Malawi is vulnerable to severe flooding and droughts with the most recent devastating floods in early 2015. In order to build resilient societies, policy-makers, government, and the public in Malawi must have access to the right data and information to inform decisions on where and how to build safer schools and health facilities, how to insure farmers against adverse weather, and how to protect economies against future climate impacts. The Government of Malawi (GoM) with the support of the World Bank has been developing the Open Data for Resilience Initiative (OpenDRI) with the aim of supporting evidence-based and innovative solutions to better plan, mitigate, and prepare for natural disasters and particularly for the damaging floods that occur yearly.


Understanding Malawi’s Risk

Malawi’s vulnerability is primarily linked to specific geo-climatic factors: (i) the influence of the El Niño and La Niña phenomena on the country’s climate, and the tropical cyclones developing in the Mozambique Channel, resulting in highly erratic rainfall patterns, and (ii) the location of the country along a tectonically active boundary between two major African plates within the great East African Rift System, causing earthquakes and landslides. The intensity and frequency of climate related disasters is likely to increase in light of climate change. Generally there is an unequal distribution of rainfall causing localised dry spells as well as floods.

Recognizing a need to better understand their disaster risk, the government has undertaken a series of improvements to use risk data effectively.

Sharing Data

GFDRR supports Malawi through OpenDRI projects such as Malawi Spatial Data Platform (MASDAP) GeoNode, as a spatial data repository. The MASDAP was initiated in November of 2012 to support the implementation of the Action Plan and improve data sharing across government agencies, promote open data and to build data preparedness. For the first time, remote villages are on a globally accessible map and all data is shared. In partnership with OpenDRI, the Shire River Basin Management Technical Team and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs launched an online platform in to help ensure that historical and current project data remains electronically accessible and useful to the Government of Malawi, the public and other key stakeholders in the country.

MASDAP platform is currently being updated to the latest version as well as implementing changes based on the feedback from the user community. The platform currently has 149 active users, 40 maps, 39 documents, and 205 layers.

Collecting Data

In addition, GFDRR in conjunction with Malawi government is engaging crowd sourcing and community mapping exercise to collect exposure data and improve flood preparedness and response. The first round of community mapping was done in Nsanje & Chikwawa districts, to identify at-risk assets and fill data gaps. This resulted in a more collaborative process between government units and villages and more than 15,000 waypoints (e.g. village locations, road access, dwellings and village facilities) collected in just 9 days in Nsanje. A 6-month internship was also set up with NGO and community mappers ready to be mobilized post disaster. They are also trained in InaSAFE for disaster planning. In 2015 a round of community mapping was conducted in one other flood prone district of Zomba. Plans are also underway to expand community mapping to Salima, Karonga and Mangochi districts.

This set of exercises is useful for the ongoing Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) training and preparedness program. All the data collected is hosted on the Malawi GeoNode (MASDAP).

Using Data

With the help of UNOSAT, Dartmouth Flood Observatory (DFO), European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC), and OpenStreetMap (OSM), GFDRR supported response efforts during the January 2015 flooding and landslides in Malawi, deploying the national Open Data for Resilience Initiative and remote sensing to overlay the extent of inundation on OpenStreetMap. This was one of the first disaster events where a GeoNode was already in place and populated before the floods, showcasing how Innovation Lab tools can be used as a cohesive kit of parts to support risk reduction and recovery.

  • To communicate risk more effectively to decision-makers in planning, preparedness and response activities, OpenDRI works with partners to develop InaSAFE  and customize the application to Malawi context. By combining data from scientists, local governments and communities, InaSAFE provides powerful visualization tools and insights into the likely effects of disaster events. By producing disaster impact maps, InaSAFE also engaged communities and decision-makers by advancing their understanding of risk.