In the days following the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the World Bank disaster risk management (DRM) community worked to assess the damage, and support the Haitian government plan and enact what would become a massive and protracted recovery from this profound disaster. Accurate and up to date maps of the country were an important component of these planning efforts. These maps came from an unexpected source, a global community of volunteer mappers, who, using their internet connections and access to satellite imagery, were able to contribute to mapping Haiti from their own homes.

Following the Haiti earthquake, the World Bank, Google, and several other entities made high-resolution imagery of the affected area available to the public. Over 600 individuals from the global OpenStreetMap (OSM) community began digitizing the imagery, tracing roads, building outlines, and other infrastructure, creating what quickly became the most detailed map of Port au Prince that had ever existed.  Volunteers from 29 countries made about 1.2 million edits to the map, performing an estimated year of cartographic work in about 20 days. This effort catalyzed a rethinking of community mapping and open data within the World Bank and other international institutions.

OpenStreetMap, often called ‘the Wikipedia’ of maps, is an online database and a global community of over 1 million contributors who collaborate towards building a free and open map of the world that anyone can contribute to and anyone can use with their own tools and analysis.

World Bank projects have made use of the OSM platform to harness the power of crowdsourcing to create spatial data about the location and characteristics of the built and natural environments in at least 10 countries since the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Open Cities

Today, the South Asia region faces significant challenges in its efforts to build resilience to natural disasters. Migration from rural to urban settlements is occurring at a rate of 6-7% percent annually. In the coming few decades, 500 million people are expected to move to cities.  It is difficult to prepare for such a transformation, which is resulting in unplanned settlements and unsafe building practices that are contributing to increased disaster risk in the region.  As with the reconstruction effort in Haiti, maps describing the location and characteristics of population centers, critical infrastructure, and disaster risk will be key to inform planning efforts.

With this in mind, the Disaster Risk Management  team launched the Open Cities project in November 2012.  In close partnership with the Innovation Lab in the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the South Asia Climate and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Unit, and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), Open Cities has worked with citizen volunteers and the OpenStreetMap platform to bring the power of community mapping to support urban planning and disaster risk management investments in South Asian Cities.

The Open Cities project has sought to learn from these experiences towards the creation of a scalable approach to understanding urban challenges and disaster risk in South Asian cities.  Three cities were chosen to launch the work: Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Kathmandu, Nepal.  These cities were chosen for their high-levels of disaster risk, the presence of potential World Bank-lending activities related to urban planning and disaster management that would benefit from access to better data.

In Batticaloa, we worked closely with local government officials and mapped the 30,000 buildings (including the vulnerability characteristics) in 2 months.  In Kathmandu, university students assessed structural vulnerability of schools and health facilities, for the first time creating a free and open map of every school in the Kathmandu Valley.  In Dhaka, we mapped the homes of 125,000 people using volunteers and technology consultants.

The result of these efforts is an increased awareness of disaster risk within governments, and a consensus within ministries that this risk must be reduced.  Open Cities has, and will continue to, inform World Bank investment planning in two of the three areas it has been rolled out as a pilot.  This includes a US$212 million investment lending program for Sri Lanka that was approved in 2014, and a US$125 million Bangladesh Urban Resilience Project that is under preparation.

Learning from Previous Examples

While the experience of OSM Haiti demonstrated that volunteers collaborating around open data could quickly create accurate and trusted information, another project in Indonesia project called “Community Mapping for Exposure” sought to create data locally and before a disaster, to inform disaster preparedness and contingency planning activities.  Working with local governments, university students, and civil society groups, the mapping work has focused especially on critical infrastructure in the capital region of Jakarta – schools, hospitals, community centers and places of worship.  The resulting data has been combined with hazard information from a variety of sources to produce realistic impact scenarios using the InaSAFE tool.  InaSAFE is an open source project developed by AusAID, the Government of Indonesia and the World Bank that was created specifically for this work but is now being deployed in other DRM projects.

Building Partnerships

Since its inception, Open Cities has brought together stakeholders from government, donor agencies, the private sector, universities and civil society groups to create usable information through community mapping techniques.  Together, they seek to build applications and tools to inform decision-making, while developing networks of trust and social capital necessary for these efforts to become sustainable.  This process has been evolutionary, with opportunities for experimentation, learning, failure, and adaptation incorporated into the project planning.

With the first phase of Open Cities complete in each of the projects, these partnerships will be critical towards the continuation of the work and expansion into new cities in the region.

The Future

The South Asia DRM team will work with our partners in other regions and continue to work closely with the GFDRR Innovation Lab to scale what has proven to be an emerging model to increase awareness and consensus of disaster risk in a way that catalyzes action.
Related Resources:

Publication Highlight: Planning an Open Cities Mapping Project

Video: Planning an Open Cities Mapping Project

Blog: 4 Years On, Looking Back at OpenStreetMap Response to the Haiti Earthquake

Blog: Quatre ans après, retour sur l’action de la communauté OpenStreetMap en réponse au séisme qui a frappé Haïti

This post first appeared on The World Bank Blog.

Author: Marc Forni joined the World Bank in 2003 and spent four years in the Latin America and the Caribbean Region helping to build the disaster risk management practice.

Image: People walk past stalls in downtown Port-au-Prince March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz