Building disaster resilient communities in Kenya through UNESCO’s Points of Interest project

In celebrating the International Day for Disaster Reduction on 13 October 2013, UNESCO has been carrying out a pilot project in Kenya that aims to advocate, inform and prepare communities in undertaking Disaster Risk Reduction measures to make their countries more resilient in post-conflict and post-disaster (PCPD) situations.

Over the past years the world has been able to experience and witness major disasters that have been tragic in the human face. Not only humans have fallen victim but also the environment has equally bared the wrath of these natural disasters.

Under the framework of the UNESCO Intersectoral Platform to Support Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation, the UNESCO pilot project in Kenya helps promote community engagement in decision-making processes concerning natural resource management in disaster prone areas of Mathare slums in Nairobi Kenya.

This pilot is part of the larger project called World Map of UNESCO Points of Interest, which strives to contribute to a free, open and web-based world map through citizen’s participation (crowdsourcing) with the objective to strengthen the resilience of local communities, and the response of UNESCO and the global organizations to Post Disaster and Post Conflict situations through an openly licensed GIS data infrastructure.

Through the use of Ushahidi Open Street Map - a Swahili word for testimony or witness - UNESCO has been able to provide a platform on which community members, government authorities, journalists and experts are able to acquire, share and disseminate information. The Ushahidi Open Street Map, featuring information collection, data visualization and interactive mapping, facilitates the sharing of information.

The UNESCO Points of Interest (POI) project in Kenya has been able to promote public accountability and ownership combined with elements of social activism and geospatial information that enable people to submit reports of activities in their areas using their mobile phones. The key points of interest in UNESCO’s project include: Primary schools, Secondary schools, Colleges, Universities, Special schools and Early Child Hood Development Centre’s (ECDC).

The POI project has created an online Open-Source Map for Mathare Slums, Kenya that serves as an advocacy tool for community organizations in the area. The platform permits also community organizations to have real-time data on problems that the community faces.

With the good that the project has done challenges have not been inevitable. They include: a need for expansion of the data platform to embrace other disasters like crime and drug abuse; negative attitude towards the project by politicians who view it as a threat to their political influence in the areas being mapped out; and a need to integrate the Swahili language on the Ushahidi platform to enable more users to access and share information in the platform.

As we celebrate this year’s International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR), every citizen and government is encouraged and called upon to take part in building a more disaster resilient global community by giving and sharing out information that is helpful to the community, thus leading to sustainable development.

Five pilots of the World Map of UNESCO Points of Interest were started in 2013 in 3 regions: in Africa (Namibia and Kenya); Asia (Indonesia and India); and in Latin America (El Salvador). These pilot projects seek to harness the potential of mapping in different UNESCO’s domains, through adequate capacity building, targeting especially adolescent girls and boys from developing countries, through a bottom-up participatory, community approach (crowdsourcing).