V.Malawi Flood Preparedness

Interaction type Government → Public → Government
Trigger event Natural Disaster (Flood)
Domain Disaster Preparedness, Survey of Households
Organisation Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA), the Surveys Department.
Actors Surveys Department, Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA), Housing and Physical Planning, Water Resources, Crops and Land Resource Conservation, and local universities.
Data sets InaSAFE, OSM, Satellite Imagery (Bing & WorldView-2), MASDAP
Process Satellite tracing & field survey using GPS
Feedback Maps of infrastructures (accessible through Malawi Spatial Data Portal/MASDAP) & Training manual for capacity building and future mapping projects.
Goal Better flood preparedness and contingency planning for floods & Better coordination between government and non-government institutions (data sharing).
Side effects Actors are aware that open source software (OSM, QGIS, InaSAFE) are capable to support flood contingency planning in the region
Impact of the project Impact to the governmental body
Temporal pattern One-off initiative
Funding of the project GFDRR


Contact point Severin Menard, Maning Sambale, Emir Hartato & Francis Nkoka.

In 2014 the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) was involved in a community mapping and training project with the Malawi Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) to prevent a severe natural disaster; Flood. In other words, the scope of the project was to overcome the lack of institutional data in time sensitive situations such as Flood.

From late July 2014 to late December 2014 HOT carried out a project in Malawi for the Lower Shire, the large valley in the South whose two districts, Chikwawa and Nsanje, are the most flood-prone areas of the country. The project was funded by the World Bank Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), for which Malawi is one of the 9 African priority countries. GFDRR which constitutes a global partnership, managed by the World Bank and funded by 25 donor partners, agreed that it was necessary to have detailed data of the region obtained through a community field mapping project so that an a priori disaster response to be designed.

Except for GFDRR and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) in this project the Surveys Department (the one in charge of maps and geodata), students, locals and other relevant governmental departments also participated. The main initiatives of the project include an Integrated Flood Risk Management Plan (IFRMP) for the Shire Basin, an open data, Geonode based platform called Malawi Spatial Data Portal (MASDAP) and a specific needs assessment for Nsanje (Nsanje 2012 Floods Post Disaster Needs Assessment).

The aims of this project were various:

1)Hold a series of meetings and training sessions on open data and community mapping, engaging government Departments, university students (especially from the Polytechnic School in Blantyre), NGOs and civil society in order to educate them in OSM and the impact of the project in their area. Training sessions played a critical role in project’s success.

2) Apply the training by collecting geospatial data in the field in the two most flood prone districts of Malawi (Chikhwawa and Nsanje), edit and upload it in partnership with the OSM worldwide community that has already shown it huge impact when mapping on imagery or editing field collected data with Field Papers. It is important that all volunteers, academics (lecturers and students), and a few from local NGOs, all motivated to go in the field and map for 8 hours long under the sun.

3) Explain how to host the data on the Malawi Open Spatial Data Portal (MASDAP) and use it effectively, especially by holding a training on the INASAFE tool to perform contingency planning with the OSM data, as already made elsewhere, especially in Indonesia. The volunteers found OSM easy to use and noticed that open maps can be used for the development of their country, Malawi.
4) Identify and support community mobilizers to ensure sustainability of the outcomes, and make the community autonomous, able to update and enhance the OSM data, use it when crisis arises, and link with the local disaster management authorities and the OSM worldwide community.

To reach its target, HOT used (1) OSM to trace the collected in field GPS tracks by adapting JOSM and Tasking Manager methodology, (2) Satellite Imagery as a driver for field measurements (3) InaSAFE, an open tool which produces realistic scenarios for flood preparedness and (4) MASDAP which is Malawi’s Spatial Data Portal managed by a core team of administrators from various agencies. It is a free and open source geospatial data portal based on GeoNode and Geoserver. Key geospatial data are available within the portal that is available for download by the public.

Various positive factors were recorded. First, there was a follow up of the project for response phase due to a flood that hit critically the southern parts of Malawi along the Lower Shire River. The response was instant and the project was amended to serve specific needs. Secondly, there were interns from the university that become a focal point for OSM/QGIS/InaSAFE training. Thirdly, Malawi Spatial Data Portal (MASDAP) now includes open source data (e.g., OSM).

Among the challenges that the HOT had to cope with is that infrastructure development was required to support the mapping efforts as internet connection was very limited, especially in the remote and vulnerable area. Also, mobile data was quite expensive in Malawi. Thus, it would be ideal if government willing to provide free mobile data for volunteers so they can keep mapping. Not to mention that capacity building for computer basics also needed, some participants had problem keeping up with the training materials. However, it must be underlined that countries with fairly limited telecommunication infrastructures, such as Malawi, still have potential to adapt crowdsourcing/VGI for geospatial data acquisition in the region as long actors supporting each other. The HOT team strongly believed that this project was only the incentive for locals to start mapping.

Main lessons:

  • A well organized plan that worked well with funding by GFDRR and technical support by HOT.
  • Limited resources in developing countries may affect participation and project’s progress.
  • Workshops remain crucial factor for a crowdsourcing project’s success.