WASHINGTON, April 28, 2011 - More than 60 members of the Southern Sudanese diaspora came together to help locate schools, hospitals, and other social infrastructure at a “Mapathon” on South Sudan today. Held at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., the day-long event was jointly organized by Google and the World Bank. South Sudan is expected to become the world’s newest country come July this year.
The event began with remarks from World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region Obiageli Ezekwesili, who talked about how today’s technology can empower civil society, including the diaspora, to collaborate and support the development process. This is especially in places which face daunting development challenges, such as South Sudan. “This is about shifting the center of gravity from organizations to people, and empowering them to solve their own problems and develop their own solutions using maps,” said Ezekwesili.
South Sudan is a large but severely under-mapped area, and without geospatial information on basic social infrastructure, it is challenging for the government, civil society, and development partners to visualize plans, see existing infrastructure, and select areas where they want to work and develop projects. Having good maps of roads, settlements, buildings and other services will help key stakeholders to evaluate risks and current needs, and better target their efforts to support the development process. The World Bank Group has played an important role in Sudan’s development since 2005, and is deepening its engagement in South Sudan as it prepares for independence.
“Traditionally, you work with cartographic agencies to develop maps that take months or even years to publish. With innovations in geospatial tools and access to local knowledge and data gathered from people who know their communities best, maps can be created in real time that have real value,” said Aleem Walji of the World Bank Institute. Walji runs the Bank's recently launched Mapping for Results platform which visualizes World Bank project locations combined with development indicators in more than 79 of the world's poorest countries, including Sudan.
The “Mapathon” provided training for participants using Google’s online mapping tool, Google Map Maker, and groups sat together to map the regions they know best. It is one of several events the Bank has organized with different private sector partners designed to showcase the growing importance of mapping for development. Several hundred edits were made to the map of South Sudan in four hours by volunteers from the South Sudanese Diaspora, technology, and development worlds. As those edits are approved they will appear live in Google Maps.
The mapping exercise is a first step in tapping into the tacit knowledge that Southern Sudanese diaspora have on the region, and aims to build a community of practitioners that will remain engaged in South Sudan over time. “South Sudan is so underdeveloped in many aspects, and technology is one of them. So by mapping South Sudan, this is a step in the right direction. It is also a useful way for the diaspora to connect with our people on the ground,” said Reec Akuak, a small business owner based in the United.States and Treasurer of the Southern Sudanese Community, an umbrella organization for the Southern Sudanese diaspora groups in the U.S.
Alfred Spector, VP of Research and Special Initiatives at Google, provided background on Google’s involvement, and how it has been working on improving the map of South Sudan. “Your expertise, your local knowledge - be it of a major city or the small village where you were born - will contribute to the creation of a new map for a new nation,” said Spector to the diaspora present. “This isn’t just a day-long event. Together we can make a long term contribution to the future of Southern Sudan.”