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Humanitarian Mapping

An introduction to humanitarian mapping from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team

Choose a project

Once you have made an account, you will be presented with a variety of projects on the Explore Projects page.

Project cards

Maps are presented as cards. Priorities ("urgent," "high," etc.) are noted in the top right corner. The agency involved in the mapping projects is noted in the top left. Clicking on a card will provide additional information and actions.

Examples of humanitarian mapping project cards

An example of Project Cards. Click on image to enlarge.

Filters and Search

Users can filter by difficulty level, projects to map or validate, specific campaign, interest, and geographic region. Users can also search projects for keywords and location information. Choose the "Show map" toggle to see projects on a world map.

Humanitarian open street map navigation

An example of the menu choices in HOT Tasking Manger. Click on image to enlarge.

Choosing a project

Once you have found the project to which you want to contribute, click on the card to select it.

Choose a map quandrant

Once you have selected a project, a new page opens with a project description and a zoomed-out map. You will need to select a particular area in order to begin your mapping. Maps are divided into squares to aid in selection and distribution of work.

  1. Click ZOOM TO TASKS to find a quadrant that needs mapping. You will see many squares. Examples of humanitarian mapping project map
  2. If there are areas available to map, click CONTRIBUTE at the bottom of the page.
  3. You will then be able to select squares to map.
    Humanitarian open street maps available for map
  4. Select your task and choose "Map selected task" at the bottom of the page.
Legend for mapping
Color Description
White Available for mapping
Blue Ready for validation
Yellow More mapping needed
Green Finished
Gray Unavailable
Pink Priority area
[lock icon] Locked
Tip: until you have some experience, only choose WHITE or YELLOW quadrants ("Available for mapping"). Blue quadrants ("ready for validation") are for mappers that can provide quality assurance.

Map selected project

Once you have selected your task, you will enter the mapping page.

  • Some maps require you to agree to a Creative Commons license before you enter the mapping page.
  • If you choose a map that is at the Validation step instead of the Mapping step, you may be asked to exit and choose another map. Only specific users can validate maps.

An example of a project mapping page

A project mapping page with bounding box, map layers, keyboard shortcuts, and menu elements. Click image to enlarge.

Keyboard shortcuts

There are numerous keyboard shortcuts available for mapping. Review them at the HOTOSM Cheatsheet. Each navigation element also has information about the keyboard shortcut available.

Instructions tab

The instructions tab provides useful information on how to map roads, buildings, and other areas.

AI, map aids, and more

Some projects will make use of artificial intelligence (AI) or plugins like Microsoft Maps or Facebook streets to aid in mapping. When these tools are used, you may need to provide permission for these plugins to be used while you are mapping.

Select another task

When you enter your map, there may be nothing to edit. For example, the area may be rugged / mountainous and no structures exist. In this case, click "Select another task" to exit and choose a different task.

Find areas: drawing shapes around areas

  1. Use the navigation elements on the map to zoom in and out, select layers, and more.
  2. When you find a building, park, or other area, click AREA in the map.
  3. Draw a box around the area by clicking one corner at a time to make a rectangle.
  4. Double click on the first corner to finish the rectangle and select the building.
  5. On the feature menu (left side) choose a feature, such as a building or park.

Refining areas: right-click menu

  1. Once you have created an area and defined its feature, right click on the area.
  2. If your building is circular, choose the CIRCLE icon. Otherwise: choose the SQUARE icon to square off the area. This is a crucial step in mapping in order to ensure the data is machine readable.
  3. You can adjust your shape by rotating it or dragging it using the refine menu.
  4. If your area is incorrect, you can delete it.
  5. If your area overlaps another area or road, you should adjust the area.

Lines: streets, pedestrian paths, canals, and highways

Users can map roads by choosing LINE at the top of the map. Lines are similar to areas but have only two clicks: where a road begins and where it ends. Similar to areas above, you must choose a feature and ensure your line is squared properly.

Points: known areas of interest

Users can also add points to their maps by using the POINT functionality at the top of the map.

Tip: some map areas will have a red boundary box around them and a note not to map past the bounded area. This can be for many reasons, including: areas are identified as needing additional mapping (densely populated areas, numerous buildings, errors reported in plugins); areas have been subdivided; or areas outside the boundary box have been identified as not needing mapping. Please stay within the boundary box!


Save your work

It is important to save your changes to ensure that your map work is ready to go before you submit the task. You can save multiple times as you continue mapping the task.

  1. Choose the "Save" icon within the map.
  2. If there are any errors on your map, HOT Tasking Manager will show the errors and offer ways to fix them. The most common error is not labeling or not squaring areas. You will need to fix any errors before continuing the Save process.
  3. The "Upload to OpenStreetMap" form will open. It is best practice not to change the hashtags on the submit information.
  4. You can add comments if needed.
  5. Choose the "I would like someone to review my edits." box.
  6. Choose "Upload."


Submit your changes

Once you have mapped and squared-off your areas, you can submit the map to the HOT team for review.

  1. Use the "Completion" tab to begin this work.
  2. Task status: if all buildings are completely mapped, choose "Yes." For most maps, users should click "No."
  3. Provide any comments as needed.
  4. Click "Submit task."
  5. You will return to the Project page. You can choose another quadrant or choose "Explore Projects" to select another map project.
  6. Congratulations! You have contributed to a HOT humanitarian mapping project!