Mapathon is the Dutch version of the Missing Maps project, which aims to help aid workers operate as effectively as possible when they arrive in a disaster zone. On Tuesday, 22 January, the Red Cross, in collaboration with students from Rotterdam, wants to make a detailed map of a region along the banks of the Zambezi River in Zambia, an area that runs a high risk of flooding.

No prior experience needed

It sounds complicated, mapping areas using satellite images. Julia Teeuwen, a 21-year-old history student who does marketing activities for the Rotterdam Student Desk, thought so too. “Mapping a particular area seemed like difficult work to me, but what’s great about this project is that you don’t need any prior experience in this field. Red Cross employees will give you a step-by-step explanation of how ‘mapping’ works and they’ll be available the entire evening to assist participants.”

The plan for the evening is to map the ‘Barotse floodplain’. This is a region along the banks of the Zambezi in Zambia that runs a high risk of flooding. Considering the river’s length of 2574 kilometres, dikes aren’t a feasible solution. That’s why the Zambian Red Cross requested that this area be mapped so that floods would not have catastrophic effects. However, in the event there’s an emergency call for assistance due to a disaster occurring somewhere else in the world next week, that disaster zone would naturally be given mapping priority.

Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

Hurricane Irma

Teeuwen explains exactly what the students will do: “You zoom in on satellite images of the specific area and you then look for major roads and junctions and important buildings such as hospitals. You then link all these points together by looking for roads.” Everything is then entered into OpenStreetMap.

The 22-year-old Medicine and Philosophy student Bethel Habtemicael, secretary of the Rotterdam Student Desk, offers an example of what Missing Maps has already achieved. “After St. Martin was hit by hurricane Irma on 6 September 2017, the entire island was in ruins and no longer resembled older satellite images. Using the maps made by Missing Maps, aid workers were able to trace where buildings stood before the disaster and look for missing persons at these sites.”

Habtemicael is hoping that a large number of participants will sign up. “There’s room for 150 students, and the more people who show up, the larger the area that gets mapped.” The mapathon will take place in computer rooms, so participants don’t need to bring their own laptops. They’ll even be serving French fries, promises Habtemicael.

What you need to know:

Date: Tuesday, 22 January

Time: 18:00 to 20:30

Location: Erasmus University Rotterdam, the exact location will be provided after you have signed up

Participation: free of charge

Sign up at this link