Geocomputation for Geoscience: The Earth System Data Cube

PhD student and King’s Geocomputation member Alejandro Coca-Castro attended Europe’s premier geosciences event, The European Geoscience Union (EGU) General Assembly, in Vienna, Austria (April 24th – 28th 2017). In addition to presenting his preliminary PhD results in the session “Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals with the huge Remote Sensing archives”, Alejandro kindly dedicated part of his attendance at EGU to capture the emerging Geocomputation fields applied to Geosciences, and in particular for land and biosphere research. In this post Alejandro summarises the latest advances in Big Data technologies presented at EGU, which he sees as one of the two main emerging fields revolutionizing the data-driven analysis allows knowledge-production.


 

Well-known remote sensing data producers such as The European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA are developing a wide range of data products relevant to understand land surface processes and atmospheric phenomena as well as human-caused changes. However, although there is an unprecedented variety of long-term monitoring data, it remains challenging to understand exchanging processes between atmosphere and the terrestrial biosphere. To overcome this issue, ‘Big Data’ technologies are being proposed to tap the question of how to simultaneously explore multiple Earth Observations (EOs).

EarthDataCube3

Fig 1. Emerging Big Data technologies make possible to co-explore multiple datasets with different characteristics and under different assumptions with an efficient and faster manner than traditional data management technologies.  Source: M. Mahecha (2017) https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.4822930.v2

Amongst all collaborative initiatives presented at EGU, the Earth System Data Cube project led by the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry and funded by ESA presented an emerging platform (E-Lab). The project aims to maximize the usage of ESA-EOs and other relevant data streams. The main concept behind the E-lab’s stream data maximization is the so-called ‘Data Cube’ concept. This ‘cube’ concept enables handling and extracting information for a given georeferenced dataset, optimising the management of its spatial and time dimensions. These dimensions are use to split data into smaller sub-cubes of of varying dimensions. In this way, dimension X and Y are the spatial dimensions (i.e., latitude and longitude). The third dimension corresponds to time; the fourth are the multiple variables or data streams themselves. All data uploaded into E-Lab are under the elegant and efficient ‘Data Cube’ umbrella and simultaneously exploration is mainly permitted by a set of predefined preprocessing rules applied during the data ingestion process.

CABLAB_structure

Fig 2. Representation of the ‘Data cube’ concept and its related-structure applied to three different data sets (V1, V2, V3). Source: Earth System Data Cube (2017).

E-lab provides scientists a virtual online laboratory where the “Data Cube” can be explored, standard processing chains can be examined, and new work-flows can be tested. Jupyterhub is the underlying framework of the platform. This makes it simple for the users to work on the data cube using the popular Jupyter notebook, which supports high-level programming languages (mainly in Julia, Python and also a bit in R, although the latter is a bit underdeveloped at this stage).

The Earth System Data Cube initiative is a pioneering project offering an open and free-of-charge collaborative virtual platform with a solid background in the analysis of large data-sets and a sound understanding of the Earth System. However, a challenge remains in regards to the standards of data infrastructure, metadata and sharing protocols for existing and incoming, either private or public, projects supported by the ‘Data Cube’ concept. A first step towards tackling this concern is being led by The EarthCube and NextGEOSS initiatives which also were part of the transdisciplinary programme covered by the EGU of this year.


 

Interested in how Crowdsourcing is revolutionizing the way to collect/extract knowledge for data-driven analysis? If so, look out for a blog post on the topic right here this coming Friday.

The author is grateful to the Geography Department Small Grants and the P4GES: Can Paying for Global Ecosystem Services reduce poverty? project for providing funding for his successful attendance at the EGU General Assembly. Revision of English version by Sarah Jones and content by Miguel Mahecha.

For updates about Alejandro’s research follow @alejo_coca on twitter.


Fighting injustice helps in creating resilient urban spaces

Undefined

The popular concept of building resilience is touted as a positive one. It’s seen as a way to find new opportunities and innovations to help people deal with stresses that affect their lives. But the popular push for resilience can bring its own set of problems.

Resilience is gaining increasing popularity at an international policy level. It’s in the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement, in the 2015 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and most notably, in the new Sustainable Development Goals

In the development goals the language of resilience is used in multiple ways, alongside wellbeing and poverty alleviation. Resilience is invoked in five goals.

But pushing a resilience agenda can have unintended consequences. Do efforts to build resilience automatically address injustices and inequality? We argue here, and in a recently published article, that they don’t. A focus on justice is lacking in resilience responses, particularly in the African context, where there’s high inequality, high poverty and significant injustices.

Resilience on the ground

There are concrete attempts to translate the global frameworks into actions on the ground. For instance, the Rockefeller Foundation has been supporting cities internationally since 2013 to put the concept of resilience into practice. Seven of Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities are located in Africa. They are Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Accra, Dakar, Lagos, Cape Town and Durban. And many other cities and towns across Africa are involved in finding ways to increase their resilience.

This seems perfectly logical. African cities have high levels of vulnerability. This is because of rapid in-migration, old infrastructure, limited capacity to manage the city, and high levels of poverty and informality, among other things. African cities are also places where innovation and growth is taking place. 

Potentially, the development pathways of urban areas in Africa could be leapfrogged to more sustainable pathways. Pushing for resilience in urban Africa is central to helping build liveable and thriving cities.

But balancing resilience and justice is a much trickier proposition.

Mzuzu Malawi, is another example of the problems inherent in balancing justice and resilience. Lukasz Lukomski/Wikimedia Commons

Unintended consequences

The City of Cape Town offers one of many examples of the challenges in balancing resilience and justice. City officials were aware of the need to manage their water leakage problem and realised that many households with high bills and leakages were relatively poor. 

The city developed a programme to fit water management devices in the homes of poor people who have high water bills. These devices limit household water supply to 350 litres a day (based on households’ free water of 6kl per month plus an extra 4.5kl of free water monthly). When installed, the household debt is written off and the water leaks are fixed. 

From the city’s point of view, this programme is increasing resilience through securing water supply and debt management for indigent households. 

But residents find these devices punitive and unjust. Many have found that 350 litres are often not enough and leaks often resurface, as outlined in a recent paper. Because the meter starts recording water use around 4.30am, the allocated water can be gone by 6am if there are leaks. This is just when the household needs the water. Households often end up asking neighbours for water, and find it hard to meet their economic and household water needs.

Another example of the problems inherent in balancing issues of justice and resilience comes from the city of Mzuzu, in northern Malawi. Here, flooding poses a major risk to the city. To reduce the impact of flooding, the city introduced building codes that would make houses more resistant. 

But what the city didn’t foresee was that the higher expense of building houses that could meet these codes would push people away from formally planned areas to build in informal, unplanned settlements. Unsurprisingly, the areas where they have settled are the only ones available, precisely because they are most vulnerable to flooding, for example along the steep riverbanks. And so people find themselves pushed by circumstances to build their non-code-compliant housing in the most flood prone areas of the city.

The people driving resilience interventions are often those in powerful positions. And there’s limited room for more marginalised groups to have their voice heard. The City of Cape Town, for example, didn’t consult local communities before putting in the water management devices. They just did it. 

Collaboration is crucial

Resilience approaches tend not to be pro-poor, and issues of justice are often not considered. So, if resilience efforts don’t explicitly consider justice issues, they will end up making those who are the most in need of building resilience the least resilient.

But without justice and poverty, inequality can’t be reduced, nor can wellbeing be improved. And, if people are poor, suffer high inequality, and have low levels of wellbeing, they can’t withstand or respond to shocks and stresses well: the very thing that resilience-building is supposed to address. 

There are no easy answers to ensure that resilience approaches don’t undermine justice. Both procedural justice – which looks at who gets a say in decision making – and distributive justice – which looks at who gets what slice of the pie – will need to be a part of the push for resilience. Decision makers and communities will need to work together to discuss these two questions, whenever “resilience-building” efforts are involved: [resilience of what and for whom?](http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02723638.2016.1206395.

This blog post by Prof Gina Ziervogel and Dr Lorena Pasquini was originally posted on 'The Conversation':https://theconversation.com/fighting-injustice-helps-in-creating-resilie...

Standfirst: 

Resilience is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days. It means different things to different people, but generally alludes to the ability of people or systems to bounce back from shocks, and, increasingly find ways to emerge stronger than before. Shocks might be acute – like floods or cholera outbreaks – or chronic – like stress because of poverty or insecurity. The term, that emerged from ecological literature, is concerned with how systems work. It has grown to be used in many fields including engineering, psychology, development studies and geography.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fighting injustice helps in creating resilient urban spaces

Undefined

The popular concept of building resilience is touted as a positive one. It’s seen as a way to find new opportunities and innovations to help people deal with stresses that affect their lives. But the popular push for resilience can bring its own set of problems.

Resilience is gaining increasing popularity at an international policy level. It’s in the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement, in the 2015 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and most notably, in the new Sustainable Development Goals

In the development goals the language of resilience is used in multiple ways, alongside wellbeing and poverty alleviation. Resilience is invoked in five goals.

But pushing a resilience agenda can have unintended consequences. Do efforts to build resilience automatically address injustices and inequality? We argue here, and in a recently published article, that they don’t. A focus on justice is lacking in resilience responses, particularly in the African context, where there’s high inequality, high poverty and significant injustices.

Resilience on the ground

There are concrete attempts to translate the global frameworks into actions on the ground. For instance, the Rockefeller Foundation has been supporting cities internationally since 2013 to put the concept of resilience into practice. Seven of Rockefeller’s 100 Resilient Cities are located in Africa. They are Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Accra, Dakar, Lagos, Cape Town and Durban. And many other cities and towns across Africa are involved in finding ways to increase their resilience.

This seems perfectly logical. African cities have high levels of vulnerability. This is because of rapid in-migration, old infrastructure, limited capacity to manage the city, and high levels of poverty and informality, among other things. African cities are also places where innovation and growth is taking place. 

Potentially, the development pathways of urban areas in Africa could be leapfrogged to more sustainable pathways. Pushing for resilience in urban Africa is central to helping build liveable and thriving cities.

But balancing resilience and justice is a much trickier proposition.

Mzuzu Malawi, is another example of the problems inherent in balancing justice and resilience. Lukasz Lukomski/Wikimedia Commons

Unintended consequences

The City of Cape Town offers one of many examples of the challenges in balancing resilience and justice. City officials were aware of the need to manage their water leakage problem and realised that many households with high bills and leakages were relatively poor. 

The city developed a programme to fit water management devices in the homes of poor people who have high water bills. These devices limit household water supply to 350 litres a day (based on households’ free water of 6kl per month plus an extra 4.5kl of free water monthly). When installed, the household debt is written off and the water leaks are fixed. 

From the city’s point of view, this programme is increasing resilience through securing water supply and debt management for indigent households. 

But residents find these devices punitive and unjust. Many have found that 350 litres are often not enough and leaks often resurface, as outlined in a recent paper. Because the meter starts recording water use around 4.30am, the allocated water can be gone by 6am if there are leaks. This is just when the household needs the water. Households often end up asking neighbours for water, and find it hard to meet their economic and household water needs.

Another example of the problems inherent in balancing issues of justice and resilience comes from the city of Mzuzu, in northern Malawi. Here, flooding poses a major risk to the city. To reduce the impact of flooding, the city introduced building codes that would make houses more resistant. 

But what the city didn’t foresee was that the higher expense of building houses that could meet these codes would push people away from formally planned areas to build in informal, unplanned settlements. Unsurprisingly, the areas where they have settled are the only ones available, precisely because they are most vulnerable to flooding, for example along the steep riverbanks. And so people find themselves pushed by circumstances to build their non-code-compliant housing in the most flood prone areas of the city.

The people driving resilience interventions are often those in powerful positions. And there’s limited room for more marginalised groups to have their voice heard. The City of Cape Town, for example, didn’t consult local communities before putting in the water management devices. They just did it. 

Collaboration is crucial

Resilience approaches tend not to be pro-poor, and issues of justice are often not considered. So, if resilience efforts don’t explicitly consider justice issues, they will end up making those who are the most in need of building resilience the least resilient.

But without justice and poverty, inequality can’t be reduced, nor can wellbeing be improved. And, if people are poor, suffer high inequality, and have low levels of wellbeing, they can’t withstand or respond to shocks and stresses well: the very thing that resilience-building is supposed to address. 

There are no easy answers to ensure that resilience approaches don’t undermine justice. Both procedural justice – which looks at who gets a say in decision making – and distributive justice – which looks at who gets what slice of the pie – will need to be a part of the push for resilience. Decision makers and communities will need to work together to discuss these two questions, whenever “resilience-building” efforts are involved: [resilience of what and for whom?](http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02723638.2016.1206395.

This blog post by Prof Gina Ziervogel and Dr Lorena Pasquini was originally posted on 'The Conversation':https://theconversation.com/fighting-injustice-helps-in-creating-resilie...

Standfirst: 

Resilience is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days. It means different things to different people, but generally alludes to the ability of people or systems to bounce back from shocks, and, increasingly find ways to emerge stronger than before. Shocks might be acute – like floods or cholera outbreaks – or chronic – like stress because of poverty or insecurity. The term, that emerged from ecological literature, is concerned with how systems work. It has grown to be used in many fields including engineering, psychology, development studies and geography.

Posted in Uncategorized

Addressing the needs of vulnerable groups in urban areas

Undefined

'Vulnerable', along with 'sustainable' and 'resilient', are three powerful words that appear so often in United Nations' recommendations and declarations – and in the literature on environment and development.

But are these now so commonly used that they are losing their power? Is the term 'vulnerable groups' used just as a convenient (but misleading) shorthand for showing concern for a long list of groups considered more at risk, without a need to ask why they are vulnerable and what needs to change?

An individual or household is said to be vulnerable to a risk (such as malaria-spreading mosquitoes, contaminated water or a flood) if they are more susceptible to being harmed or killed by it, or less able to cope or adapt (to lessen the risk). 

For instance, the lives of infants and young children are generally more at risk from malaria and contaminated water than the lives of adults. Groups more at risk to loss of their livelihood, income or assets – for instance to a flood – are also vulnerable.  

Is most of the world's population vulnerable?

It is now obligatory within UN declarations, discussions and recommendations to make special mention of 'vulnerable groups' or groups in vulnerable situations, and then often to list them – as in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)and the UN's 'New Urban Agenda' (PDF)

The SDGs include many mentions of vulnerable groups – as in the need for attention to "the poorest and most vulnerable" and "people in vulnerable situations". Mention is also made of vulnerable countries. Vulnerable groups are said to include children, youth, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons and migrants. 

Within the New Urban Agenda, the word vulnerable appears 15 times and those who are said to be in vulnerable situations include women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and local communities (paragraph 34) and communities that are most vulnerable to disasters (29).  

But this means that almost all the world's population is vulnerable. The only people who are not vulnerable according to this list are working age men that are not old, or migrants or disabled or indigenous or community members, or those in communities most vulnerable to disasters.

Going beyond lists to removing the risks

Rarely do the UN texts go beyond these lists to ask why these groups are vulnerable and what is needed to reduce or remove their vulnerability.

It is not so much vulnerable groups that are at issue, but the vulnerability of particular groups of the population to specific risks. To term all women or youth or migrants as vulnerable groups is to misrepresent their knowledge and their capacities to act – to cope with risk, to adapt to lessen risk or to remove risk.  

This is the second of three blogs drawn from the editorial in the April 2017 issue of the international journal, Environment & Urbanization. This issue is on 'Understanding the full spectrum of risk in urban areas' and it was prepared in partnership with Urban Africa Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK). The first blog was on 'Urban risks: where are the top five biggest blinds spots?'

For infants and young children, much of their vulnerability to risk is to specific diseases. Provide them with a good quality healthcare that ensures they get all the needed vaccinations and rapid responses if ill or injured, and much of the vulnerability disappears. It disappears even more in good quality housing in neighbourhoods with safe play spaces. 

The vulnerability that many women face is so often related to the discrimination they face – within the household in tasks and food allocations, in labour markets, in access to land for housing and credit….

Water piped into each home that is safe, sufficient, regular and affordable, and good quality sanitation, together with an effective, easily-accessed healthcare system, enormously reduces the risks of premature death and ill health. There is no "vulnerable group" if the risk that they are vulnerable to is removed. 

In informal settlements that are vulnerable to serious flood risks every year, those living there are no longer vulnerable if investment in drainage and flood management remove the flood risk.  

But vulnerable groups that need support may also be mislabelled 'resilient'. Maria Kaika (in a paper in the April 2017 issue of Environment & Urbanization) notes how a focus on resilience can simply transfer responsibility from government to citizens. She gives the example of Tracie Washington, president of the Louisiana Justice Institute, who requested that policymakers and the media stop calling Hurricane Katrina and BP oil spill victims "resilient", pointing out that this can become an excuse by governments for not acting on removing the risks.

Local engagement to act on urban risk

So we need local knowledge on all the main risks, on who is most susceptible to each risk – and who lacks the capacity to cope and adapt.  And what is needed to reduce risk. So how do we get this? In ways that empower those most at risk?  

This is only possible if there is a local engagement with at risk groups. Interviews with flooded households in Niamey (Niger) in 2015 showed large differences in household capacity to cope and adapt.

city-wide risk assessment in Karonga (Malawi) showed the range of risks facing the population with a need to consider who is vulnerable to each risk – whether these risks are from infectious or parasitic diseases, chemical pollutants or physical hazards (such as accidental fires, drowning or road vehicle accidents).

In urban areas, local government has many important roles and responsibilities in reducing the presence of hazards and people's exposure to them. A key step is ensuring provision of risk-reducing infrastructure and services to all neighbourhoods (such as safe, sufficient, affordable water, and good-quality sanitation, electricity, healthcare and waste collection). 

Upgrading informal settlements should reduce or remove many life- and health-threatening risks – as infrastructure and services are provided and as risk of eviction is much reduced. But ill-designed upgrading can increase vulnerability if it does not serve the needs and priorities of the residents.

David Satterthwaite (david.satterthwaite@iied.org) is a senior fellow in IIED's Human Settlements research groupand visiting professor at the Development Planning Unit, University College London.

Standfirst: 

For the billion urban dwellers living in informal settlements, there are many risks. Those who are more susceptible to these risks, or less able to cope, are termed vulnerable. But they are not vulnerable if the risks are removed. We need to focus more on removing the risks and less on endless lists of 'vulnerable groups', argues David Satterthwaite.

Posted in Uncategorized

Addressing the needs of vulnerable groups in urban areas

Undefined

'Vulnerable', along with 'sustainable' and 'resilient', are three powerful words that appear so often in United Nations' recommendations and declarations – and in the literature on environment and development.

But are these now so commonly used that they are losing their power? Is the term 'vulnerable groups' used just as a convenient (but misleading) shorthand for showing concern for a long list of groups considered more at risk, without a need to ask why they are vulnerable and what needs to change?

An individual or household is said to be vulnerable to a risk (such as malaria-spreading mosquitoes, contaminated water or a flood) if they are more susceptible to being harmed or killed by it, or less able to cope or adapt (to lessen the risk). 

For instance, the lives of infants and young children are generally more at risk from malaria and contaminated water than the lives of adults. Groups more at risk to loss of their livelihood, income or assets – for instance to a flood – are also vulnerable.  

