28 April 2011, Washington DC - Following the historic referendum in South Sudan, Google and the World Bank organized an event to harness the power of mapping to support the soon-to-be world’s newest independent nation. South Sudan is a very vast area that is still poorly mapped. The lack of basic geospatial information makes it difficult for authorities, civil society and development partners to evaluate needs and plan development actions. The day-long event was organized by Google and the World Bank with support from UNOSAT in the framework of the partnership linking the three entities in the effort to mobilize the power of mapping, geospatial information and crowd sourcing.

The “mapathon” that took place in Washington marked the beginning of a collaborative effort to map important locations in South Sudan with the support of the Sudanese people themselves, especially the Sudanese community living abroad. Some 100 Sudanese living in the DC area registered to take part in the mapping event hosted in the World Bank premises.
In opening the day, Ms Ezekweseli, World Bank’s Regional Vice President for the Africa Region, said: “this is one of the most watched operations in the World Bank”. She thanked UNITAR for its participation through its Programme UNOSAT to the Bank’s efforts to devise new solutions.

Alfred Spector, Google Vice President for Engineering, thanked UNOSAT for its role in the partnership and the efforts being done in Sudan since the inception of the monitoring campaign in the early phases of the referendum. France Lamy, Programme Manager at Google.org, said that Google’s hope “is that this event and others like it will help build a mapping community that will contribute to local expertise, remain engaged in Sudan over time and become self-sufficient".

Francesco Pisano in his opening remarks explained that UNOSAT has been increasing its relationship with crowd sourcing communities including MapMaker because they contribute baseline data and help mobilizing local sources of accurate knowledge in a way that helps considerably expert analysts reduce the production time and arrive sooner at more accurate products to support humanitarian and human security work in the field. He cited the example of the response to the recent floods in Pakistan when, he said, the involvement of the Pakistani community both within and outside the country through MapMaker “made the whole difference” in the work of UNOSAT. Pisano underlined that UNOSAT works with all crowd sourcing initiatives and that the partnership with Google serves to provide a more structured framework so that UNOSAT and the rest of the UN system can benefit from these developments.

UNOSAT hopes that the experience of involving local mappers in generating geographic information over Sudan can soon be replicated in other areas affected by crisis and high vulnerability to natural hazards. In addition, the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and UNOSAT are discussing how to extend their current collaboration on damage assessment to additional areas such as disaster risk reduction and preparedness.

Who organized?

The event was organized by Google Map Maker, Google Crisis Response, Google Dot Org, World Bank Institute (WBI),  Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction (GFDRR), and UNITAR/UNOSAT.

Who participated?Members of the Sudanese community and others who have current local geographic knowledge of the country, to help map features they're aware of.

Regions the South Sudanese community identified as important: Yei, Loka, Mundri, Yambio, Renk, Kapoeta, Torit, Nasir, Rumbek, Yirol, Maridi, Shambe, Chief Jambo, Gogrial.

Photo: Francesco Pisano, UNOSAT Manager showing one example of the results brought about by the UNOSAT-Google partnership launched in 2010.

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