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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Harnessing GIS mapping and social media to improve lives

Mapping the sanitation in situation in Mathare has been a process of continual learning. When we began the Map Mathare pilot project in December 2010, we employed a dynamic methodology to engage young people and the community issues in the approximately 20 villages in Mathare. My colleague Primoz and I worked closely with the Plan Kenya team to design a training programme and over the past 8 months, have learned a great deal about working with youth and communities to “make the invisible visible” that is – to document tacit knowledge and turn the experience of communities and young people into information that translates across social and geographic boundaries.

Empowering young people

youth map toilets in Mathare

Young people as “digital natives” – are growing up in an age where mobile phones are viewed as a necessity – even a right – in everyday life. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, M-pesa, SMS, Email – all products and services familiar to young people – even the disadvantaged youth in urban areas engage with these products at some level. Harnessing GIS mapping and social media to improve access to sanitation and hygiene may very well be led by these young people.

Yes, the word empowerment is over-used – and has become almost meaningless. Watching the transformation (that can even occur in one day) of a person’s perception of their environment  through the simple act of collecting GPS data about their village – is a very powerful experience and can only be described as empowering.

The team of mappers, videographers and bloggers– now about 15 in number – who have stuck with us since December of last year, can really tell you what empowerment means to them. Not only have they put themselves and their community on the map – a process that evokes a great sense of pride and responsibility. Some of the young people who did not know how to read a map before they engaged with Primoz, Simon, myself and the Kibera mappers. Philip Amukoya, one of the Mathare mappers told me on Tuesday that his soccer coach, who knows his interested in community forums, told him about “this thing called Map Mathare” back in December of last year. Philip decided to come and check it out despite not really know what “Map Mathare” could mean. He is now one of the star mappers and speaks with authority on the importance of “Global Positioning Systems,” Geographic Information Systems and community information.

Putting yourself on the map is the first step toward demanding recognition and everything that comes along with it – including basic human rights (the right to a clean living environment, the right to health) and by extension – the right to access services provided to the rest of Nairobi. Through our programme, young people are given the chance to represent their community through the medium of a map. Standard GIS symbols break down the barriers that separate youth and elders – rich and poor – and allow these young people to express themselves on a level playing field. Looking at the maps,  who would know they were generated by youth from the informal settlements?

Map of toilets, water points and open defecation areas in Mathare

Now that we have started that process of empowerment, and triggered this amazing group of young people to act as “community explorers” – documenting their lives and their community – the larger question is – how can we make an impact? How do we ensure that the process of community engagement, mapping and digital storytelling inform not only the youth about issues in their villages, but also reach duty bearers and decision makers who can then work with the community to take action based on the data collected?

Data in decision making

On Tuesday September 20th, we held a stakeholders forum at Plan Kenya, organized and hosted jointly by the Map Mathare team and Plan Kenya. We invited representatives from the private sector, Government and NGOs – as well as community representatives – to discuss the findings and products of the Map Mathare pilot. More importantly we asked attendees to make commitments to engage with the mappers, videographers and bloggers to “turn information into action.”

The forum was attended by City Council of Nairobi, Athi Water Services Board, MSF, KWAHO, Plan Kenya, Internews, Dignitas Project and several private sector companies.

We presented the trends that drive our work – the “urbanization of poverty”, the growing urban population, the untapped potential of young people, the importance of informal settlements to the economy of Nairobi and the “invisibility” of these areas that contributes to the ability of governments to “ignore” the needs of people living in the informal, marginal areas of the city.

Simon Kokoyo presented some perspectives from Mathare and discussed the research fatigue in Nairobi’s informal areas. He spoke candidly about how his mother has lived in Mathare since 1958 and that NGOs and researchers are constantly doing research and asking questions of Mathare residents. He said “my mother is an expert in filling questionnaires. She is part of a women’s group. And when researchers come to ask questions on water and sanitation they point them to Momma Njeri. Momma Njeri is the one who is an expert in water and sanitation questionnaires.”

But what happens to all this data – how can these “local experts” be the involved in shaping their own narrative – to take on the role of researchers instead of the subjects. That’s why Simon got involved with Map Mathare. He sees the potential in the community members as “experts.”

There was genuine excitement in the room when we spoke about the findings of the community (and youth) experts. Mathare Valley is an area of about 3 square kilometers. The pilot area of 4 villages (Thayu, Mabatini, Mashimoni and Village 10) is covered with 8.5 kms of open drainage. Two percent of the same area is covered with open defecation. These are statistics generated by the people of Mathare Valley.

The statistics, visualizations, stories and presentations inspired the representatives to make commitments to working with the Map Mathare team to turn this information into action. Realizing that not everyone is in a decision-making role, some were personal commitments to take the information presented at the meeting forward to the relevant decision-makers in various offices.

