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Ignite DC #8

Brian English

Beyond Google Maps: Filling the Information-Power Gap in Slums

Collecting data about poverty has always been a difficult task, regardless of where you are in the world. But take that task to the slum communities of rapidly urbanizing developing countries and you’ll find a gaping hole in the data.

With almost 1 billion people estimated to live in slums today, it has become even more important to explore and understand the conditions of these communities and empower their residents and governments with this new perspective. This is an eye-opening case study, especially in light of the recent U.S. Census poverty numbers released here in the U.S. last week.

Since 2007 nonprofit CHF International has been mapping urban poverty in areas of India and Africa. The resulting "poverty atlas" is like a heat map depicting areas of deep poverty – designed to assist policy makers, planners, NGOs, and communities themselves to mobilize resources to gain access to public services they are deprived of.

The Poverty Atlas created for Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana, for example—which is set to become a boom town after oil was discovered off-shore last year-- summarizes and presents poverty data in a visual format that can be easily understood by a wide audience. With this information, government programs and other stakeholders can make more effective use of scarce resources for the poor. For example, out of 400 houses in Sekondi-Takoradi (Ghana) there is only one house with a toilet and for these 9,000 residents, there is only one public latrine, built in 1958. After this revelation, CHF mobilized the community and local government to built a new toilet facility.

In the absence of information and understanding of poverty and slum conditions, these settlements will continue to be overlooked and marginalized from the growth and prosperity occurring in the rest of the city, and the public sector agenda that drives city development.

About Brian English:

Brian English is the Country Director for CHF International, based in Bangalore, India since 2009. (He will return to Washington, D.C. full time in October 2011) English is a leader for CHF’s initiatives in slum upgrading, urban development, and climate change adaptation. English has been managing inter¬disciplinary teams on donor-funded projects in Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean since 2003.

English has presented CHF’s work to a broad set of audiences including at MIT, World Bank, World Urban Forum, New York “Meeting of the Minds” as Academy of Sciences, and the Woodrow Wilson Center.

English graduated with a B.A. in Environmental Studies at Allegheny College. He received his Master of City Planning from the Graduate School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania.

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