Is most of the world's population vulnerable?

It is now obligatory within UN declarations, discussions and recommendations to make special mention of 'vulnerable groups' or groups in vulnerable situations, and then often to list them – as in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)and the UN's 'New Urban Agenda' (PDF)

The SDGs include many mentions of vulnerable groups – as in the need for attention to "the poorest and most vulnerable" and "people in vulnerable situations". Mention is also made of vulnerable countries. Vulnerable groups are said to include children, youth, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, older persons, indigenous peoples, refugees and internally displaced persons and migrants. 

Within the New Urban Agenda, the word vulnerable appears 15 times and those who are said to be in vulnerable situations include women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and local communities (paragraph 34) and communities that are most vulnerable to disasters (29).  

But this means that almost all the world's population is vulnerable. The only people who are not vulnerable according to this list are working age men that are not old, or migrants or disabled or indigenous or community members, or those in communities most vulnerable to disasters.

Going beyond lists to removing the risks

Rarely do the UN texts go beyond these lists to ask why these groups are vulnerable and what is needed to reduce or remove their vulnerability.

It is not so much vulnerable groups that are at issue, but the vulnerability of particular groups of the population to specific risks. To term all women or youth or migrants as vulnerable groups is to misrepresent their knowledge and their capacities to act – to cope with risk, to adapt to lessen risk or to remove risk.  

This is the second of three blogs drawn from the editorial in the April 2017 issue of the international journal, Environment & Urbanization. This issue is on 'Understanding the full spectrum of risk in urban areas' and it was prepared in partnership with Urban Africa Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK). The first blog was on 'Urban risks: where are the top five biggest blinds spots?'

For infants and young children, much of their vulnerability to risk is to specific diseases. Provide them with a good quality healthcare that ensures they get all the needed vaccinations and rapid responses if ill or injured, and much of the vulnerability disappears. It disappears even more in good quality housing in neighbourhoods with safe play spaces. 

The vulnerability that many women face is so often related to the discrimination they face – within the household in tasks and food allocations, in labour markets, in access to land for housing and credit….

Water piped into each home that is safe, sufficient, regular and affordable, and good quality sanitation, together with an effective, easily-accessed healthcare system, enormously reduces the risks of premature death and ill health. There is no "vulnerable group" if the risk that they are vulnerable to is removed. 

In informal settlements that are vulnerable to serious flood risks every year, those living there are no longer vulnerable if investment in drainage and flood management remove the flood risk.  

But vulnerable groups that need support may also be mislabelled 'resilient'. Maria Kaika (in a paper in the April 2017 issue of Environment & Urbanization) notes how a focus on resilience can simply transfer responsibility from government to citizens. She gives the example of Tracie Washington, president of the Louisiana Justice Institute, who requested that policymakers and the media stop calling Hurricane Katrina and BP oil spill victims "resilient", pointing out that this can become an excuse by governments for not acting on removing the risks.

Local engagement to act on urban risk

So we need local knowledge on all the main risks, on who is most susceptible to each risk – and who lacks the capacity to cope and adapt.  And what is needed to reduce risk. So how do we get this? In ways that empower those most at risk?  

This is only possible if there is a local engagement with at risk groups. Interviews with flooded households in Niamey (Niger) in 2015 showed large differences in household capacity to cope and adapt.

city-wide risk assessment in Karonga (Malawi) showed the range of risks facing the population with a need to consider who is vulnerable to each risk – whether these risks are from infectious or parasitic diseases, chemical pollutants or physical hazards (such as accidental fires, drowning or road vehicle accidents).

In urban areas, local government has many important roles and responsibilities in reducing the presence of hazards and people's exposure to them. A key step is ensuring provision of risk-reducing infrastructure and services to all neighbourhoods (such as safe, sufficient, affordable water, and good-quality sanitation, electricity, healthcare and waste collection). 

Upgrading informal settlements should reduce or remove many life- and health-threatening risks – as infrastructure and services are provided and as risk of eviction is much reduced. But ill-designed upgrading can increase vulnerability if it does not serve the needs and priorities of the residents.

David Satterthwaite (david.satterthwaite@iied.org) is a senior fellow in IIED's Human Settlements research groupand visiting professor at the Development Planning Unit, University College London.

Standfirst: 

For the billion urban dwellers living in informal settlements, there are many risks. Those who are more susceptible to these risks, or less able to cope, are termed vulnerable. But they are not vulnerable if the risks are removed. We need to focus more on removing the risks and less on endless lists of 'vulnerable groups', argues David Satterthwaite.

Posted in Uncategorized

Urban risks: where are the top five biggest blind spots?

Undefined
Informal Settlement, Dar es Salaam

Whose lives are most at risk in urban areas of the global South – for instance from preventable diseases and disasters? And what are the most serious risks they face? We need a fuller picture/better data/more evidence on urban risk to inform governments and aid agencies and to guide their investment in risk-reducing infrastructure and services (such as safe, sufficient, affordable water, and good-quality sanitation, electricity, healthcare and waste collection).

