City planning and community mapping: Gathering people and data in Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo

By Julien Cour, Director, IMMERGIS CameroonAnne Marie Tiani, Participatory mapping, IMMERGIS Cameroon, and Grace Doherty, Geospatial Consultant, OpenDRI.

On October 22nd in Pointe Noire, Congo, 300 persons from the Mboukou and Tchiniambi 1 neighbourhoods gathered to validate the results of a participatory mapping campaign. Community mapping has proved, once more, to be a fantastic way to gather people and data around environmental, social and public health issues. In Pointe Noire, community mapping is used by Open Cities Africa to collect data, raise awareness and put people at the centre of city planning and infrastructure projects.

Local association meeting during the Pointe Noire community mapping campaign

Pointe Noire is built on a flat, coastal swampland; thus, the entire city faces flood issues after most heavy rains. But the most threatened areas are precarious and over-populated districts such as Mboukou and Tchiniambi 1. These two districts are faced with recurrent floods, soil erosion, waste management issues, underground water and river pollution as well as public health issues, including malaria and water-related diseases. In Tchiniambi 1, people are desperate; floods are so frequent that each heavy rain threatens to trap people inside their houses, isolating them from rest of the town, limiting their access to work, markets and schools. Last year, two kids drowned on their way to school, worried that they would, once again, miss the school exams.

Infrastructure and development projects, such as the World Bank’s Urban Development and Poor Neighborhood Upgrading Project (DURQuaP), are being implemented to tackle these issues, but they lack the necessary maps and data, such as altitude contours or updated infrastructure data, to ensure their success. The lack of tools for sharing information among existing projects was identified by the city council and project leaders as preventing the necessary coordination between the different projects.

Drone image showing rivers and unauthorized garbage dumps in Tchiniambi 1 during the dry season

Local cartographers sharing findings during field surveys

Open Cities Pointe-Noire collaborates with DURQuaP and local stakeholders to building the information infrastructures needed to improve urban planning in the two districts and across the city. By engaging with local population and decision makers, we aim to put the population and local decision-makers at the centre of urban planning.

Our team trains mappers from the town council, local university students, and members of local NGOs and the community to collect and update the OpenStreetMap (OSM) database. Armed with satellite imagery and field surveys, teams of mappers collect critical information at their desks and in their neighborhoods to contribute to the cartographic datasets necessary for understanding risk in Pointe Noire.

Training of local cartographers, the involvement of local leaders and associations in the community mapping workflow has allowed us to collect up to 22 parameters related to floods, heath issues, waste and socioeconomic infrastructures allowing to prioritize and better plan infrastructure works in the two districts.

Example of a map drawn and validated by community members

 As we look to the future, we aim to cultivate a durable, sustainable OSM community that will continue the efforts to map the city infrastructure, environmental and social issues. At the beginning of the Open Cities project, the OSM community in Pointe Noire was composed of less than ten local contributors. By training local students, members of the civil society and agents from the City council Geomatic Services we are hoping to raise the contributors to about 30 people.

This blog is the first in a series. Next, learn how Open Cities Pointe Noire has engaged with the private sector to sustain the OSM community’s incredible momentum in the city. You can follow our progress and that of other cities at opencitiesproject.org.

Interested in learning more about the benefits of collaborative mapping for development and disaster risk reduction? Join us on Wednesday, November 14th at the World Bank mapathon as World Bank and partners discuss innovative new workflows for communicating and reducing risk. Register today and follow us on Twitter @GFDRR for the latest updates from #WBMapathon.

Open Cities Africa is financed by the EU-funded ACP-EU Africa Disaster Risk Financing Program, managed by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery.