While the developing world is gaining more and more Internet access, many countries are still without technology.

One African nation, Niger, is utilizing the brainpower of students to help map the country despite its supposed technological inequalities. A landlocked country in Sub-Saharan Africa, Niger maintains a population of over 17.4 million. With a GDP of under $7.5 billion last year, it is considered a low-income level country.

With the help of Hungarian Orsolya Jenei, the project–called Mapping for Niger–allows Nigerien university students to map the country using GPS equipment. The students geo-locate buildings and roads, take photographs and interview local residents about a variety of subjects specific to each area.

Niger students first mapped their university in Niamey. When the students go home or to other parts of the country, some take GPS trackers with them. The information is eventually uploaded onto a collaborative mapping program called OpenStreetMap which maps locations worldwide.

Even though the students only have one computer, four GPS trackers and have to help pay for the Internet subscription, the dedication of the students is unparalleled.

According to Jenei, digital mapping has already been implemented in other African countries. Doctors Without Borders has made use of the technology in the Democratic Republic of Congo to help locate hospitals in remote areas. Yet Jenei says digital mapping could have other uses.

While Google Maps or other similar applications provide users with adequate navigational directions, digital mapping provides a host of other useful information.

“Flooding is a big problem [in Niger], washing away many people’s homes every year,” Jenei said. “Creating maps of flooded areas would be a great way to help figure out who needs to be relocated. Mapping wells could also reveal the distances rural dwellers have to walk to get water, and help figure out how to improve their access.”

Prior to working with the Nigerien students, Jenei worked on the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. Like the Niger project, OpenStreetMap utilizes open source and open data sharing as a means for direct humanitarian response and economic development.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: France24, World Bank.
Photo: Observers