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IRC Uganda is using GIS to map water point functionality.

Kenneth WallaceIn this blog, Kenneth Wallace provides a brief look at the widespread applications of using Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping to monitor the accessibility of drinking water, sanitation, and other services. Wallace is an M.S. Student, Environmental Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder. He recently completed his practicum at IRC Uganda.

The GIS industry has been in existence since the early 1960s around the birth of computers. Today, the technology has been expanded into numerous applications across numerous fields. From political polls to civil engineering design, GIS applications have proved to be unparalleled in displaying geospatial information in a form that is easily readable and conveyed.

Specific to development, GIS can prove to be a powerful tool in the realm of monitoring and evaluation. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), drafted by the UN in 2015, have set a number of targets within 17 different goals to be achieved by 2030. To ensure adequate coverage in achieving these goals, maps can be a great way to visualise any progress being made toward these goals. For example, a visual representation of regional drinking water and sanitation access would show the number of communities with access, lacking access, and where these communities fall in relation to each other and the world.

Furthermore, general trends can be more easily deduced from this data to promote action on the part of local and national governments. Within drinking water point data, specific attributes can further be identified and associated to each point to display technology type, functionality, maintenance, and funding schemes as a handful of examples. An example of using GIS to depict water point functionality was produced by IRC Uganda. Improved sanitation access, for example, is yet another parameter that can be displayed geospatially much more clearly than a typical spreadsheet most of the time.

Moving beyond WASH, GIS may also be applied within the transportation, food security, energy access, and public health sectors of development to name a few. In fact, many global information databases have already been developed and are readily available to the public. However, many communities, governments, and organisations lack access to this powerful tool to help with monitoring development progress. If this tool set were expanded to stakeholders through training and technology access, one can only imagine the possibilities in development monitoring, enhanced decision making among leaders, and the progress toward reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

Though the applications are many, there are some drawbacks. For one, the data displayed on a map is only as good as the information gathered. Thus, it is critical that adequate time is spent in developing relevant community surveys that minimise bias, protect the identity of the interviewee, as well as target the desired information. Many of these types of surveys have already been developed by several organisations.

GIS can offer one further step toward infrastructure and policy development by visually influencing communities and local governments to act. Through collective action, effective monitoring, and evaluation, tools like GIS may potentially enhance the process and possibly progress can made toward the Sustainable Development Goals before 2030.

Under the Watershed Programme, IRC Uganda is working with Akvo to undertake surveys on the status of WASH facilities in Kabarole District. The data is then visualised in maps and used for information and advocacy purposes.

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