Tag Archives: mapping


I wasn’t familiar with OpenStreetMap before yesterday’s Skype session with Robert Banick. If you haven’t heard of it either, I highly recommend checking it out. After his lecture and our discussion, I looked up a little more on OpenStreetMap and I found this case study written by Steve Chilton. He points out the need for instant information, especially during disaster situations. Chilton even uses Hurricane Katrina as an example, stating that it serves as the perfect example of how not up-to-date maps may have a severe effect on how crises are handled. He specifically points out a problem the Red Cross had with Google Maps after the storm because they had no idea of the state of US 90 bridge. Only locals would have been able to share information like that, and a crowd sourcing map could have been the solution.

This example got me thinking as to how this platform could not only affect our city of New Orleans, but also the large effect it could have on the developing world. The really interesting aspect to this concept is the immediacy that new information can be uploaded to the maps. Chilton talks about how OpenStreetMap was able to map Gaza during and following the Israeli/Gaza conflict by compiling various resources and applying them to OpenStreetMap.

I think we will see much more of OpenStreetMap in the future, and if you want to learn more you can click here!

Real First World Problems: Forgetting the Need for Mapping

We had the privilege of hearing directly from Robert Banick, the GIS coordinator at the American Red Cross HQ in Washington D.C., as a guest speaker for our ICT4D class period. What struck me about his presentation was the sheer importance of mapping. We tend to take this for granted living in a country where we can map pretty much anything down to a micro-image. We know almost every store, home or business along the way. This is clearly not the case for most of the world. As Banick said, “We take for granted that in the US we can see a map of any city and all the buildings but that isn’t a reality in most of the rest of the world”.

This has a profound impact on how organizations and individuals can address development needs across the globe. It even impacts how you handle a day-to-day emergency. In the US we take for granted how prepared fire departments are in response to emergencies. They know the quickest routes and how to get in and out with limited chaos. This isn’t the case for towns like Lira in Northern Uganda where buildings are huddled close to one another and mapping failed to provide easy routes for addressing fires adequately and timely. If there isn’t mapping, there might not even be general knowledge of which building is on fire. This is a simple thing that we forget. This is exactly where we see “first world problems”. It isn’t in our joking memes about not getting to check status updates, but the lack of understanding of what basic things like mapping have provided our society.

The current scandal regarding the missing Malaysian plane brought much of this to my attention. We live in a society that has gotten so accustomed to knowing where everything is a moments notice. Although this particular example involves things outside of mapping, it still addresses this mentality. It sometimes takes extraneous cases to rattle us and remind us that knowing everything’s location and whereabouts is a luxury, not a norm.

Mobile Money: Development’s New Banking System?

One of our classes this week focused on mobile phone case studies and some of the impacts of mobile phone implementation in rural populations. One of the studies, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India” by Reuben Abraham, was about Indian fishermen using mobile phones to check market prices of fish, coordinate with buyers, etc. The study concludes that there is some positive effects on reduced waste of fish, and a small increase in profits for fishermen, but overall the impact of the phones in the studied community was nothing super amazing. Abraham also asserts that information gaps in markets can be remedied by the creative use of technology, which inspired me to find some creative uses of mobile phone technology that might have a serious impact on development.

When I found the Mobile Money for the Unbanked program from the GSMA, I thought there might be some real potential in it. The basis of the program is to support mobile providers in rural and undeveloped areas to offer banking services to their subscribers. The reason that this is such an intriguing idea is that it uses the mobile platform to provide a service that is already so established in its standard form. The banking system in the US has adopted credit cards, debit cards, and even apps that allow you to check your accounts, but this program is a form of banking that is very new in is conception.

Mobile Money allows subscribers to load money onto their SIM card and use the money to pay for things like taxis or groceries. They can also withdraw cash from it at one of their provider’s locations. This is a great solution to the lack of banking in rural areas, and because of mobile provider recognition many people already trust these companies. The program also gives GSMA great data measuring tools for financial indicators, which is otherwise very hard to collect from people without any documented transactions. The website provides a really cool tracker tool that shows where they have employed the program and where they are planning to.