For much of the world's 2.5 billion urban dwellers living in Africa and Asia, and for many in Latin America, there is surprisingly little information on the most serious health risks they face. 

So responses from urban governments and from national governments and international agencies that are meant to help address these are operating blind; there is little or no local data on the most serious health risks and their causes.

Where are the blind spots? 

The huge scale of premature death, illness, serious injury and impoverishment in urban areas that remains hidden because these are not recorded

Within this, the lack of health data for the billion people living in informal settlements 

No local records on many serious health problems. Surveys with relevant health data exist in most nations, but these do not provide the information needed for action: at street, ward, district and urban centre level

Discussion of risks often fails to include the 'everyday' risks from infectious and parasitic diseases even though these are usually the main causes of premature death in informal settlements, and

Documentation on the impacts of disasters usually covers only large disasters but in aggregate, floods or other disasters too small to be classified as disasters are among the main causes of premature death, injury and poverty in informal settlements. 

The lack of health data on informal settlements makes it impossible to plan and implement much needed upgrading programmes and effective disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

Little local health data

We get some sense of the scale of the health issues from household surveys (such as the demographic and health surveys), which show very high infant, child and maternal mortality rates "for urban areas" in many African and Asian nations.

But for practical action, this kind of information is needed for each urban centre, district or ward – on what the problems are, where they are and who is most impacted.

Civil servants, politicians and civil society groups working at neighbourhood, ward, district and city levels may have some sense of the most serious health problems, based on their experience and on the concerns raised by the population within their jurisdictions.

But responses are often ill-focused, without data to guide their policies and to present to higher-ups. 

Lack of data for informal settlements

The availability of data is worst in the informal settlements that now house around a billion urban dwellers – and in many cities, house more than half the total population.

In Nairobi, the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) has shown that aggregate figures for infant and under-five mortality rates for the city hide the much higher rates in informal settlements.

Recent papers in The Lancet are also highlighting the lack of relevant data. But few city governments (or national governments) collect data on health problems in informal settlements. 

Measuring risk

It is possible to consider 'everyday' risks, risks from small and large disasters, and climate change using the same metrics – their contribution to premature death, illness and injury, damage to or destruction of homes and assets.

Everything that has impoverished, harmed or killed an individual or individuals in a city can in theory be recorded. This evidence can guide policy and implementation, especially for the city or municipal governments that are responsible for providing most risk-reducing infrastructure (such as safe, sufficient, affordable water; good-quality sanitation and electricity; all-weather access roads; and street lighting) and risk-reducing services (including healthcare, household waste collection, emergency services, rule of law/policing, and road traffic management).

What needs highlighting?

Among all the hazards facing urban populations, all the vulnerable groups, all the risks and all the factors that cause or influence these, what needs highlighting?

The first is the huge scale of premature death, illness, injury and impoverishment that remains hidden because these are not recorded and are not even seen as outcomes of risk by many actors.

The second is how much more serious this is in most informal settlements. The third is how effective risk reduction depends on the quality and capacity of local governments, including their capacity to listen to and work with those most at risk.

Assessments of risk for urban areas usually leave out the largest risk; the risk of premature death or serious impairment by illness from infectious and parasitic diseases.

It is likely that in most informal settlements, certain infectious and parasitic diseases will figure among the largest risks of premature death or impairment from illness. It is also likely in many cities that particular infectious and parasitic diseases are the highest risk for entire city populations – but with considerable differences in the scale of the risk by district and by income group.

It is likely that infant, child and maternal deaths represent a very high proportion of all premature deaths, concentrated in settlements where provision for risk-reducing infrastructure and services is worst.

What needs to happen?

Recognise how little we know: we have to start by admitting how little we know about the hazards facing much of the world's urban population, and thus also how little we know about the most serious risks they face.

Data on large disasters for cities (including the number of deaths) are recorded, although here it is difficult to get data for each urban centre that is impacted.

But data on disasters seldom include attention to disasters too small to be classified as a disaster (typically 10 or more deaths/or 100 or more people affected and/or a declaration of a state of emergency/call for international assistance) – that when taken together are the cause of so much premature death, injury and impoverishment.

Get a more complete picture: getting a more complete picture for any urban centre of the full spectrum of risks, and who is most at risk and why (and where they live), is a key underpinning for more effective action. This should also highlight where risk reduction is needed and is possible.

For those residents well served by risk-reducing infrastructure and services, many of the most common causes of premature death disappear – including infant and child deaths from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, and deaths from extreme weather events.

A good healthcare system should also remove TB and HIV/Aids from leading causes of death. Good provision for pedestrians and cyclists, and public transport and good traffic management can dramatically cut deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. 

Changing perceptions, changing priorities: why is it that higher levels of government and international agencies give so little attention to this?