The representatives of City Council of Nairobi were not in a place to make commitments on behalf of the City Council but personally committed to continue to engaging with the community to change or transform social behaviour and to better living and health conditions in their work. The representatives will pass on the information to City Council decision makers so that they are aware of the existence of GIS maps developed by the community.

Athi Water Services Board representatives commit to creating awareness in the community to make better use of the existing WATSAN facilities. They also have some data regarding water services in Mathare and would like to work with Map Mathare to harmonize the information and identify gaps.

The private sector representatives were interested in continuing to innovate around sanitation solutions. They would like to work with the youth from Map Mathare and use the data to make a business case for sanitation service provision. This would include exploring the size of the population, their ability and willingness to pay, what toilet models are most successful and how to take it to scale.

Many of the stakeholders raised the issue of the linkages between sanitation and security – particularly for women. Medicinés Sans Frontier (MSF) work in Mathare on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). The advocacy officer who joined the meeting mentioned the importance of sanitation and the need for mapping security issues – these maps could then be used to complement MSF’s advocacy work to improve lighting and security, particularly around toilets. The private sector representatives were interested in participating in lobbying efforts for improved lighting and security.

The Map Mathare youth have also committed to continuing the mapping work and to represent their community well. They are excited, empowered and will continue mapping and telling their stories!

Training youth mappers in Mukuru

It’s not if but when, And the when took place this Monday morning. A KPC pipeline – that runs through Nairobi’s informal settlement of Mukuru – exploded, taking with it the lives of 95+ people who live, work, school and play near in one of the marginal areas of the sprawling metropolis of Nairobi city.

Kenyans have been discussing the pipeline disaster and have been analyzing the factors that led up to the event. On Tuesday, both the Standard and the Daily Nation ran 11 pages of coverage of the event. It’s not surprising that journalists have in the past covered the precarious situation residents of the Sinai village face. There is often coverage of other dangerous conditions Nairobi residents live in – such as those living along the railway or high voltage power line in Kibera, or the polluted river in Mathare, or the dumping site in Dandora.

Many are not aware that the Sinai village (referred to in the media as Sinai slum or Lunga Lunga slum) is one village in the larger informal settlement of Mukuru. Mukuru is located in Nairobi’s industrial area. Access to the area is facilitated by roads that lead along the backs of factories and warehouses and industrial workvsites. The dangers of living in Mukuru slum are apparent as factories bellow out smoke, trucks carrying hazardous materials rumble by and pipes and electrical towers dot the landscape.

For the past 2 months, the Map Kibera Trust team have been working with youth in Mukuru. The “Map Mukuru” project began with funding from Unhabitat’s Youth Fund and interest from young people in Mukuru who we had worked with in 2010, with funding from HIV Free Generation.

Maureen Omino from Kibera trains mappers in Mukuru

The Map Kibera team has been engaged is a long-term process of skills building for young people in Nairobi’s informal settlements of Kibera, Mathare and now Mukuru. The Mukuru project is being run almost entirely by young mappers from Kibera – we’ve taken the opportunity of receiving the youth fund grant to push the Kibera youth to manage the project on their own and to exchange skills and learn from other young people.

The team is saddened by the tragic event in Sinai. The event hit some of our mappers quite hard – they were in the field in the area of the blast the previous week and were thankful that we were inside, editing data at the time of the explosion. None of the mappers were injured during the explosion but some lost friends in the fire and we send our condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

Our mapping work however is not a reaction to any singular event – it is a long-term effort aimed at amplifying the voices of residents of informal settlements. Our mission is to increase their representation and influence in decision making processes. By training young people as mappers and digital storytellers, we hope we are contributing to community resilience, not just to respond to disasters like the Sinai fire tragedy, but to ultimately reduce the risk to resident in informal settlements through identifying solutions to ongoing problems and dangers in the local environment.

My post also appeared on the Map Kibera blog

The Daily Nation and the Standard today both ran 11 page spreads on the fire is the Sinai area of Mukuru slum yesterday. Mukuru is a sprawling informal settlement, stretching the length of Nairobi’s industrial area. Access to the area is facilitated by roads that lead along the backs of factories and warehouses and industrial worksites. The dangers of living in Mukuru slum are apparent as factories bellow out smoke, trucks carrying hazardous materials rumble by and pipes and electrical towers dot the landscape.

Despite the environmental hazards, the push and pull factors that drive rural-urban migration and the expansion of informal settlements around the world are at work every day. Kenyans move to the countries’ cities in search of employment, education, exposure and opportunities that are not available in rural areas. On arriving in ‘the big city’ the lack of adequate, low-cost housing means most Kenyans will find a home in one of the informal settlements – built on marginal land, often close to swamps, dams, rivers (Mathare), dump sites (Dandora) or industrial areas.