The Mobile Money for the Unbanked program is one of the really cool and successful examples of taking an existing technology and using it in a non-traditional way to improve ICT4D. I am really excited by the potential for mobile banking, and though there are now apps like Venmo, which allows people to make quick bank/credit transfers, making the mobile providers the bank is a very different approach all together. I will be interested to see if this catches on in the West, or remains in the developing world.

Mapping 4 Development: Resources

Mapping technologies have been incorporated into the development field to provide practitioners with rigorous spatial analysis of complex issues across the globe. In order for practitioners to take full advantage of mapping technologies, it is imperative for them to learn about the potential uses of such technologies. Many international organizations and academic departments have compiled a large amount of resources for individuals with interest in mapping for development. Below you will find a list of projects, handbooks, and links that will provide you with more information about the mapping landscape in international development,

GIS @ Tufts – Tufts University

This site contains a comprehensive list of examples of GIS and research sites for international development and examples of GIS for humanitarian relief.

Good Practices in Participatory Mapping – IFAD

This handbook provides a framework to develop participatory mapping strategies. It also explores major issues that arise through participatory mapping and provides ways in which those issues can be addressed.

How to Use Maps to Raise Awareness – The Guardian

This article provides a quick review of different ways in which mapping technologies can be use to raise awareness about a particular issue or set of issues.

International Human Development Indicators – UNDP

This is a visual representation of the Human Development Report’s data by country. It also includes the Multidimensional Poverty Index, the Gender Inequality Index, and the Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Indicator.

Maps and Mapping Resources – California State University

This site contains a list of resources and maps pertaining to historical events, demographics, environmental issues, geological maps, and the weather.

Regional Centre for Mapping Resources for Development

The Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) was established in Nairobi – Kenya in 1975 under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the then Organization of African Unity (OAU), today African Union (AU). RCMRD is an inter-governmental organization and currently has 19 Contracting Member States in the Eastern and Southern Africa Regions; Botswana, Burundi, Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somali, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Source: www.rcmrd.org

The e-Atlas of Global Development – The World Bank

The atlas provides a comprehensive visual overview of the world’s most pressing social challenges and its people.

Maps: More than Point A to Point B


Maps are mind-blowing. Click here to see what I mean. However, since mapping allows creators of maps to present all sorts of information in a variety of ways it’s importance to be aware of any agendas that may be operating in the development of these maps. This is one of the reasons that OpenStreetMap is such a cool premise. Anyone can edit it, so theoretically there’s no cause for concern about one overarching agenda.

This week our class has joined the OpenStreetMap community and taken up the task of mapping Chitwan, Nepal. I’ve found that watching the lines and squares appear while tracing roads and buildings is both empowering and intimidating. Contributing to the world’s largest crowdsourcing and open license project certainly has implications far beyond the walls of our classroom, but it’s easy to feel disconnected from the on-the-ground impacts of the technology.

The benefits of mapping are fairly clear in the context of humanitarian responses, but how can maps be of use in a broader development sense? OnTrack and CPD Maps are two examples where the power of maps has been successfully harnessed to target resources most effectively. After all, one significant advantage of maps is their ability to get us from point A to point B most efficiently.

Unveiling OnTrack at the 2013 Esri User Conference.

Unveiling OnTrack at the 2013 Esri User Conference.

OnTrack is a citizen feedback platform developed to facilitate communication through citizens and governments. However, this communication becomes more challenging when a lack of data on local infrastructure hampers monitoring of the status of various projects. That’s where mapping comes in. A “Mapping Party” at the 2013 Esri User Conference used OpenStreetMap’s platform to map infrastructures and identify project sites and beneficiaries, creating upwards of 640 building footprints. This allows for more effective communication between project implementers and targeted communities, and facilitates monitoring of development initiatives.

CPD map.

CPD Maps is an application that allows donors to target funding to neighborhoods with the greatest need for assistance. It works by providing data and maps that help identify census tracts with particular conditions, such as funded projects, neighborhood rent, and economic need, which allows for an overlay of areas of poverty on the maps. Moreover, donors and the public can access CPD maps from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website. This allows anyone to see where federal investments are being made, information which may empower individuals to suggest future development targets.

