By Binod Parajuli, Research Officer
Practical Action Consulting
The use of open data and open platform has recently evolved with increase in data sources and accuracy. Academia, humanitarian agencies and governments have started using it in the context of emergency situation like disasters.
The concept of using open data has significantly evolved in academic field as well as development context as it has mutual benefit to researchers, communities and governments. Open Street Map is a great example of how open data could be used in development planning, disaster risk reduction and better understanding of the landscape. The strength with this approach is it is dynamic and can be updated in the changing context of land use and global environmental changes. Most importantly, it is openly accessible to anyone with the access to internet and general understanding of digital maps.
As the maps are updated by digital volunteers based on satellite imageries it helps to address the data gaps in the remote and developing parts of the world where the ground based mapping is not possible and economically not feasible. Also, as the agencies provide free satellite imageries, these products could be used freely and openly without having to pay huge amount. The approach is more suitable for the data scarce country like Nepal to explore potential of using these global datasets to understand local resources, critical infrastructure and vulnerability to disasters. In this context, we piloted this approach in two district of Nepal in Bajhang and Bajura to potentially pave a way to enable facilitating environment between researchers, development workers, government and communities to collaboratively leverage power of open data and platform to resilience building. During the period of 6 month we first remotely mapped two districts and trained 44 digital volunteers from the 3 municipalities of Bajhang and Bajura. These digital volunteers were then mobilized to collect field based data where they collected key landmarks including schools, government offices, landslides, open spaces and health facilities. These information were uploaded to OSM server and again retrieved in a form of usable map which could be freely used for decision making at the local level.
We, at Practical Action, designed a customized curriculum, trained digital volunteers and mobilized them for data collection. Further our team worked closely with selected municipalities to produce printable maps based on local needs. We found that there is great potential of using global open datasets along with community’s participation to create a data repository which could be very useful during disaster context and can greatly help understand underlying risk to disasters. This approach can be replicated in the flood prone communities of Nepal to produce comprehensive and understandable flood risk maps by overlaying flood hazard generated data through scientific assessment. This approach can greatly help communities to make sense of extent of damage from particular flood. It can also contribute to impact based flood forecasting by incorporating knowledge of experts and citizen scientists.