In Malawi, Citizens Get Involved as Innovative Technologies Help Them Better Understand and Manage Disaster Risks

December 4, 2014


  • Citizens recently participated in a mapping exercise to provide data for early flood preparation in Malawi’s vulnerable districts
  • Mapping is the next step in the launch of the open source geospatial data platform in Malawi, providing vital information on natural disasters to district departments
  • More community engagement results in a clearer understanding of risks and disaster preparedness

SHIRE VALLEY, December 3, 2014 – Remote villages in Malawi most vulnerable to floods and other natural recurring events are now better prepared to deal with disasters, thanks to a new mapping exercise which will share their data online.

Using GPS units, teams of mappers made up of people from the government, civil society organizations, universities and the local community recently walked through Nsanje and Chikwawa villages, to collect information on roads, dwellings and village facilities to share online. Access to this information will help various district departments prepare for floods and minimize the negative impact they have on the communities. 

" The power of the crowd is alive and continues to advance the understanding of the world, providing exciting possibilities for this newly collected and collated data to have a positive impact "

Emma Phillips

Disaster risk specialist with the World Bank Group

“Being in flood prone areas, the communities now better understand the risks they face and how to properly plan for their land use,” said Humphrey’s Magalasi, assistant district disaster risk management officer for the Nsanje district. “This exercise has therefore helped both the district officials and communities to have updated exposure data required for emergency response planning during floods.”

Malawi’s Lower Shire Valley experiences heavy rains and storms every year that often result in flash floods, devastating the livelihoods of local communities. Last year, floods affected more than 16,000 people, resulting in collapsed homes and destroyed crops and livestock, exacerbating an acute food shortage in the country. Floods and other recurring natural disasters have a long-lasting impact, as they wash away development gains and entrench people in poverty year after year.

Usually, following a flood, there is a scramble to access data on the areas affected and the assets exposed, resulting in emergency response decisions being made with scarce information. With the Malawi Spatial Data Platform, a free, open source geospatial data sharing platform that launched earlier this year, access to critical information and information sharing across government departments is possible. With MASDAP, users can upload, download, edit and share geospatial information - such as flood outlines, elevation data, soil types, population, roads, buildings and land-use datasets - and visualize this information on a map.

“Instead of being dispersed and hard to access, disaster risk and climate-relevant data are now consolidated in one open and accessible platform, which is particularly useful for pre-event planning,” said Francis Nkoka, specialist with World Bank’s Africa urban & disaster risk management practice, and the team leader for this initiative.

Along with providing crucial data, the mapping exercise also helped to engage and better prepare communities for disasters.

“Ensuring the communities have an understanding of their disaster risk is key to building preparedness and resilience,” said Emma Phillips, a disaster risk specialist with the World Bank Group . “One way of doing this is to hold these participatory mapping exercises that mobilize members of the community in collecting information about where they live, and what they care about.”

“The power of the crowd is alive and continues to advance the understanding of the world, providing exciting possibilities for this newly collected and collated data to have a positive impact,” she said.

The efforts to build flood preparedness are supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the World Bank and are implemented by the Government of Malawi.

Zeria Banda
Communications Officer - World Bank Malawi Country Office