Machine learning algorithms are excellent at answering “yes” or “no” questions. For example, they can scan huge datasets and correctly tell us: Does this credit card transaction look fraudulent? Is there a cat in this photo?
But it’s not only the simple questions – they can also tackle nuanced and complex questions.
Today, machine learning algorithms can detect over 100 types of cancerous tumors more reliably than a trained human eye. Given this impressive accuracy, we started to wonder: what could machine learning tell us about where people live? In cities that are expanding at breathtaking rates and are at risk from natural disasters, could it warn us that a family’s wall might collapse during an earthquake or rooftop blow away during a hurricane?
There is a unique space where you can encounter everyone from developers of self-driving cars in Silicon Valley to city planners in Niamey to humanitarian workers in Kathmandu Valley: the global OpenStreetMap (OSM) community. It comprises a geographically and experientially diverse network of people who contribute to OSM, a free and editable map of the world that is often called the “Wikipedia of maps.”
What is perhaps most special about this community is its level playing field. Anyone passionate about collaborative mapping can have a voice from anywhere in the world. In the past few years, there has been a meteoric rise of locally organized mapping communities in developing countries working to improve the map in service of sustainable development activities.
The next opportunity to see the OSM community in action will be the November 14th mapathon hosted by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR)’s Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI). Mapathons bring together volunteers to improve the maps of some of the world’s most vulnerable areas, not only easing the way for emergency responders when disaster strikes, but also helping cities and communities plan and build more resiliently for the future.
They play such a pivotal role in addressing global challenges and improving citizen’s lives that
For a family, having a place to call home is everything. Housing tends to be a family’s most important asset – often, in fact, their only asset, especially for the poor. But more than a home, housing is also the workplace, collateral for loans and an important vehicle for job creation. In the U.S., housing contributes more than 15% of the GDP.
The dream of housing, however, can quickly turn into a nightmare – for both families and for governments. Disasters can erase decades of progress in reform and poverty reduction in a matter of seconds, hurting the poor and vulnerable the most. A review of the World Bank’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessments (PDNAs) since 2000 shows that housing comprises 40%-90% of damages to private property.
As you can see in our new report, What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050,
Poorly managed waste is contaminating the world’s oceans, clogging drains and causing flooding, transmitting diseases, increasing respiratory problems from burning, harming animals that consume waste unknowingly, and affecting economic development such as through tourism.
Without urgent action, these issues will only get worse. Here’s what everyone should know.
On August 14, 2017, after three days of intense rain, a massive side slope of the Sugar Loaf – the highest mountain in the north of Sierra Leone’s Western Area Peninsula – collapsed and slipped into the Babadorie River Valley.
The mudslide affected about 6,000 people. Up to 1,141 of them were declared dead or missing. The deadly disaster also caused major destruction of infrastructure near the capital city of Freetown.
What caused the slope to collapse? A complex set of factors, such as record-breaking rainfall and nature of the slope, may have contributed to the incident. However, many expert assessments suggest it was mainly "a man-made disaster" due to the rapid urbanization and expansion of Freetown – coupled with poor urban planning.
Like most West African cities, Freetown is plagued with unregulated building structures, residential housing in disaster-prone hilltop areas, and unplanned settlements that intensify deforestation and increase the risk of mudslides. To make things worse, many of the properties affected by the August 2017 mudslide were encroaching on the Western Area National Park, a forest reserve that still holds one of the last reserves of unspoiled forest in Sierra Leone.
Risk financing, social protection, seismic risk, and open data – these are just some of the key themes that have drawn hundreds of urban resilience and disaster risk management experts and practitioners to Belgrade, Serbia this week for Understanding Risk (UR) Balkans.
When Dara Dotz, an industrial designer, travelled to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, she saw firsthand the supply chain challenges people were facing that had life threatening consequences – most vividly, a nurse having to use her medical gloves to tie off the umbilical cords of newborn babies, because she didn’t have access to an umbilical clamp. Deploying a 3D printer, Dara was able to design a locally manufactured, inexpensive plastic clamp that could be used in the local hospitals for newborns.
From there, Dara co-founded Field Ready, an NGO that is part of the “maker movement,” which pilots new technologies to rapidly manufacture components of essential supplies in the field. Using 3D printing and a range of software, Field Ready works with volunteers to make lifesaving medical components like IV bag hooks, oxygen splitters, and umbilical cord clamps, an approach that has often proven to be both quicker and cheaper than waiting for shipments to arrive.
This is one example of local innovation and design in disaster situations. Communities and governments need to think creatively and find new ways to build resilience, and some of the latest developments in science and technology can provide promising solutions.
Over the past few decades, there has been an exponential increase in the amount of information and data that is open and available – whether from satellites and drones collecting data from above, or from crowdsourced information and social media from citizens on the ground. When analyzed holistically, this data can provide valuable insight for understanding the risks and establishing a common operating picture.
Across the disaster risk management community, there is growing recognition that protecting cultural heritage is fundamental to urban resilience. Traditional knowledge embedded in cultural heritage, such as historical evacuation routes or shelters, can help societies cope with natural hazards. Moreover, when these hazards disrupt cultural heritage sites, such as museums, monuments and places of worship, they often cause irreparable damage to people’s cultures, identities and livelihoods.
A case in point is last year’s devastating earthquake in central Mexico, which damaged over 1,500 historic buildings, including the 250-year-old Church of Santa Prisca, one of the country’s grandest and most beloved churches. Mexico is one of a number of countries that have undertaken major efforts to protect cultural heritage sites, including through its Plan Verde, which works to reduce seismic and other disaster risks in Mexico City’s historic center.
On the sidelines of the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, which was aptly held in Mexico City, Giovanni Boccardi, Chief of the Emergency Preparedness and Response Unit for the Culture Sector of UNESCO, made the case that much more needs to be done to put cultural heritage front and center in the disaster risk management agenda.
While disasters threaten the well-being of people from all walks of life, few are as disproportionately affected as the over one billion people around the world who live with disabilities. Following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan, for example, the fatality rate for persons with disabilities was up to four times higher than that of the general population.
Persons with disabilities are especially vulnerable when disaster strikes not only due to aspects of their disabilities, but also because they are more likely, on average, to experience adverse socioeconomic outcomes than persons without disabilities, including higher poverty rates. Disasters and poorly planned disaster response and recovery efforts can exacerbate these disparities, leaving persons with disabilities struggling to cope even more both during and after the emergency.
In advance of the Global Disability Summit, and drawing on a recent report titled “Disability Inclusion in Disaster Risk Management” from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and the Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank, here are five actions that development institutions, governments, and other key stakeholders can take to ensure that persons with disabilities are not left behind in the aftermath of a disaster.