How SahelResponse.org Used TileMill, Open Data to Respond to Food Crisis in Africa

    by Nate Smith
    July 25, 2012

    To bring key aid agencies together and help drive international response, the [SahelResponse.org](http://sahelresponse.org/) data-sharing initiative maps information about the ongoing food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa. More than 18 million people across the Sahel are at risk and in need of food assistance in the coming months, according to the United Nations. Recent drought, population movements, and conflict have created a rapidly changing emergency situation. As in any crisis, multiple agencies need to respond and ramp up their coordination, and access to data is critical for effective collaboration. In a large region like the Sahel, the band of mostly arid land below the Sahara Desert stretching across the continent, effective coordination and collaboration are critical for responding effectively.

    Thanks to new technologies like [TileMill](http://mapbox.com/tilemill/), and an increased adoption of open data, it was possible to put all the key data about the crisis — from relief access routes to drought conditions and population movements — in one place, openly available and mapped to give it further context.

    SahelResponse.org data-sharing portal.

    1. The collaboration challenge

    When a food crisis ramps up, donors and humanitarian organizations must move fast to respond, and typically that involves coordinating information across working groups, situation reports, and informal networks. There is a real challenge to gather and share information about your operations and those of other organizations working to respond to the same crisis. In the Sahel, the need to obtain data about the severity of the situation is critical for a coordinated international response.

    1. How technology is helping

    New technologies are making it easier to publish data — in open formats and in its raw form — and to share this openly. SahelResponse.org is a great example of this. It marks the first time in the region that international organizations have come together to share data in one place and make it 100% open. Forty-six datasets and maps were released through the platform, many in multiple formats, from seven of the largest humanitarian response organizations. All of this data was processed into interactive maps, quickly showing the current situation on the ground; the raw data was available for download.

    Full screen view showing primary logistics corridors on top of food insecurity zones.

    1. Technology behind the data site

    The maps were designed using TileMill, our open-source cartography tool, and are hosted with [MapBox](http://mapbox.com/). The site uses a simple HTML and JavaScript framework. Data ownership within the platform is decentralized, meaning that each data set is maintained and updated by the partner organization that owns it. This reduces maintenance costs and requirements and allows organizations to easily publish updates. The [MapBox API](http://mapbox.com/developers/api/) allows the maps and data to be repurposed on other sites or within an organization’s internal application.

    1. The partnership

    The SahelResponse.org data portal was developed as a platform for the partnership convened by the [World Bank](http://www.worldbank.org/) and the [Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR)](http://www.gfdrr.org/gfdrr/) with the [World Food Programme (WFP)](http://www.wfp.org/), [UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA)](http://unocha.org/), [UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)](http://www.unhcr.org/), [Information Technology for Humanitarian Assistance](), [Cooperation and Action (ITHACA)](http://www.ithacaweb.org/), [Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET)](http://fews.net/), [NASA/USAID SERVIR](http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/servir/index.html), and [Development Seed](http://developmentseed.org).

    Combining data from different partners allows unique views of data.

    Nate Smith is a researcher and data lead at Development Seed, where he helps strategize and manage our data and mapping projects. He specializes in working with large data sets and developing unique data visualizations. He works closely with the mapping tools available from MapBox and helps transfer knowledge directly to the client. Nate brings technical knowledge of survey design, spatial data collection, and data analysis to each project.

    Tagged: africa data visualization disaster response famine mapping maps open data sahel tilemill

    Comments are closed.

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media