Open Cities Kathmandu Project: Mapping local communities to reduce disaster risk



Country Nepal
Risks Data and information gaps exacerbating seismic hazards
Area of Engagement Promoting open access to risk information

In earthquake-prone Nepal, the government has implemented the Open Cities Kathmandu Project which builds seismic resilience by training civilians to map local areas.


As in many developing nations, mapping information in Nepal has been often outdated, missing data, and sometimes only accessible on a pay-per-view basis. This creates societies without knowledge of village names, governments without access to their assets, and confusion as to where to provide aid in the case of a natural disaster.

In Nepal, these data and information gaps only heighten the earthquake-prone country’s high seismic hazards. Kathmandu, the Nepali capital, is the world’s most seismically at-risk urban area. The city’s population faces the highest mortality threat from earthquakes of any urban population.

The potential for a large earthquake in Nepal spurred the government of Nepal to implement the Open Cities Project, a program supported by GFDRR’s Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI). Initiated in November 2012, the project aims to build seismic resilience in the Kathmandu Valley’s education and health infrastructure by training civilians to map their local areas.


Under the project, volunteers have used the open-source OpenStreetMap (OSM) platform to map road networks, schools, and health facilities. Over 130,000 buildings were mapped and more than 1,500 people in Kathmandu were trained in OSM over two years. The remote mapping was combined with extensive on-the-ground verification.

Mapping activities in the Kathmandu Valley were aimed at preparedness and risk reduction, with the knowledge that any data would be valuable when the next earthquake struck. When two high-magnitude earthquakes with an epicenter near Kathmandu struck Nepal in April and May 2015, causing the deaths of nearly 9,000 people and destroying over a half a million homes, information gathered from this project proved crucial and helped inform response and recovery efforts.

The data collected included building type and incorporated construction characteristics to understand vulnerability to hazards. Other helpful information covered road networks, village names, and boundaries.

The project brought together stakeholders from the Department of Education, the National Society of Earthquake Technology, donor agencies, and civil society to create usable information through community mapping techniques, applications, and tools that inform decision making. The project also helped launch a local innovation lab, the nonprofit Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL).

The Open Cities Kathmandu project concluded in the fall of 2013. However, organizations including KLL remain on the ground to pioneer mapping efforts. KLL is now a permanent organization and has received additional funding from the U.S. Embassy in Nepal and ICIMOD, a local technical organization, to continue OSM trainings and mapping activities. In addition to its mapping efforts, KLL has since been involved in several data collection projects designed to reduce disaster risk in Nepal such as damage assessments, relief distribution tracking and reconstruction monitoring. Building on the success of the Open Cities Kathmandu project, efforts under OpenDRI targeting urban areas have been scaled up globally, including to cities in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines, as well as rural Malawi.


Government involvement can provide legitimacy for disaster risk management and urban planning projects.

In order for mapping and other disaster risk management efforts to succeed, it is important to cultivate support at all levels of government. In Kathmandu, involving the Department of Education in activities helped build its confidence in using the data to prioritize seismic retrofitting projects. As part of this, the mapping team had an official letter of support that allowed them to gain access to schools and health facilities.

Technology and data projects must be longterm endeavors.

For example, field verification tests were performed following the first map training, yielding only a 50% accuracy rating. However, after providing further trainings over time to surveyors, the accuracy of the structural data collected by the mappers rose to 100%.