Why is there so little funding for effective city-wide provision for water, sanitation, drainage and solid waste removal? Why are the data needed on risk and its causes not available for each urban centre and its districts, wards and neighbourhoods?

Why do we know so much about the global burden of disease, but so little about the burden of disease in each locality (which is where the data are actually needed to guide action)? 

Enhancing the information base: all urban centres need an information base on the main causes of premature death (perhaps especially for infants, children, youth and mothers), serious illness, injury and impoverishment that can be made available for each small area (or if possible each street) and that can be mapped to show where each risk is concentrated.

Census data should be able to provide some data on health determinants (such as quality of provision for water and sanitation) even if only available every 10 years. It should be seen as a public good, with census authorities providing local governments with data on conditions in their jurisdiction, down to each street.

Vital registration systems need to be set up or restored so they can provide data on deaths, causes, age and location. Data from these should be available not only to local governments but also to citizens and civil society groups, and of course with census or survey data also guaranteeing the anonymity of respondents.

Police, fire service and hospital records should contribute relevant data – although hospital records provide no data on the many who cannot access hospitals.

Then there are the detailed surveys and maps of informal settlements undertaken in hundreds of cities by slum/shack dweller federations. These provide much of the data needed to inform risk reduction and engage local populations in setting priorities and acting on them. 

Standfirst: 

 

 

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Urban risks: where are the top five biggest blind spots?

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Informal Settlement, Dar es Salaam

Whose lives are most at risk in urban areas of the global South – for instance from preventable diseases and disasters? And what are the most serious risks they face? We need a fuller picture/better data/more evidence on urban risk to inform governments and aid agencies and to guide their investment in risk-reducing infrastructure and services (such as safe, sufficient, affordable water, and good-quality sanitation, electricity, healthcare and waste collection).

For much of the world's 2.5 billion urban dwellers living in Africa and Asia, and for many in Latin America, there is surprisingly little information on the most serious health risks they face. 

So responses from urban governments and from national governments and international agencies that are meant to help address these are operating blind; there is little or no local data on the most serious health risks and their causes.

Where are the blind spots? 

The huge scale of premature death, illness, serious injury and impoverishment in urban areas that remains hidden because these are not recorded

Within this, the lack of health data for the billion people living in informal settlements 

No local records on many serious health problems. Surveys with relevant health data exist in most nations, but these do not provide the information needed for action: at street, ward, district and urban centre level

Discussion of risks often fails to include the 'everyday' risks from infectious and parasitic diseases even though these are usually the main causes of premature death in informal settlements, and

Documentation on the impacts of disasters usually covers only large disasters but in aggregate, floods or other disasters too small to be classified as disasters are among the main causes of premature death, injury and poverty in informal settlements. 

The lack of health data on informal settlements makes it impossible to plan and implement much needed upgrading programmes and effective disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

Little local health data

We get some sense of the scale of the health issues from household surveys (such as the demographic and health surveys), which show very high infant, child and maternal mortality rates "for urban areas" in many African and Asian nations.

But for practical action, this kind of information is needed for each urban centre, district or ward – on what the problems are, where they are and who is most impacted.

Civil servants, politicians and civil society groups working at neighbourhood, ward, district and city levels may have some sense of the most serious health problems, based on their experience and on the concerns raised by the population within their jurisdictions.

But responses are often ill-focused, without data to guide their policies and to present to higher-ups. 

Lack of data for informal settlements

The availability of data is worst in the informal settlements that now house around a billion urban dwellers – and in many cities, house more than half the total population.

In Nairobi, the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) has shown that aggregate figures for infant and under-five mortality rates for the city hide the much higher rates in informal settlements.

Recent papers in The Lancet are also highlighting the lack of relevant data. But few city governments (or national governments) collect data on health problems in informal settlements. 

Measuring risk

It is possible to consider 'everyday' risks, risks from small and large disasters, and climate change using the same metrics – their contribution to premature death, illness and injury, damage to or destruction of homes and assets.

Everything that has impoverished, harmed or killed an individual or individuals in a city can in theory be recorded. This evidence can guide policy and implementation, especially for the city or municipal governments that are responsible for providing most risk-reducing infrastructure (such as safe, sufficient, affordable water; good-quality sanitation and electricity; all-weather access roads; and street lighting) and risk-reducing services (including healthcare, household waste collection, emergency services, rule of law/policing, and road traffic management).

What needs highlighting?

Among all the hazards facing urban populations, all the vulnerable groups, all the risks and all the factors that cause or influence these, what needs highlighting?

The first is the huge scale of premature death, illness, injury and impoverishment that remains hidden because these are not recorded and are not even seen as outcomes of risk by many actors.

The second is how much more serious this is in most informal settlements. The third is how effective risk reduction depends on the quality and capacity of local governments, including their capacity to listen to and work with those most at risk.

Assessments of risk for urban areas usually leave out the largest risk; the risk of premature death or serious impairment by illness from infectious and parasitic diseases.

