6 December 2012 - Tropical storm Bopha (Pablo locally) cut through the Philippines on 5 December causing death and destruction so intense that it is difficult to assess them with traditional methods.  During the passage of the storm, thousands of people in the affected region have exchanged images, footage and comments regarding its impact. However the data is not always geo-tagged and the sheer amount of messages makes it impossible for one entity to sort information.

The digital volunteer community worldwide has been mobilised in an attempt to help. In one example, the Digital Humanitarian Network has undertaken to collect tweets from the affected region and then asked Crowdcrafting to help find the geo-location of the messages. Crowdcrafting is one of the brainchildren of the CCC, the Citizen Cyberscience Centre created by UNITAR, CERN and the University of Geneva to put cyberscience to the benefit of the international agenda.

The system used to geo-locate the messages originating from the Philippines during the disaster is supported by PyBossa, a free and open source application used by UNOSAT and scores of other communities worldwide for its ability to support collabroative computing. The system is the second generation of open source sofware for crowdsourcing. A first generation was rolled out by UNOSAT and partners in 2011 and was used also to geo-locate damage in Libya during the conflict, under the Geotag Libya initiative, part of the family os applications called Cybermappr, that is now being upgratded to PyBossa by experts from the Citizen Cyberscience Centre. In 2011 UNOSAT presented this technology advancement to a mapping community conference in Geneva. The idea had immediate success with the digital volunteers’ community and was later tested by the Standby Task Force, a group of volunteers dedicated to supporting humanitarian response with digital help.

The Cybermappr family recently expanded with ForestWatchers, a successful experiment using volunteers to help systematize and compile information on deforestation using satellite imagery that is pre-processed by the crowd and then analysed by a group of experts.

On the front of satellite mapping, UNOSAT is already engaged together with the International Charter Space and Major Disasters to support OCHA and UNICEF relief to the affected populations. 2013 is the fourth year in a row in which UNOSAT rapid mapping has been activated over the Philiipnes.

Top image: storm Bopha (Pablo) seen from space (courtesy NASA).

Bottom: detail of UNOSAT satellite analysis over Cagayan de Oro, Mindanao, in January 2012.