Finding the ‘invisible’ millions who are not on maps


There are often no maps of rural areas of Rwanda

There are often no maps of rural areas of Rwanda


“There are about two billion people in the world who don’t appear on a proper map,” says Ivan Gayton from the charity Humanitarian OpenStreetMap.


“It’s shameful that we – as cartographers of the world – don’t take enough interest to even know where they are. People are living and dying without appearing on any database.”


Known as the “Wikipedia for maps”, anyone can download OpenStreetMap and edit it too.


“It’s an amazing situation where anyone could wreck it, anyone can add to it, but what we’ve ended up with is a map that is the most up-to-date in some places.”


According to Mr. Gayton, it is the most complete and accurate map for many parts of the world, especially in rural Africa, where underinvestment means, outside of cities, there are often blank pages where millions live.


Ivan Gayton

Ivan Gayton believes better data will solve critical healthcare issues


As we sit in Rwanda, Mr. Gayton gestures into the distance: “It’s not very far from here, over in the Democratic Republic of Congo just across the border, where the information all but stops. It’s not like people don’t live there, they just aren’t recorded.”


So why does it matter?


Mr. Gayton says it can be a matter of life and death. “If you take an outbreak of disease like Ebola or the new coronavirus, contact tracing is how you stop epidemics. It’s not the treatment, it’s the public health and map data that makes it possible.”