It is likely that in most informal settlements, certain infectious and parasitic diseases will figure among the largest risks of premature death or impairment from illness. It is also likely in many cities that particular infectious and parasitic diseases are the highest risk for entire city populations – but with considerable differences in the scale of the risk by district and by income group.

It is likely that infant, child and maternal deaths represent a very high proportion of all premature deaths, concentrated in settlements where provision for risk-reducing infrastructure and services is worst.

What needs to happen?

Recognise how little we know: we have to start by admitting how little we know about the hazards facing much of the world's urban population, and thus also how little we know about the most serious risks they face.

Data on large disasters for cities (including the number of deaths) are recorded, although here it is difficult to get data for each urban centre that is impacted.

But data on disasters seldom include attention to disasters too small to be classified as a disaster (typically 10 or more deaths/or 100 or more people affected and/or a declaration of a state of emergency/call for international assistance) – that when taken together are the cause of so much premature death, injury and impoverishment.

Get a more complete picture: getting a more complete picture for any urban centre of the full spectrum of risks, and who is most at risk and why (and where they live), is a key underpinning for more effective action. This should also highlight where risk reduction is needed and is possible.

For those residents well served by risk-reducing infrastructure and services, many of the most common causes of premature death disappear – including infant and child deaths from diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections, and deaths from extreme weather events.

A good healthcare system should also remove TB and HIV/Aids from leading causes of death. Good provision for pedestrians and cyclists, and public transport and good traffic management can dramatically cut deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. 

Changing perceptions, changing priorities: why is it that higher levels of government and international agencies give so little attention to this?

Why is there so little funding for effective city-wide provision for water, sanitation, drainage and solid waste removal? Why are the data needed on risk and its causes not available for each urban centre and its districts, wards and neighbourhoods?

Why do we know so much about the global burden of disease, but so little about the burden of disease in each locality (which is where the data are actually needed to guide action)? 

Enhancing the information base: all urban centres need an information base on the main causes of premature death (perhaps especially for infants, children, youth and mothers), serious illness, injury and impoverishment that can be made available for each small area (or if possible each street) and that can be mapped to show where each risk is concentrated.

Census data should be able to provide some data on health determinants (such as quality of provision for water and sanitation) even if only available every 10 years. It should be seen as a public good, with census authorities providing local governments with data on conditions in their jurisdiction, down to each street.

Vital registration systems need to be set up or restored so they can provide data on deaths, causes, age and location. Data from these should be available not only to local governments but also to citizens and civil society groups, and of course with census or survey data also guaranteeing the anonymity of respondents.

Police, fire service and hospital records should contribute relevant data – although hospital records provide no data on the many who cannot access hospitals.

Then there are the detailed surveys and maps of informal settlements undertaken in hundreds of cities by slum/shack dweller federations. These provide much of the data needed to inform risk reduction and engage local populations in setting priorities and acting on them. 

Standfirst: 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Spotlight on the MSc Water: Science and Governance programme

  The MSc Water: Science and Governance programme draws on the university’s leading reputation in water research to equip students with advanced interdisciplinary training to tackle the contemporary challenges of diverse water environments around the world. Combined with international research excellence in water science, … Continue reading

Mapping for Change: Profiling Informal Settlements in Freetown, Sierra Leone

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As part of the Urban ARK Work Programme 4 (WP4) work on ‘Governance, Planning and Urban Development in Freetown’, the DPU team represented by Emmanuel Osuteye and Rita Lambert organized a 3-day capacity building workshop in Freetown, Sierra Leone. This was done in partnership with researchers from the Sierra Leone Urban Research Centre (SLURC) led by Braima Koroma who are serving as the city leads for the Urban ARK work in sierra Leone.

The main purpose of the workshop was to train a team of recruited volunteers drawn from residents of a number of informal settlements, members of the Federation of the Urban Poor and other local NGO representatives that are active within the informal settlements, in risk mapping methods integrated into a wider process of conducting a settlement profiles (both manually, and aided by the use of GPS-enabled mobile phone applications). The tools and method learnt as part of the workshop were immediately applied in profiling two selected informal settlements; Cockle Bay and Dwozark. These two represented the commonest geographic and physical characteristics of informal settlements in Freetown (coastal and hillside respectively).

The focus of this profiling exercise was to gather information on the range of risks that were prevalent in the settlements and the corresponding vulnerabilities of residents. As well as document the risk mitigation, reduction and recovery strategies, and the investments and interventions that characterized their collective capacities to act in the face of the risks or disasters.

The scope of these settlement profiles as part of the WP4 component of the DPU’s Urban ARK research led by Adriana Allen, is to work in 15 informal settlements across Freetown by July 2017, and this will be coordinated by the DPU and SLURC teams working closely with smaller groups of the trained workshop participants.  All the data gathered will be synthesizes and visualized in the online tool “ReMapRisk Freetown” - an interactive cartographic database developed by the UCL team to document and monitor how risk accumulation cycles or 'urban risk traps' materialise over time and where.

 

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