Uganda Bureau of Statistics engages in open mapping for resilience with the OpenStreetMap community


Statistics House – Home of Ugandan statistical services

By Rupert Allan, Country Manager at HOT OSM Uganda.
Other authors: Chris Jung, Senior DRM Consultant at OpenDRI.

Statistics. Sounds boring, right? But Uganda Bureau of Statistics have teamed up with Uganda’s OpenStreetMap national organisation, MapUganda, to become part of the digital revolution. Over the past months, UBOS staff have been learning the tools of OpenStreetMap, updating their data, bringing it into their workflows, and partnering with other branches of government to understand and assemble risk information which has never been available before. This is a milestone in the evolution of open data collaboration between Uganda’s government and the OSM community, represented by MapUganda and HOT Uganda.

The mission of OpenDRI’s Uganda Open Mapping for Resilience project in this resource-poor area is to create a comprehensive digital map which is open and accessible around the world – and to encourage staff in institutions at the national level to learn and use OpenStreetMap in their everyday work. This could potentially lead to Uganda becoming the first country in the world to conduct its national census (coming up in 2020) through OpenStreetMap.

Our project focuses on data sharing and easing the burdens of collecting mass data at this level. Data collectors in UBOS are used to trekking through the counties and villages of the country with bundles of paper maps and GPS devices, inputting information by pen onto printed sheets. The costs of the printouts and thousands of GPS devices are huge. And the slow process often means that ground realities change mid-census.

Training sessions at ‘UBOS’

Today, OpenStreetMap is serving as a solution to these issues. Since January 2018, MapUganda and HOT have been the UBOS office, training 11 core members of the institution to bring their data into OSM for manipulation. Through an intensive two-day workshop followed by eight weeks of mentoring and lessons, the GIS and ICT teams are realising how tools like QGIS, JOSM and mobile tools can change the landscape of their workload.

Bernard Justus Muhwezi, UBOS GIS Manager, explaining the intricacies of UBOS mapping.

Don’t forget: this is the country in which victorian explorers Speke and Burton finally discovered the source of the Nile after a years-long search. Uganda has a deep history of maps and intrepid exploring. Today, the digital OpenStreetMap can help penetrate into rural and city areas to note water points, to survey for bad water supply, health centres, and cholera history, like John Snow did on foot back in the 1860s in London.

Partners GeoGecko talk about drone/UAV surveying and its OSM uses

Another part of this project involves UAV/drone imagery gathering and community surveying on the ground. Kampala has a large refugee population which is swelling its bursting informal settlements. Services are scant and risk of outbreaks and flooding are high. UBOS is the agency mandated to provide that data which can inform risk reduction decisions within these communities and among government. Urban areas change quickly, and dynamic technical tools and techniques help to keep up with this better than some of the traditional methods.

A second workshop with similar goals was held in March 2018 at Kampala City hall for Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), with participation from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Department of Disaster, Preparedness, and Relief, the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development, the National Planning Authority, and the Ministry of ICT.

Photo – multi-agency government training on OSM tools and community practices

UBOS has the mandate for collecting and maintaining baseline data, but their work is guided by these various government stakeholders and then shared for analysis, program design, and service delivery.



After MapUganda/HOT OpenStreetMap trainings and careful workshopping, the consortium worked with partners at KCCA and OPM to select the lakeside area of Ggaba in southern Kampala for a field pilot project.

Ggaba has a history of fire, disease, and flood incidents. It is frequently inundated and has been a difficult and overcrowded parish for the city to manage for many years. This has accelerated in recent times, with new migrants coming to Ggaba for economic opportunity and access to city services. KCCA requested better baseline geospatial information to guide their urban planning teams and ensure that new development is not increasing disaster exposure.

Even ‘permanent’ areas of this quarter of the Ugandan capital Kampala are closely arranged, and often prone to fire. Cooking is mainly done on wood and charcoal, usually under grass or wooden roofs.

HOT Tasking Manager was deployed, alongside the fabled 120,000-strong global volunteer community, to ‘remote-map’ the area. A Salesforce volunteer team, joining HOT from the USA (and globally), weighed-in, and within a few days, every building and visible road had been traced on OSM.

HOT Tasking Manager – Remote-Mapping by global OSM volunteers

After careful and deliberate coordination with our partners, we organised a training in the very heart of the community. The aim was to use local community members side-by-side with trainees from local and government authorities we had been collaborating with to map this precarious part of the city.

Training UBOS, KCCA, OPM, and local community representatives in data collection and management for risk analysis and open sharing.

The ethos of the project is to empower the community and augment detailed intelligence of local public geospatial features, as well as to provide a case-study of comparative and combinative technologies. This can make for better understanding Disaster Risk Management (DRM) in the Ugandan urban context.

It is vital that local communities get involved for their own knowledge and ownership of their community’s data. Training local authority staff to collect and process data is at the core of the Uganda Open Mapping agenda, and peer-learning not only provides inclusivity, but a valuable exchange of knowledge between international experience and community members.

Local Parish Data Collectors and government professionals join forces.







Data collectors operating on the WhatsApp
team channel using ‘local technology’ to report back
positions and activities to coordinators.

Workshopping with locals in Ggaba reveals different explanations about why it floods, and in the cramped space of the swamp edges, why they often experience several disasters at once. Ggaba is overcrowded and low-lying. Typhoid and cholera are on everybody’s radar when the torrential tropical rain falls.

Still standing…

Many of the community are regularly displaced onto higher ground. Some remain, to live days or weeks wading their way around their daily activities in water mixed with effluent and other urban waste. When the all too regular floods subside, the risk of malaria does not subside with it. The water left standing serves as breeding-ground to millions of mosquito larvae.

Insufficient waste disposal does not help the situation.

As we continue progress with UBOS, KCCA, OPM and other partners into the next phase, we are grateful to be working with the best in the country andlook forward to a world of open data and sharing at high level, which can allow immediate and pre-emptive action for the people inhabiting this generous yet overburdened country.

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This project is supervised under Open Cities Africa and financed by the Building Resilience through Innovation and Open Data in Sub-Saharan Africa Program.