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Putting Kibera on the MapPosted by: admin on Thu, 2011-01-27 13:47
The geography of one of Africa’s largest slums is finally being mapped for all to see. The project participants believe that giving Kibera’s residents information about what does and what does not exist in their community will help them and help others working there. This is Part 1 of a two-part series about the project.
Kibera, Kenya -- For many years, Kibera, the informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi, was believed to be the largest slum in Africa. Despite being one of Africa’s best-known settlements, Kibera has always been a gray area: nonexistent on maps, including Google maps.
This is now changing, thanks to the Map Kibera project, which has produced the first public digital map of the slum. Using open-source technology to document the physical landscape of the settlement and its resources, Map Kibera seeks to uncover the reality behind many of the widely held perceptions of the area. Its size is one of the many debated aspects of Kibera; official estimates peg its population at 170,070, according to the 2009 census, yet other sources believe it to be 10 times that figure. Other perceptions -- some true, some not -- are that Kibera has no hospitals, no schools and no toilets. With no named roads, navigating the slum that stretches about 630 acres was not easy.
Mapping on foot and by hand
In 2009, explains Map Kibera Project Coordinator Jane Bisanju, the organization recruited 13 Kibera youth and trained them on how to use hand-held global positioning system (GPS) devices. They were then instructed to begin random mapping in the slum.
“They mapped any area that they assumed was relevant and came up with a general map, “said Bisanju. “Since then we have come up with four thematic maps: on health, security, education and water/sanitation.”
The project was founded by Mikel Maron, of OpenStreetMap an organization that has conducted “crisis mapping” in various parts of the world including Haiti, and new media and development expert Erica Hagen. Their ultimate goal, according to Map Kibera’s website, is to help the slum’s residents: “Without basic knowledge of the geography and resources of Kibera it is impossible to have an informed discussion on how to improve the lives of residents.”
The power of information
With the information from the maps, says Bisanju, it is easier to lobby Kenya’s government to invest resources into Kibera. For example, residents can use evidence from the maps to point to the need for road construction. They can now demand better sewage services because the maps clearly show areas where human waste is being dumped.
When mapping health resources, for instance, the cartographers reported how many patients a clinic served in a day, whether it offered inpatient or outpatient services or both, the qualifications of the practitioners in the facilities and whether the chemists issued over-the-counter medicines or strictly prescriptions. The health map also shows how many health facilities (both private and public) exist in the area with their exact locations.
One of the cartographers, Douglas Namale, notes that, despite the misperceptions that few health facilities existed in Kibera, the project has found that many health centers, ranging from chemists to clinics (mostly private owned), are in operation.
“It is worth noting that the majority of these facilities are owned by doctors who operate in public hospitals and are hence run on a daily basis by under-qualified personnel or, in simple terms, ‘quacks’,” said Namale. “Surprisingly, we found during the mapping that Kibera has a mental health facility! Who knew that?”
The maps are empowering residents by putting information once held only by NGOs or the government directly into their hands. For instance, after it emerged that chemist shops were being run by quacks, they could lobby the government to crack down on such establishments. The security map blacklists areas that have high incidents of crime. Residents can use such information to demand for a police post in such areas, thus improving security.
A measure for accountability
The lack of a map has made it difficult to assess the impact of antipoverty initiatives and other charitable projects operating in Kibera. While numerous philanthropic groups are targeting resources to address poverty in the slums, there has never been an attempt to track the physical location of these efforts. Donors have also had trouble clearly identifying the various needs of Kibera’s residents.
“It is now easier for donors and government to point out the exact needs of different locations in Kibera,” said Bisanju. “We can also trace which areas are more developed.”
Documenting the activities of these groups may also open them up to much-needed scrutiny. For example, Namale points out that there are many community-based organizations (CBOs) operating in the slum.
“Surprisingly, some areas with the most number of CBOs are highly underdeveloped,” said Namale. “Hence questions arise over just where the funding these CBOs receive goes to. I think with the maps, these CBOs will now have to be accountable to their donors and point out which hospital or school or project they have built or undertaken.”
Following the success of the initiative, the Map Kibera team has been conducting mapping in the nearby slum of Mathare in what will be known as “Map Mathare.” The group is also lobbying for the naming of Kibera’s roads and streets.
“We plan to print maps and atlases which will be distributed to school, hospitals and other public places in Kibera,” said Bisanju. “We have also identified several buildings in the slum where the maps will be painted for public view.”
With the first phase of mapping Kibera complete for now, the group is turning its attention to using the map’s information. As co-founder Hagen described it in a recent article, Map Kibera is now “working with local organizations to create a seamless link from the community to government agencies and others in powerful positions to make these collective voices heard.”
In Part II, Mulupi reports on “Voices of Kibera,” a sister organization that operates a citizen reporting project in the slums.
Dinfin Mulupi is a business journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. She is currently the East Africa corresp for an online business paper based in Cape Town in South Africa.
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