadian Community Services if you would like to make a donation to a local organization.


Click here for a short Video demonstration of OpenStreetMap editing for the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) response to the earthquake in Nepal.



[1] http://newirin.irinnews.org/nepal-earthquake/

[2] http://kathmandulivinglabs.org/blog/nepal-earthquake-report-from-kll-situation-room-day-11-may-6/

[3] http://hotosm.org/projects/nepal_2015_earthquake_response

[4] http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/EQ-2015-000048-NPL_logIK_150513.pdf


Sarah Anstett

Sarah Anstett

Sarah is a writer, researcher, and development practitioner currently based in Toronto, Canada.

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