Mapping Kibera to improve living conditions

It is one of the most densely populated districts of Kenya’s capital and one of the most researched urban areas in Africa. Hundreds, if not thousands, of NGOs work there, serving a community estimated to number anywhere between 100,000 and a million. Yet, until recently, the sprawling slum of Kibera barely featured on any detailed maps.

As a result, basic information, such as the location and number of schools, churches, health centres, water points and other amenities was simply not available except to people living or working in their immediate vicinity.

The Map Kibera project, launched just over a year ago, has filled in many of these gaps.

Nine Kibera residents were trained to use hand-held global positioning system (GPS) devices and to collect geographic information in the dozen “villages” that make up the slum. The information they collected is now freely available on Open StreetMap, a map of the entire world that anyone can edit.

“We wanted to make people know more about their own community, for example, where - and which - are the best hospitals. For this to happen, we are in dialogue with the community, we hear about their needs before mapping,” said Hassan, one of the Kibera residents involved in the process.

IRIN film: Slum Survivors

Worldwide, more than a billion people live in slums. As many as one million of them in the Kenyan slum of Kibera. Slum Survivors tells the stories of a few of them and charts their remarkable courage in the face of extreme poverty. (October 2007) View Film

The Map Kibera project is now in a second phase, which involves more detailed mapping of four categories: health, security, education and water/sanitation, and includes information such as a health centre’s opening hours and services offered.

“When we mapped education, for instance, we checked on the number of schools, where they are and how many children are attending each one - and found out that Kibera has only three public schools and hundreds of private ones. On security, we looked for blackspots,” explained senior mapper Jaine Bisanju.

There are three more goals on the list: to start mapping Mathare, another slum in Nairobi; obtaining names for Kibera’s streets, and printing the maps to distribute to the local population. “We are planning on printing the maps to distribute them in schools and public places and also paint them on Kibera’s walls to reach the community,” she added.

According to the project’s organizers, as well as helping Kibera’s residents, the data gathered has been used by groups working in health, gender-based violence, sanitation, new mobile-phone services, farm-to-market supply chains, large-scale conflict mapping, and peace promotion.