As a country that is particularly vulnerable to flooding, Malawians know that they cannot halt the forces of nature, but they can prepare and plan for their impacts – and they did. Supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank, the Government of Malawi undertook a series of community mapping activities in which it collected data about the environment for a flood risk modeling exercise and other preparedness activities. So in January 2015, when Malawi experienced its most devastating flood in a century, the data that its government collected was used to support recovery activities.
Robust and actionable information like this can help those at risk understand and prepare for hazards, saving lives and assets. However, even in this era of big data and hyper-connectivity, when one would think that every place on earth is already mapped in great detail, such information is often inaccessible, disparate, or altogether nonexistent. Even as recently as this month’s earthquake on the border of Tanzania and Uganda, people still scrambled for spatial information. Doing so in the moments after a disaster, though, is too late.