Digital Mapping to put Slums on the Map

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Mobile phones are more and more part of daily life in the South’s slums – even for the poorest people. One result is that it has now become possible to undertake digital mapping initiatives to truly find out who is where and what is actually going on.

About one-third of the world’s urban dwellers live in slums, and the United Nations estimates that the number of people living in such conditions will double by 2030 as a result of rapid urbanization in developing countries. How to improve their living conditions and raise their standard of living is the big challenge of the 21st century.

With just over five years until the 2015 deadline to meet the Millennium Development Goals (http://www.undp.org/mdg/), and the current economic downturn reversing some gains, any tool that can make development decisions more precise has to be a benefit.

People are now turning to the growing penetration of digital technologies into slums and poor areas to find solutions. With mobile phones available across much of the global South, and plans underway to expand access to broadband internet even in poorly served Africa, it is becoming possible to develop a digital picture of a slum area and map its needs and population.

Put to the right use, this powerful development tool can fast-track the delivery of aid and also better connect people to markets and government services.

In November, an NGO called Map Kibera (www.mapkibera.org) began work on an ambitious project to digitally map Africa’s largest slum, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya .

The partners behind Map Kibera are Humanitarian OpenStreetMap, JumpStart International, WhereCampAfrica, the Social Development Network, Pamoja Trust, Hands on Kenya and others.

Estimates place the number of residents in Kibera at one million, but nobody really knows how many live there (UN-HABITAT). The slum is typical of such deprived areas, lacking in health and water resources and plagued by chaotic traffic and housing. Few fully grasp where everything is in the sprawl.

While data does exist on the slum, it is not shared or collated into one source. The Map Kibera project uses an open-source software programme, OpenStreetMap (http://www.openstreetmap.org/), to allow users to edit and add information as it is gathered. This information is then free to use by anybody wanting to grasp what is actually happening in Kibera: residents, NGOs, private companies and government officials.

This will literally put Kibera on Kenya’s map.

The mapping team started with 12 young people recruited in Kibera to start the work in November of this year. They will be trained and also receive support from the growing Nairobi technology community.

“The project will provide open-source data that will help illustrate the living conditions in Kibera,” said Map Kibera’s Mikel Maron. “Without basic knowledge of the geography of Kibera it is impossible to have an informed discussion on how to improve the lives of residents of Kibera.”

Workshops will communicate with local residents and show them the findings available from the map. Paper maps will be distributed to residents and then updated as new information comes in. It is critical local people are kept informed to build trust and avoid conflict. As can be seen from the Google Street Views (http://www.google.co.uk/help/maps/streetview/) controversy, nobody likes to be mapped without their permission or consent.

Like Kenya, Brazil has a long history of sprawling slums sprouting around its cities. Called favelas, they are complex places, with both rudimentary dwellings and elaborate mansions. Walking into a favela can be a journey through the dreams and aspirations of generations of people, often reflected in their dwellings. Favelas have many services, including hospitals, and there are restaurants and coffee shops. In short, while they are not in the official development plans, the favelas are vibrant economic entities and home to hundreds of thousands of people.

But since they are chaotic and undocumented by official maps, the economic and social development of the favelas is hindered as even basic services like mail delivery are difficult to provide.

An NGO called Rede Jovem (http://www.redejovem.org.br/) is deploying youths armed with GPS (global positioning system)-equipped (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System) mobile phones to map the favelas of Rio de Janerio. To start with, they are mapping five favelas: Complexo do Alemão, Cidade de Deus, Morro do Pavão-Pavãozinho, Morro Santa Marta and Complexo da Maré.

“The main goal was to mark public interest spots on a map and show places like schools and institutions and hospitals and restaurants,” Natalia Santos, the executive coordinator for Rede Jovem, told MobileActive (www.mobileactive.org) . “We wanted to spread the news about what slums do have, so all the people can get to know that the slum is not just a place for violence and marginality and robbery.”

The mapping process works like this: the mappers physically travel around the favela and upload information on each, individual landmark (restaurants, roads etc.) as they go. They use Nokia N95s mobile phones that are connected to Google Maps (www.maps.google.com).

According to Santos, reporters enter the information on the map displayed on the phone, and they can video or photograph to add more detail. They are using Wikimapa (www.wikimapa.org.br), and Twitter (www.twitter.com) to log the information.

As Rede Jovem recruited young mappers, they discovered an interesting fact: the male reporters (aged between 17 and 25) were frightened to enter a favela with a mobile phone for fear of either being mugged or being stopped by the police. Because of this fact, all the mappers are young women.

They are ambitious for the future despite their funds running out in December. “We want everyone who has a cell phone with GPS to be a wikireporter,” said Santos .

How important it is to the favela residents to be recognised like this can’t be overstated. “I think they are very happy because they’re seeing that they exist,” said Santos. “And the mailman says that now he can deliver the mail.”

Resources

  • Mobile Active.org: MobileActive.org is a community of people and organizations using mobile phones for social impact. They are committed to increasing the effectiveness of NGOs around the world who recognize that the over 4 billion mobile phones provide unprecedented opportunities for organizing, communications, and service and information delivery. Website: http://www.mobileactive.org
  • Google Android: Get inventing! This software enables anyone to start making applications for mobile phones. And it offers a platform for developers to then sell the applications to others. Website: http://www.android.com/
  • Ushahidi: is a website that was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The new Ushahidi Engine is being created to use the lessons learned from Kenya to create a platform that allows anyone around the world to set up their own way to gather reports by mobile phone, email and the web – and map them. It is being built so that it can grow with the changing environment of the web, and to work with other websites and online tools. Website: http://blog.ushahidi.com/
  • Textually.org: is the entry point of three weblogs devoted to cell phones and mobile content, focusing on text messaging and cell phone usage around the world, tracking the latest news and social impact of these new technologies. Website: http://www.textually.org/
  • Betavine Social Exchange has launched. It’s a matching site for NGOs looking for mobile solutions, and developers who can help build them, all brought to you by Vodafone. Website: http://www.betavine.net

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