Getting directions to somewhere you’ve never been before is easy for many in 2015 – just ask your phone’s assistant or pull up Google Maps. But for many of the most vulnerable people in the world, insufficient and inadequate mapping of areas can endanger lives.

The Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University, together with Texas Tech University and George Washington University, have developed a new program called Mapping for Resilience. The program is supported by a $1 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development.

The program was launched Tuesday in the Rayburn House Building on Capitol Hill as part of the national Geography Awareness Week.

Together with USAID, the schools will provide high-quality mapping data for areas around the developing world where people are highly vulnerable. In largely agricultural areas, where farmers depend on their crops to eat, families can slip into extreme poverty. Even worse, should a natural disaster strike, it can prove difficult for aid workers to know where to go and how to provide rescue and recovery services.

Just recently, member schools mapped the African city of Quelimane, Mozambique, as part of a “mapathon.” Students took high-resolution satellite imagery provided by the USAID, analyzed it and produced high quality maps. USAID will now be able to provide workers with detailed information about local buildings and structures to help combat malaria through indoor spraying. The disease is estimated to have killed 500,000 in 2013, with an estimated 198 million infections.

That data can then help save lives, said Brent McCusker, associate professor of geography and associate chair of the WVU department of geology and geography.

“The USAID office is going to take that map, use it and make sure they can get the best coverage of anti-malaria spraying they can get. We’re providing geographic analysis to help decision makers make the best decisions.”

Data created in a lab in WVU’s Brooks Hall, administrators say, can impact so many lives.

“The work being conducted by Brent McCusker and his students will have a significant and positive impact on the developing world,” said Maryanne Reed, interim dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “These kinds of research efforts at WVU, and our partner schools, reflect a commitment to giving back that is a fundamental mission to a land grant university.”

Provost Joyce McConnell agreed, adding that “Everywhere we go, both President Gee and I tell the story of the bold, innovative work our researchers are doing at West Virginia University. The Mapping for Resilience program is exactly what we mean—a forward-thinking and globally-focused initiative that will truly change the world for the better.”

This new consortium award builds on McCusker’s and Associate Professor Jamison Conley’s current research program with USAID’s GeoCenter.

McCusker established a relationship with USAID and its specialized geographic analysis unit, the GeoCenter, during his recent sabbatical at the agency.

The WVU geography professors have been supporting USAID decision makers for the past two years by analyzing and mapping large datasets on livelihood vulnerability in Niger, Uganda, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Their work has uncovered the key factors that lead to human vulnerability in those countries and recommends ways to strategically and efficiently invest scarce development aid resources.

For more information, contact McCusker via email



CONTACT: Devon Copeland, Director of Marketing and Communication, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, West Virginia University, 304-293-6867,

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