Our health is closely related to the social and physical environment in which we live. The environment in an informal settlement is directly related to long-term health problems such as chronic respiratory infections or diarrheal diseases. One direct short-term health impact (and one major cause of mortality among residents in informal settlements) is fire and other accidents that are common due to the proximity of houses to one another, the materials used to build homes and cook within them, and proximity to electrical and industrial hazards.

It is not surprising that several journalists have in the past highlighted the dangers of living close to the gas pipeline in Sinai. It’s also not surprising that the residents in the area were warned of the dangers but chose to stay in the area. When the informal, marginal areas are all you can afford, there’s not much choice.

So what’s the solution? Mugo Kibati, Director General of Kenya’s Vision2030 has suggested that the Vision for a Kenya in 2030 is a country without slums. But what’s the process by which Kenya gets there? How does the government ensure safe and adequate housing for the millions of Kenyans living in informal settlements? Let’s ask the residents themselves and brainstorm solutions together.

Kenya’s Vision 2030 strategy was launched in launched in June 2008. The overarching vision for the plan is “a globally competitive and prosperous nation with high quality of life by 2030.” The plan is based on three pillars:

  1. Economic: Maintain and sustain economic growth of 10% per annum for most of the next 20 years
  2. Social:  A just and cohesive society enjoying equitable social dev in a clean a secure environment
  3. Political: An issue based, people-centered and accountable democratic political system

The strategy is enabled by crosscutting activities in infrastructure development, science technology & innovation, public sector reform and macroeconomic stability. The Vision 2030 office is currently working to support approximately 100 projects across all pillars and within the “enabler” areas across the country.

One example is the reform of political system through the development of e-government systems to improve service delivery and communication with the general public. Another example in is the road development currently taking place throughout Nairobi (any Nairobian can tell you the current snarly traffic jams are a constant headache).

Vision 2030 is expected to be rolled out through government programmes with a significant contribution from the private sector. Companies and organizations are encouraged to contribute to the Vision. Private companies and public-private partnerships are expected to be responsible for rolling out 70% of project. Tatu City is one such private sector project.

Geospatial information for decision making towards Vision 2030

As presented today in the Africa Geospatial Forum, the team behind Vision 2030, lead by Director General Muga Kibati, requires geospatial information to assist in decision making. One example of this is the plans to establish 4-5 zoonotic “disease free zones” to improve the situation for livestock and animal husbandry. Identifying and monitoring these areas for improved planning and decision making will be assisted by GIS. Another area where geographic information systems (GIS) will be crucial is in land registry. EM Murage, Directory of Surveys at the Ministry of Lands, spoke of the development of a national digital cadastre database and land registry database.

According to the Murage, Kenya has “continued to use outdated and inconsistent geodetic reference systems that are not properly connected. The situation makes building up Geographic Information Systems (GIS) extremely complicated.” One challenge the Ministry experiences is the demand to conform with modern geospatial technologies, inadequate software for updating topographical maps and survey activities and inadequate human capacity in new technology (his slides showed screenshots of ArcView 3.2!! – they most recent version is 10).

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) is another key government agency that supplies geospatial information that is, and will contribute to Vision 2030. KNBS is the principal agency of the government for collecting, analyzing and disseminating statistical data in Kenya. According to Emma Akelo Odhiambo, GIS Manager at KNBS, her team will use geographic information to assist in timely decision making for several sectors. Of particular interest is the health and water and sanitation sectors.

The GIS team will contribute to the goal “to provide equitable affordable health care at the highest standard of cities” and to make “water and sanitation available and accessible to all.” KNBS will identify location of health facilities and provide data about the distribution of future health facilities and medical personnel to staff based on the needs identified.

Type of health information KNBS will collect:

  1. Location of health facilities
  2. Distribution of medical personnel
  3. Location of vulnerable populations
  4. Indicating longitudinal trends
  5. Mapping at risk population
  6. Determining geographic distribution and variation of diseases (incidence and prevalence)

Water and sanitation information:

  1. Inventory of utilities
  2. Distribution of water points
  3. Accessibility to water points
  4. Sources of water
  5. Safety of water point

Government agencies, organizations, institutions, companies and individuals contributing to Vision 2030 have a challenging task ahead of them. Many of the presentation in the session on Vision 2030 at the Africa Geospatial Forum discussed the potential of geospatial information, rather than concrete examples of how various agencies are using information to inform projects. With only 18.5 years left to 2030, the challenges faced by various agencies in terms of harnessing GIS tools for decision support must be tackled quickly in order to move ahead not only with planning but also with monitoring the implementation of Vision 2030’s projects.