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June 14, 2017updated 15 Aug 2019 9:56am

How improved mapping gives slum dwellers an identity

By GlobalData Travel & Tourism

Charities and NGOs across the world are giving slum dwellers an address and identity through mapping the slums and informal settlements in which they reside.

In 2016, around 1bn people around the world were living in slum conditions and whilst the proportion of the world’s population living in slums is shrinking, the absolute number is growing.

These people do not have an official address or identity but many NGOs and charities are trying to change this. They want to give people living in slums an official address by mapping out the areas in which they live.

A social enterprise based in Kenya, Spatial Collective, has been training residents of the Mahare slum to use their smartphones to create a crowdsourced map of the area.

The completed map is available on the OpenStreetMap platform and contains a detailed index of Mahare’s buildings and utilities, in stark contrast to Google Maps’ blank space.

Spatial Collective’s maps have been used across the country to help many slums improve access to electricity, plumbing and emergency services.

Caminos de la Villa has used a similar concept to map slum areas in Buenos Aires and provides a platform for residents to report issues and problems with public services in the area.

In the Indian city of Kolkata, Addressing the Unaddressed has mapped out the informal settlement of Chelta.

Its work is now available on Google Maps and it is a firm step in the direction of giving Chelta’s residents a proper address.

Since 2013, the charity has also been allocating geo-coordinate-based addresses, GO Codes, to slum dwellings to allow residents to receive post and access other services.

What3words are also trying to solve the global address issue, through a system based on splitting the globe into 3×3 metre squares and assigning each square a random three word name.

This has been used in a slum near Durban in South Africa to reduce the response time of emergency vehicles as they can more easily locate the GPS based addresses rather than rely on descriptive directions.

All the initiatives aim to do more than just provide a way of negotiating the intricate lanes of slums.

With addresses and maps, residents are officially given an identity, allowing them to access banking and emergency services more efficiently.

It also enables governments and city councils to better allocate funding around the city, resulting in improved infrastructure and services in slums.

At present, many censuses don’t include slum populations in official figures. If more slum dwellers become registered and officially identifiable, then population data can change to reflect this and include every inhabitant in every city, regardless of their habitation type.

This mapping of slums is a vital step forward in the urbanisation and development of third world countries and with further governmental support could bring significant change to the world’s poorest areas.