Villagers set out to fish in the coastal areas. Ending poverty in all its forms is the first of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Although the initiative has achieved progress toward decreasing the number of people living in extreme poverty, there are still parts of the world lagging behind. This is the case for many isolated and rural regions. Recent innovations in geospatial mapping technology can improve the ability to locate, understand and help these communities.

Geospatial Mapping Technology Contest

The American Geographical Society’s innovational contest, The EthicalGEO Challenge, is creating a dialogue around the ethics of geospatial mapping technology. The initiative calls for participants to enter a three-minute video proposal detailing their idea for a mapping tool that will promote social good.

Seven winners were selected in 2019 for a $7,500 fellowship prize to help them launch their respective projects, which will use location data and geospatial mapping technology to empower vulnerable communities in a variety of ways.

Several fellows’ projects will use mapping technology to tackle social justice challenges — for example, land rights and expulsion in a Tanzania community, exploitation of public health data or environmental protection and sustainability. Another fellow chose to take a more direct approach in addressing ethics by developing a video toolbox that can be used to teach geo-privacy in classrooms. Through their wide range of ideas, the contest winners are shedding light on the versatility and adaptability of geospatial mapping technology.

Geospatial Mapping in Rural Fishing Villages

Fellowship winner Dr. Alfredo Giron-Nava, a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is focusing on using geospatial mapping technology to empower small-scale fishing villages.

These coastal regions are often classified as vulnerable because of their high dependency on a single commodity, and can face overexploitation if they lack sustainable fishing methods. Additionally, their reliance on natural resources makes fisheries sensitive to the effects of climate change, which have become more distinct in recent years. Fishing is a critical need but endangered the economic sector in many regions including South Asia, Central America and Mexico’s Gulf of California where nearly 80% of the population experiences poverty.

Giron-Nava proposed a plan to create the first global map on the prevalence of poverty in fishing villages around the world. The mapping initiative is aimed at better understanding the demographics and locations of these fishing communities, particularly those in developing regions where fisheries are essential to the economy.

  • The first phase of the project focuses on understanding living conditions and wages in fishing villages in different regions, using publicly available information from databases and agencies such as the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • In the second phase of the project, this regional data will be compared against each country’s national poverty line, which is characterized by factors such as access to food, housing, adequate sanitation, health services, and education. These findings will be used to create a more detailed, subnational map showing which areas are comparatively experiencing the highest rates of poverty.

Contextualizing data on poverty levels by country is important because it allows for the development of specific poverty reduction strategies that match the social, cultural and economic context of each community.

Information gathered by innovative technologies creates a new lens for the development of social justice policies. A crucial first step to eradicating poverty is understanding the distribution and concentration of those whom it affects. By addressing these key issues in a responsible and ethical manner, geospatial mapping technology has the potential to be a powerful tool for ending poverty in rural and isolated areas.

–  Sylvie Antal
Photo: Flickr