In this way, maps may increase the accountability of government agencies and development organizations to the communities in which they work. Furthermore, crowdsourcing projects like OpenStreetMap may decrease the chance of a specific agenda shaping the data that is shared. Looks like maps aren’t static after all.

Crowdsource Volunteers are HOT HOT HOT!

The earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti on a Tuesday afternoon in January 2010, forever changed the way that emergency responders use crowdsource mapping to provide need-based aid.

HOT volunteers writing OSM manual in Kreyòl

HOT volunteers writing OSM manual in Kreyòl

According to a U.S. News Editorial about crowdsourcing in various disaster affected communities, volunteers from all over the world began collecting data information from several sources coming out of Haiti, including SMS, Twitter, and news websites. With enough specific geographic information, these sources were used by volunteers to annotate a live map on OpenStreetMaps (OSM) to aid emergency responders on the ground in Haiti. We have been using OSM in class this week, and the sheer pace that these volunteers traced roads for 24 hours a day remotely from the disaster point was nothing short of amazing. These annotated OSM maps were vital to the success of the U.S. State Department’s SMS relief program’s short code 4636. Texting 4636,“INFO,” meant that anyone within the Digicel mobile network  in Haiti could text “I need water” or “I need medical help” and their location, and these messages were routed to aid organizations and emergency responders like Red Cross on the ground for free. The maps that the volunteers filled in on OSM were essential to NGO emergency responder’s execution of relief aid to any area requested.

The success of this collaboration spurred the formation of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). HOT workers gather base data on disaster-prone regions remotely and on the ground from available satellite imagery to improve disaster preparedness in that region. Some HOTOSM (HOT + OSM = HOTOSM) project sites include Somalia, Cote D’Ivoire, Mongolia, and Indonesia. From my nerdy interest in plate tectonics, I know that Somalia and Indonesia are their own plate boundaries, which make them prone to earthquakes and volcanoes. But after researching their disaster statistics on PreventionWeb (a detailed disaster reduction resource), I learned that more deaths occur in Somalia from floods and epidemics than from earthquakes. I can now understand how the unique disaster-development challenges in each region motivates volunteers to negotiate access to imagery and trace roads for hours on end, like we are doing in Nepal and like HOT volunteers doing in Somalia. Just for our own motivation for the our HOTOSM project, I researched the disaster statistics in Nepal. The most common disasters that affect and kill people are storms and floods. But wildfires bare most of the economic burden to Nepalese development.

Predict: USAID’s disease mapping tool

In class this week, we have talked a lot about how mapping technology can be used in disasters, such as the Mission 4636 project in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. However, mapping technology can also be very useful in other areas of development, such as health. Online maps can track serious disease outbreaks and therefore help governments and scientists manage these outbreaks. For example, a few years ago the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a mapping tool known as “Predict” that tracks animal diseases. While this might not sounds important, it is actually essential to international development because many of the most serious human disease outbreaks of the last several decades originated in animals. The virus that caused the SARS outbreak and Ebola, for example, are both thought to have come from bats. The USAID mapping project emerged specifically as a response to the H1N1 virus (more commonly known as swine flu), which contained a mixture of genes from both North American and European pigs. Interestingly, the H1N1 virus was never actually detected in pigs before it was detected in humans in Veracruz, Mexico. This is significant because it reflects a serious knowledge gap in the international health community. The goal of USAID’s mapping project is to track animal disease outbreaks that could eventually transform into threats to human public health.

Here is how the “Predict” works: it monitors data from over 50,000 websites, among them the alerts that the World Health Organization sends out, online discussions from experts, local news, and wildlife reports. The system then sorts through all of this information to find the most relevant data and put points on the map. The pin points on the global map are color-coded based on activity level, with yellow being low and red being high. The map can also easily be divided to focus on different regions or priority diseases. It is very user-friendly and open to the public, something that Damien Joly, an associate director for wildlife health monitoring in one of the map’s partner associations, says is essential to the mission of the project.

In my opinion, the “Predict” tool represents an efficient use of mapping technology to track disease and it is important because it focuses on animal disease that could pose a threat to human health, which is often overlooked in international development. The question now is how people will begin to use “Predict,” and whether it will become a tool for the general public, or will mainly stay in the realm of scientists and public health experts. You can read more about the launch of this mapping tool here.