Building Resilience Through Mapping: Learnings from Understanding Risk and State of the Map Africa

From artificial intelligence for mapping in low resource settings to encouraging women to map, there were several reoccurring topics when Understanding Risk West and Central Africa and State of the Map Africa recently met in the Ivory Coast.

Mapping is a large part of disaster reduction and recovery efforts. Without up to date maps, it’s impossible to plan infrastructure and maintenance projects, and disaster resilience efforts are hampered. Street-level imagery plays a huge role here, both as it offers a level of detail that isn’t available from satellite imagery, but also because anyone can capture street-level imagery anywhere at any time. That’s why we were so happy to sponsor State of the Map Africa and meet many of our enthusiastic community mappers face-to-face during State of the Map Africa and the Regional Conference Understanding Risk West and Central Africa in Ivory Coast last month.


The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery shared a time-lapse video of the growth of OpenStreetMap across the African continent.

State of the Map Africa ran for the second time ever but still managed to attract attendees from 37 countries. The talks and presentations ranged from new technology and techniques to community mapping projects. Here are some of the greatest trends that were discussed during the conferences.

New methods for analyzing transportation are emerging to undertake decisions about managing infrastructure. Severe weather events can place increased pressure on already stressed roads when traffic is diverted, so understanding and prioritizing infrastructure investments is critical. In data-scarce environments, innovative ways to plan transportation systems are critical—especially in places vulnerable to climate change-driven impacts. One interesting method, in particular, used incoming and outgoing cellular calls to determine where people were living (where calls are originating) and most often traveling to (calls received) in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Artificial intelligence for smarter maps

Another prominent topic this year was using artificial intelligence in mapping and urban monitoring, particularly in low resource settings. Earlier this year, Mapillary and Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team launched #map2020 and invited teams from around the world to submit projects on using street-level imagery in humanitarian mapping efforts. Henry Sseruwagi presented his team’s winning #map2020 project where they used street-level imagery to map illegal waste dumping sites across four of the 57 slums in Kampala, Uganda.

Henry Sseruwagi presents at State of the Map Africa Henry Sseruwagi presents at State of the Map Africa about using street-level imagery in the fight against illegal waste disposal in Kampala, Uganda.

We also heard from Development Seed about how their tools help decision-makers to consume and develop insights from geospatial data in urban monitoring. The Housing Passports tool, for instance, combines street-level imagery with overhead views and field data collection to provide a complete overview of the vulnerability of buildings. Learn more about Development Seed’s tools, mapping roads with Facebook’s RapiD Editor, how Mapillary puts the power of AI into the hands of mappers, and DLR’s work to scale global satellite coverage in the video below.


The Understanding Risk session “Artificial intelligence for mapping and urban monitoring” featured speakers from Mapillary, Facebook, DLR, and Development Seed.

The power in diversity

Diversity in mapping was another reoccurring topic because to have a well-rounded map, we need a well-rounded group of mappers. Initiatives like Let Girls Map and GirlsMap spoke about how they are working to make the OpenStreetMap community more inclusive by encouraging women to start mapping. Their efforts are working and 32% of attendees at this year’s SotM Africa were women—a promising number, especially since earlier this year Geochicas wrote that only 9% of OpenStreetMap contributors are women.

Gatherings like Understanding Risk and State of the Map unite community members, civil organizations, researchers, and the private sector under a common goal—a better understanding of our world. We will make greater strides towards a more resilient society by sharing our knowledge, techniques, and data than we ever could alone. As we say at Mapillary, collaboration wins.

/Lindsey, Press Officer and Geographer

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