When I first heard about OpenStreetMap (OSM) – the so called Wikipedia of maps, built by volunteers around the world – I was skeptical of its ability to scale, usability in decision making, and ultimate longevity among new ideas conceived in the digital age. Years later, having working on many disaster risk management initiatives across the globe, I can say that I am a passionate advocate for the power of this community. And I continue to be struck by the power of one small initiative like OSM that brings together people across cultures and countries to save lives. It is more than a technology or a dataset, it’s a global community of individuals committed to making a difference.
It is often said that we live in a new data age. Institutions such as the Bank, UN agencies, NASA, ESA, universities and others have deluged us with an overwhelming amount of new data obtained painstakingly from countries and surveys or observed by the increasing number of eyes in the sky. We have modern tools such as mobile phones that are more powerful than old mainframes I used to use in my university days. You can be in rural Malawi and still have access to decent 3G data networks.
By Stéphane Hallegatte, Mook Bangalore, and Francis Samson Nkoka
Malawi is no stranger to significant flooding. In January 2012, floods affected more than 10,000 people and caused US$3 million worth of damage to households and infrastructure. But this year’s floods are much larger in magnitude, even unprecedented.
Beginning in early January, heavy rains triggered significant flooding in the southern and eastern districts of the country. The districts which experienced the largest impacts include Nsanje and Chikwawa in the south and Phalombe and Zomba in the east. So far, the flooding has affected more than 600,000 people, displaced over 170,000, and damaged agricultural crops covering more than 60,000 hectares.
While aggregate numbers and economic cost indicate the seriousness of the event, it is critical to look at exactly who is affected in the country. We have found that the poorest are on the front line.
Roughly 27 million young people leave their country of birth to find employment abroad. Does this trend suggest that migration may be a solution to the worrying situation whereby 60% of young people in developing regions that are either unemployed, not studying, or engaged in irregular employment?
At an event a few days ago at the Spring Meetings on Africa and the Millennium Development Goals—or MDGs for short—the speaker who left me with the strongest impression of hope for 2015 and beyond was Ted Sitima-Wina, Malawi’s Principal Secretary, Planning. Malawi, a small landlocked country with a per capita income of $280, is on track to meet five out of the eight goals, no small achievement in a region where most countries appear off-track on most goals, and many started from a very low base in 1990.
So what worked in Malawi? According to Sitima-Wina, it was aligning the Malawi National Development Strategy closely to the MDGs. “Papers signed in 2000 showed us goals and targets,” he said, “but what we did in Malawi was to contextualize them in our own poverty reduction strategy.”
Perhaps one of the most famous steps that Malawi took to cut poverty and hunger was a targeted subsidy which allowed poor farmers to afford fertilizer and hybrid seeds. With this, the country has moved from being a net importer to a net exporter of food. A recent survey showed that over the past few years, people in rural areas have reported that food is available, despite the crisis.