This will make you want to check your population data

By Kathryn M. Clifton, Ph.D, ICT4D Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist, CRS

Population coverage maps created with data from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the MapSwipe application.
How do you know when you have distributed enough bed nets to an entire settlement area when the government may not know that some households even exist?

Organizations like Catholic Relief Services (CRS) often depend on government data to plan their program activities, but the data are often outdated. Without robust data, how can a malaria elimination program include every community member?

Getting bed nets to everyone is essential to eliminate malaria. However, people move, and censuses are typically conducted every few years, resulting in population data gaps. Conflict and resource scarcity have further disabled communities and led to migration. Missing people can result in unabated pockets of malaria, which has detrimental consequences on surrounding communities, and makes it almost impossible to eliminate malaria.

That is why CRS employee Nate Barthel turned to Radiant.Earth with a basic question:

“Can satellite imagery spot human settlements that censuses have missed?”

At first, we talked to Radiant.Earth about organizing a mapathon to fill these population data gaps. Though mapathons are important tools, satellite data have a higher level of precision. Radiant.Earth informed us that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had an up-to-date population settlement database for Nigeria that was created from recent high-resolution satellite imagery. Within 48 hours of our initial conversation with Radiant.Earth, we had the data in hand. Radiant.Earth’s help ensured that we were able to distribute bed nets to communities that can’t be easily seen on Google Earth or other readily available platforms. In addition to saving us significant staff time, this imagery enabled us to increase the number of communities we serve.

Sounds simple, right?

New datasets are created every day, but can quickly become outdated. Often, data are nested in back pages and not always readily searchable on the Internet. That is why it is such an asset to have someone to turn to who can tell us where to find the most up-to-date data that will allow us to have the greatest impact. Radiant.Earth was established to help people connect to Earth imagery and geospatial data, tools, and knowledge. They fulfill their mission by aggregating the world’s open Earth imagery and providing access and education on its use, especially to the global development community.

Projects can only be planned on the basis of what is known; missing communities or making decisions on aged information weakens program impact.

People move all of the time, and even more so when they are fleeing conflict caused by such actors as Boko Haram. While CRS, with its partners, receive good on-the-ground information, satellite data and imagery from actors like Radiant.Earth can help us fill gaps. We want to make sure that we don’t miss anyone.

In this world of new and readily available data, it is helpful to have an advisor to turn to. Radiant.Earth has proven to be an important ally for the future.