Mapping hidden homes in post-conflict Uganda to deliver medical care

Written by Jonny Huck ( and Cait Robinson (

The 30th of November saw the first of a series of ‘mapathons’ held by the Geography Department. A mapathon is an event where volunteers gather together and create maps of areas that have not previously been mapped, normally for the purposes of humanitarian work. The mapathon is inspired by Missing Maps, an open and collaborative project that aims to ‘put the world’s vulnerable people on the map’. Around the world it is estimated that over 200 million people are affected or displaced every year by conflict or disaster, and many of the impacted regions are quite literally missing from the map. By organising a Mapathon, coordinating a group of volunteers to map the affected region using OpenStreetMap, first responders can be rapidly provided with a map to help them to targeted those most in need.

In this case, the area to be mapped was the Acholi region of Northern Uganda, which is a fertile but impoverished region with a population of approximately 1.5 million people and a land area of approximately 28,000 km squared. The small town centres and the surrounding remote villages were badly affected by a prolonged civil war (1986-2006), which has left people of all ages suffered from poverty, malnutrition, disease, mutilation and Major Limb Loss (MLL) related to gunshot wounds, mines and punishment amputations. Unfortunately, the majority of victims in this region have no access to health or rehabilitation services and the level of requirement for those services is currently unknown.

Because of this, the Acholi region is the focus of a multi-disciplinary research project that was recently funded by the MRC/AHRC, which seeks to provide the first systematic study of the prevalence of these injuries, as well as the installation of an orthopaedic workshop in the town of Gulu, the construction of a mobile orthopaedic clinic, and the provision of 50 prosthetic limbs using an outreach service delivery model. Further funds are currently being being sought to fit limbs to hundreds or thousands more victims, as well as address numerous other endemic post-conflict health issues that we have encountered in this region.

One of the greatest challenges to this research is that detailed maps of the area have never been produced, with the only previous attempt being by the British Army in the 1960’s (which are available in the University Map Collection). These maps, however, are very outdated and lacking in detail, and without detailed maps we cannot model population distribution, understand the level of requirement for prosthetic limbs and orthopaedic care, and access the people who can benefit from healthcare provision. As such, we are holding a series of ‘mapathons’, where volunteers can come along, enjoy some complimentary pizza, and contribute to a new, freely available map of the area by drawing around huts, buildings and tracks on satellite photography. No skills or experience are required, you simply need to turn up (with a laptop if you have one) go to our website ( and get mapping. The map data that is created goes to OpenStreetMap, meaning that it is freely available to anyone that wants it, and we are going to produce a series of map sheets for the Acholi Region, which again will be freely available to anyone. Last week’s event saw 100 volunteers arrive from within and beyond the Geography, including staff and students at all levels of study. It was wonderful to see how many people were willing to give up their time to help produce these vital maps (including some entire seminar groups arriving together!), and we hope that the event series continues to grow and include more volunteers from elsewhere in the University.

The mapping process: drawing round the huts and highlighting roads to access them so medical teams can reach homes to deliver care.

The mapathon was organised by Jonny Huck (Geography), Cait Robinson (Geography), Garrett Wolf (Architecture), Patrick Reynolds (SEED), and Chris Perkins (Geography), and 28 pizzas were kindly provided by the Geography Student Experience Fund. Mapathons are a simple and enjoyable way to do some real good in the world, and we would be delighted to see you at the next one, watch this space for the next date! You can also map from home, simply go to and have a go, even if you can only spend a few minutes, it’s well worth having a go every little helps! Some people even find it quite addictive!


Just some of the 100 strong mappers of the first #UoMMapathon

If you would like to know more information about the mapathons, or indeed about the ongoing research into healthcare provision in post-conflict Uganda, then please do not hesitate to contact Dr Jonny Huck ( Whilst we made fantastic progress at the first event, we still have a long way to go! To find out about how to join in at the next event keep an eye on our twitter @UoM_MCGIS #UoMMapathon

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s