Leveraging MapSwipe to improve solid waste management in Mali: Sustaining livelihoods amidst COVID-19 shutdowns.

15 February 2022

Leveraging MapSwipe to improve solid waste management in Mali - Sustaining livelihoods amidst COVID-19 shutdowns

Since March 2020, communities around the world have experienced the devastating effects of COVID-19 lockdowns; restrictions of movement have left many individuals unemployed with limited opportunities. To support economic livelihoods and resilience, the World Bank partnered with MapSwipe, HeiGIT, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), and OpenStreetMap Mali on the Africa Cash for Digital Work Program, a pilot project centered on creating new remote employment opportunities for individuals affected by COVID-19 lockdowns and engaging them to solve challenges relevant to their community while building relevant skills in GIS and technology.

In Bamako, Mali, more than 100 individuals whose livelihoods were affected due to COVID-19 participated in the pilot program, 45% of whom were women. Users were trained on how to use MapSwipe, a mobile app that individuals can download and use from anywhere, at any time. MapSwipe allows users to look at satellite or aerial imagery on their phone and identify critical infrastructure, supporting humanitarian response, and development activities around the world. But rather than using MapSwipe to identify infrastructure, which has traditionally included buildings, roadways, and waterways, this time MapSwipe was used to help address one of the largest challenges facing urban areas: solid waste management.

“Waste management in urban areas is a growing concern with critical, adverse impacts on health, flooding, and environmental degradation. In cities like Bamako where waste management workflows need significant improvement for the growing population, the full magnitude of the problem is often hard to grasp, as people only witness it along their own routes in the city, like their route to work or to school. For example, we don’t always see how much waste has accumulated over the entire city, and how much waste is dumped in urban fringes, creating huge sprawls of illegal dumpsites,” says Thierry Martin, Waste Management Specialist at the World Bank.

And as waste continues to build in urban and peri-urban areas of Bamako, it poses significant risks: clogging drainage systems and contributing to flooding, contaminating air and water resources, creating breeding grounds for vector-borne diseases such as malaria, and threatening the health of livestock. These impacts widely affect the city’s living conditions.

So how can local authorities begin to solve a problem they cannot fully measure and characterize? We started by generating data to help visualize the problem.

animated GIF MapSwipe Demo

With high resolution aerial imagery of Bamako, community members were trained on how to identify collections of solid waste using MapSwipe on their mobile phones. Together, they spent over 1,500 hours swiping through 6,000,000 imagery tiles and indicating where solid waste in the city was without ever having to leave their home and helping to ensure their safety amidst COVID-19. All individuals received payment for completing the microtasks, helping to offset some of the economic shock they experienced because of COVID restrictions.

“The mapping project helps us to find where waste is piled up in our community. I’ve learnt a lot through using this new participatory technology which allows us to work remotely. I’m very happy to have taken part in the project and hope this type of project can continue to map unsanitary areas all around the world,” said Lassine Sanankoua, one of the Swipers who participated in the project.

And the data generated was a clear success. In under two weeks, users swiped an area of over 450 square kilometers, producing some of the highest quality, detailed data ever produced by MapSwipe.

The data has already been used at the city level to start visualizing where waste is being generated and dumped and to plan where to distribute facilities to collect waste before it is dumped in streets and vacant lots. A small study has also been commissioned to track small enterprises that are collecting waste in communities through door-to-door service; map layers will show routes of these waste collectors overlaid on a map of the piles of solid waste to help city officials and small enterprises improve service provision through better planning.

“The challenges with waste management in urban areas of this size are immense. [The sector] often does not provide room for younger workers to engage, people with university degrees are less interested in getting involved, and local authorities have a hard time professionalizing the sector,” says Martin.

But with an app like MapSwipe, community members have a simple, technology-driven way to engage in the future of waste management and cover vast areas in an extremely short amount of time at very affordable costs. From using MapSwipe to remotely identify collections of solid waste, to using other types of technologies to monitor solid waste operations on the ground, the pilot program in Bamako is a breakthrough in changing the narrative and the approach on solid waste management.

“MapSwipe offers an opportunity to completely change the paradigm of data generation, showing that local communities can engage through the right technologies and tools and generate high quality data that is usually generated through international firms,” Martin believes.

Moving forward, MapSwipe could be used to continuously monitor the progress of solid waste management in Bamako. By collecting new satellite imagery of the area, the World Bank and local authorities could begin to visibly see changes in the size and locations of dumpsites and understand where more targeted intervention is needed.

Many urban areas around the world continue to face challenges with solid waste management; this pilot program in Bamako has shown that MapSwipe provides a simple and quick path to assessing the scale of the waste problem in urban areas while engaging local community members from the start. The World Bank is already thinking of other cities where Mapswipe could be deployed for solid waste rapid mapping as well as others potential urban resilience applications.

by Jessica Bergmann