Understanding Niamey’s flood risk through open source mapping, drones, and modeling

For thousands of years, the Niger River has been the lifeblood for not only Niger, but also its neighboring countries in the Niger River Basin. Yet, even as many Nigeriens depend on the mighty waterway for food, water, and livelihoods, the Niger River also poses a severe flood risk to the West African country during the rainy season. In the third quarter of 2017, widespread flooding due to heavy rains claimed the lives of over 50 people and displaced nearly 200,000.

Lying on the banks of the Niger River, the Nigerien capital Niamey is especially vulnerable to flood risk. Poorly planned development in the city, which has contributed to land degradation and soil erosion, has only exacerbated the risk. To make matters even worse, many parts of Niamey, which has seen its population balloon to over one million people, lack proper drainage infrastructure.

A drone image of Niamey. Photo: Aziz Kountché, Drone Africa Services

Against this backdrop, the government of Niger, in partnership with the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), has been stepping up its efforts to systematically gather data and information on Niamey’s exposure and vulnerability to flood risk. The hope here is that this will pave the way for the government of Niger to better plan and prioritize investments in the capital’s flood preparedness.

The initiative started in 2017 when a local team of volunteers, comprised mostly of university students and young professionals from Niger’s OpenStreetMap community, used an open source mobile application to build a database of people and assets exposed to flood risk in Niamey. The team, thus far, has collected over 15,000 data points on households and infrastructure in the city.

A Nigerien startup, Drone Africa Service, has since been training government counterparts and members of the OpenStreetMap community to use drones to acquire high-resolution images of areas where the exposed people and assets are located. Along with other partners, the startup has been analyzing the images, combined with the database, to model the flood risk to the most vulnerable communities in Niamey. The model will ultimately be shared on the Nigerien government’s online risk data portal.

A drone being used to map flood vulnerability in Niamey. Photo: Aziz Kountché, Director, Drone Africa Services

“I am proud that a good number of students and professionals have participated in our trainings,” said Fatiman Alher, moderator and trainer for Niger’s OpenStreetMap community. “I have the vision of Nigeriens and Africans contributing… to create an open access cartography of their environment.”

Through a combination of open street mapping, drones, and modeling, Nigeriens are taking the lead in building Niamey’s preparedness for the next flood. In doing so, they are also setting an example of leveraging technology and innovation for resilience elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. Check out this video to learn more.

GFDRR and World Bank support for these efforts has been provided through the “Building Resilience through Innovation and Open Data in Sub-Saharan Africa” program, an initiative funded by the Belgian government which has been piloted in four African countries: Mozambique, Niger, Tanzania and Uganda. In Niger, activities under the program are closely aligned with the World Bank’s Niger Disaster Risk Management and Urban Development Project, as well as the Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative.


Authors: Vivien Deparday; Lorenzo Piccio. Also available in: Français
This piece was originally published on the World Bank Nasikiliza blog.