Using Maps to Make Sense of the Unimaginable in the Horn of Africa

    by Eric Gundersen
    August 29, 2011

    Development Seed recently launched horn.wfp.org, a mapping tool that visualizes one of the worst famines in recent history that’s unfolding in the Horn of Africa. We did this project in partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP), the food aid arm of the United Nations, to leverage data from the humanitarian community to better communicate about the story behind the crisis and relief efforts to the wider public.

    For many of us living comfortably on the other side of the planet, a famine is impossible to relate to. Putting the crisis on a map brings a sense of place to it, and shows the exact areas where the most need is urgently needed.


    The map we created lets people drill down into the data to see where the World Food Programme’s food distribution centers are in relation to the current food security conditions, including the declared famine zones in Somalia. Rather than oversimplifying the crisis, the map helps us share some of its most complex challenges — such as showing the rebel-controlled parts of Somalia that have limited or no access to relief aid because humanitarian groups can’t access them.

    Understanding a Devastating Situation

    Mapping the famine helps people understand the situation in the Horn of Africa and see where donations and food are being distributed. We also wanted to make it easy for people to share this information.


    This interactive map can be embedded into any other website by just copying and pasting the embed code — it’s as easy as adding a YouTube video. Our idea is that if we make the map as easy to share as a YouTube video, maybe we can make it go viral, too — and really spread word of the famine and how people can help.

    While a famine may be hard to relate to for most of us in the Western world, we can help stop it. It costs 50 cents for the World Food Programme to feed one person for one day.

    Here is what the embedded map looks like:

    You can embed this map into your own website by going to horn.wfp.org, clicking “embed this map,” copying the code provided, and pasting it into your own site.

    All of these maps were made using the open-source map design studio TileMill, a project initially funded with help from the Knight Foundation. The maps are all hosted by TileStream on MapBox’s cloud infrastructure.

    Tagged: africa crisis response data visualization development seed famine HOA horn of africa mapping tilemill

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