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  • Ebenezer Kofi Baidoo and Lauretta Nyarko

The Role of Geospatial Data in Research and Policy Development: Sharing our Experience as YouthMappe

Everything, absolutely everything, is location based. Nothing on our planet exists without possessing spatial attributes. Whether it is a stadium (polygon feature), a pair of socks (point feature), it bears a unique spatial identity (geographic coordinates). Therefore, mapping offers individuals the opportunity to collect, analyse, store, and share data for development. Thus, a mapper’s purpose is defined through mapping. It is for this reason that University of Ghana YouthMappers focuses on developing the mapping capacity of its members.

The Partnership for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) Program organised by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Accra, from 30th July, 2018 to 2nd August, 2018 provided the platform for us to share our mapping experiences and engage scholars in the field of academic research and policy development. Non-academic participants present at the program included officials from Ghana Climate Innovation Centre, IBM, Bechtel Corporation, and Metrisys. Prior to our interaction with the participants, Dr. Brent Wells had already informed attendants about the immense contribution of YouthMappers in building resilient communities.

Discussions were held with the participants and they were amazed at the magnitude of contribution YouthMappers were making to the growth of Ghana and the world in general. The contributions included disaster risk reduction strategies in Ghana (Greater Accra Resilience and Integrated Development), Ebola risk reduction in Congo, Malaria prevention and control programme in Kenya and Mozambique, Mapping for AIDS Relief in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, Food security in Ghana and Bangladesh, Urban Waste Mapping in Akure, Nigeria, Mapping high-risk volcanic hazard zones near El Misti Volcano in Peru and Mapping roadways, buildings and settlements in Lake Chad Region for food security. These mapping tasks were created by Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), together with its international partners.

Participants were informed that all these projects were completed through the fervent contribution of volunteers (students) across the world by employing simple open source tools, softwares and maps (Java Open Street Map software, Open Data Kit, Open Street Map, Bing Map, Digital Globe etc) through remote and field mapping. This activity is demonstrated in mapathons, crowdsourcing events often organized by YouthMappers chapters around the world. Data provided by YouthMappers are shared online and used by international organisations such as United States Agency for International Development (USAID), American Red Cross, British Red Cross, University of Oxford, World Health Organisation (WHO), United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Mapbox, Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), UBER and Facebook.

For instance, in the case of Ebola outbreak, crowd sourced data provided by volunteers enabled humanitarian agencies to gain firsthand information on the number of inhabitants at risk and the available access routes in order to plan relieve interventions for affected communities. Thus, a simple click on a laptop or mobile phone saves a life somewhere.

Within the scope of Ghana, we shared information about the contribution of UG YouthMappers within the mapping community. The chapter was established in 2017 and so far it has been able to organise training sessions for new members and has also organised mapathon events, both remote and field mapping. We also participated in Mapillary’s Yemaapi Ghana Project which aimed at adding hundreds of points of interest (POI) to OpenStreetMap. UG mappers are also part of an on-going disaster reduction project currently underway in Accra. Some members of University of Ghana YouthMappers together with officials from Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), Open Street Map (OSM) Community in Ghana, Mobile Web Ghana, and other local stakeholders are collaborating to work on the Open Cities Africa Project dubbed Greater Accra Resilience and Integrated Development (GARID). The primary goal of the project is to make Accra resilient to natural disaster, especially flooding. As part of the project, some selected students will be trained in remote and field mapping to work in four (4) flood prone communities in Accra Metropolis namely, Alogboshie, Akweteman, Alajo and Nima.

A lecturer from Madagascar Biodiversity Center, Andrianjaka Ravelomanana, said “Wow, you guys are doing a great job. I definitely have to establish YouthMappers in Madagascar”. Adey Feleke Desta, assistant professor at the Institute of Biotechnology, Addis Ababa University, remarked that, “I want my students to be trained to become YouthMappers too”. In addition, Dr. Erika du Plessis from University of Pretoria said that, “You guys are doing a great job and I like the enthusiasm and passion you have attached to the work you do!”

The platform offered by USAID at this year’s PEER program enabled us to share some of the projects undertaken so far and the ones which are rolled out and undergoing implementation. We believe such opportunities will be made available to other YouthMappers elsewhere to share their success stories and make mapping the common recipe to build a resilient planet.

Ebenezer Kofi Baidoo 28 year old MPhil graduate student in Geography and Resource Development. My areas of specialisation are Geographic Information System (GIS), Remote Sensing and Urban Development Studies. I am a naturalist and a pragmatist. My hobbies are, reading, drawing, swimming and mapping. I currently serve as the training coordinator of UG YouthMappers.

Lauretta Nyarko is a 22 year old Bachelor of Arts student in Geography and Resource development. Her majors include GIS, Remote Sensing cartography and urban studies. She likes reading and mapping remotely. She is innovative, receptive and a team player. Lauretta was the past vice president of UG YouthMappers. During her tenure, she trained many members on how to use OSM software and its related tools. She was a very active executive member of the club.

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