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Out of the Comfort Zone

I was hugely privileged last month to be invited by the World Bank to attend the Ramani Huria conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I went with only a modest level of knowledge around this project and an understanding that satellite imagery, remote sensing and UAV imagery was involved.

On arriving, I was joined by what can only be described as a cross-party parliamentary committee of the GIS community with geography colleagues from ESRI, DigitalGlobe, Ordnance Survey, The OGC and representatives of the Open Source mapping community. Did we have a plan? Well sort of. Did we have an agenda? Yes of sorts. Did we know what was going to happen?…No.

To explain, Ramani Huria is a community engagement project backed by the World Bank. Its purpose has been to take OpenStreetMap for Dar es Salaam and improve it with a level of detail that national mapping agencies worldwide would be proud of by using local labour and engaging simple yet accurate processes. The challenges faced by this rapidly growing African city were evident from the moment I arrived; enormous pressure is being placed upon the existing infrastructure whilst the need to prepare the emerging economy to take advantage of the commercial opportunities coming its way is huge.

One focus for the World Bank as it looks to understand and plan its investment in Tanzania, is the need to determine the risks and thus what can be done to reduce them. Flooding stands out as a major environmental and infrastructure issue.

With the growing population living on flood plains in crowded slums, flood risks can hit a community on a variety of levels. Firstly, the health impact and risk of spread of disease in the crowded streets. Secondly, the economic impact when goods and produce sold in the market (potentially the only source of income) can be swept away.

The motivation and pragmatic approach of the Ramani Huria team has turned a challenge into a hugely cost effective project developed a willing community spirit and ‘can do’ attitude

The Mapping project

What became evident was the level of pride felt by the community who have been involved in the project. The presentation of the work undertaken and the approach taken, was further enhanced when we saw how the data was captured, including the capture of aerial imagery used as a base layer.

When we finished the 2 day conference, we were given the opportunity to visit one of the areas which was being mapped. At this point, it became abundantly clear that our learning on the trip was about to accelerate and from a personal point of view get real.

The team utilises a lightweight UAV, the E-Bee launched from a primary school in the slum of Tandale; a truly impressive moment that would not be repeatable in the UK. The use of UAV surveys has a double impact on the project and progress.

Firstly, it provides a high resolution, extremely detailed aerial imagery mosaic and height model that is superb for both creating and updating the mapping base layer on OpenStreetMap. This mapping is of huge strategic importance for the local and regional authorities to understand the scale of the growing population challenge and assess the extent to which intervention is possible. This may be to either move or direct the new population to more suitable areas, or to start to understand the numbers of people at risk from flooding due to the overdevelopment within floodplains.

Secondly, the obvious activity involved with UAV survey work, by its very nature, means that the local community are aware of the work going on and can start to connect it to the survey, mapping and education work that will be so critical as the Tanzanian government works to reduce the risk to its citizens. Data and mapping is one thing, information and education is quite another.

Highly detailed OpenStreetMap as a result

Sterling Geo has played a small part in the project by using satellite imagery to visualise the extent of the urban expansion and, in doing so, guide field surveyors to the areas of sudden and considerable change. (Dar es Salaam 1995 to 2014 – Urban Expansion shown below)

This clearly illustrates how when we work together, taking small steps to match simple needs with capability, projects such as this will fly and most importantly engage with the community who in turn take ownership and pride because what they are doing will make an impact. The legacy of such projects runs deep and is often more long lasting than large scale schemes. This is disruption, this is mapping, this is important.

Phil Cooper
CIO and Director

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