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Aid workers could gain a clearer picture of on-the-ground developments in crises such as Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak through the use of disease maps, say experts.

WikiMapAid, launched this month (March), will enable humanitarian workers and other members of the public to add vital information — such as the locations of hospitals, refugee centres, and food and water distribution centres; and reports of the current situation in an area — to a version of Google Maps. They can also attach links to videos or photos.

It is based on a Brazilian mapping tool called Wikicrimes, which acts as an alternative source of crime figures to government data to build a picture of problem areas and put pressure on the Brazilian government to take action. Global Map Aid, which is leading the project, hopes that WikiMapAid will have the same effect and ensure that aid is distributed appropriately.

There are concerns regarding the potential for unreliable reporting. To mitigate this, Vasca Furtado — who developed the software for both mapping tools — is developing a system to rate users based on whether their information is corroborated or disputed.

Rupert Douglas-Bate of Global Map Aid says: "Even if we're just 80 per cent perfect, we will still have made a huge step forward in terms of being able to galvanise public opinion, raise funds, prioritise need and speed the aid to those who need it most."

Link to full article in New Scientist online