Niger: Youths, equipped with boots and phones, outline areas at risk of flooding

In Niamey, Niger, researchers from OpenStreetMap Niger plot a digital map of the nation. Image credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Morgane Le Cam

Carefully stepping around flooded rice fields of suburban Niamey with eyes glued to their phones, a group of youths from OpenStreetMap Niger, a band of “investigators” – students and young professionals – continue their efforts to develop a digital map of the nation.

“Never without a phone, that’s our motto,” Fatima Alher, a geography student and leader of OpenStreetMap Niger told Thomson Reuters Foundation as her fingers flew around the touch screen.

Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has experienced widespread flooding since the beginning of the rainy season in June, killing at least 56 and wrecking thousands of homes, according to the Ministry of Interior, Public Safety and Decentralisation of the Government of Niger.

Citizens lament efforts to rebuild areas hit by the floods, saying that they are not moving quickly enough.

But since July, a motley crew of 20 students and young professionals have been creating a digital twin map of the country, pinpointing and laying out areas prone to floods on their smartphones.

“Flooding devastates the country every year, and yet no effort has been made to chart the most vulnerable areas,” Alher said.

Armed with GeoODK Collect, an application available on Google Play that allows users to gather geo-referenced information, the researchers compile details regarding the number of buildings, construction materials, residents, and even locations of electric poles to send to the interior ministry.

“By the end of August, we had drawn up a list of over 15,000 properties and buildings,” Alher proudly told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We then send the data to the interior ministry, so it can better target its relief efforts in times of flooding.”

The initiative, set to span three months, is funded by the World Bank, and managed by the Niger Disaster Risk Management and Urban Development Project. The aim of the project is to notify populations in flood-prone areas of impending floods once the data has been analysed.

“The data hosted on OpenStreetMap will be publicly available, so programmers can use it to build apps to share information with vulnerable populations,” Alher explained.

“We’re young and keen to help,” one of the researchers said to Thomson Reuters Foundation as he shook mud off his boots. “The working conditions are tough, but worth it. And if we don’t do this job, who will?”


Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation