Why don’t humanitarians draw maps?

This research question came from the observation that information captured and represented visually by international humanitarian organisations tended to focus in on individual shelters or zoom right out to plot the geographic zones of activity by different agencies. Even risk and damage maps tend to be at very low levels of granularity. This is in contrast to urban designers who would routinely work with detailed plans.
The responses to this question unearthed the following ideas:
• Illiteracy: the difficulty in ‘reading’ the city, technological and spatial illiteracy; builders don’t read or work from detailed drawings; detailed drawings not useful in a rapidly changing environment where not many people can read drawings; drawing/spraying/marking out the plan on to the ground at 1:1
• Translation: getting independent surveys of individual family shelter, livelihoods and WatSan (water and sanitation) into plan form and combining into a meaningful picture of life rather than functions; recognising that livelihoods means places of activity as well as the activity or income itself
• Data recorded on people not buildings; multiple occupancy buildings or households cannot be represented easily in statistics on families
• Co-ordination: while relationships and “getting everyone into a room” are vital in communicating what is happening, the gap seems to be in finding ways to ‘document’ the dialogue, ‘codify’, ‘memorialise’ and ‘assimilate’ information on the situation and activities in the city

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