From Amongst Back Benchers to Biruwa Ventures
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As Prasiddha would gloriously say : “Feel the difference!”
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In the last decade we have witnessed some devastating natural disasters. From hurricanes to earthquakes, natural disasters are quite unpredictable and there is never enough time to get prepared for it. Well thinking realistically and strategically, there is no textbook method to be prepared for the real-thing. However, there are couple of innovative movements going around in major cities around the world to minimize the amount of damage and make disaster relief/recovery more effective and efficient.

One such example is the establishment of Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL) in Kathmandu, Nepal. KLL is currently one of our clients in the Baluwatar office space. KLL’s team works extensively with OpenStreetMap (OSM) and have been getting stuff done in different phases, in a particular order. The first couple of months of their establishment were dedicated to making strategies on digitizing the entire atlas of Kathmandu. I remember the entire team running around different parts of Kathmandu to gather data and digitizing public infrastructures that included government buildings, hospitals and health facilities, schools etc. Thinking pragmatically, infrastructural data is so enormous that a team of around 10 people should not be the only people working on it. Hence, KLL is not just about mapping buildings, but it is rather a movement: spreading awareness, recruiting contributors and getting the open community involved in creating free and accessible data.

Have you ever used Google Maps? Well if you have, you know it is pretty helpful in getting directions from one place to the other. However, there are restrictions when you need to download data from Google Maps. The data that KLL has been getting from the contributors is way much cooler and better, oh did I mention its free too without any restrictions. KLL in its initial phase had not only mapped location of the buildings, but has also collected building structural data. Now this is where all the fun comes in: let’s say we want to predict the amount of structural damage in Kathmandu after an earthquake of a certain intensity, then with the collected data, one can run simulation and predict models of possible damages that could occur. Moreover, disaster recovery plans and routes can be made readily available even before the actual disaster takes place.

Recently, Pratap, one of our super awesome office assistant, and I had the opportunity to sit down with the KLL team and learn about their involvement in the Philippines post Haiyan. It literally took us five minutes to get setup with OSM basics and get ready to map. Our first task was to compare the pre-haiyan map with the post-haiyan map of the affected area. It was intriguing to see the detail of difference from just the available maps. Next, we were taught how to digitize buildings, and add additional information to them. After comparing pre and post data, if we saw significant difference on the structure of a building, we were supposed to tag it as damaged/affected by haiyan. While performing the assigned task we even saw couple of buildings that were completely destroyed into rubbles. If we were to put ourselves in the position of the locals in the Philippines, then as all the power and Internet lines were most probably disconnected because of haiyan, we would have no access to information on the ground level. Contributors outside the Philippines, including Nepal, helped recovery efforts by mapping out different highways and relief routes so that invaluable time was not wasted taking a road with obstruction. We were also informed that Nepal’s contribution ranked 7th among 82 countries (The rank keeps changing) that took part in the mapping.

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OSM mappers in one of the KLL workshops

Contributing money through Red Cross or other agencies is an easier way to help others out during disaster recovery, but if you have free time and want to learn something new while contributing to the society, I have realized that mapping ranks up higher on the list too. Furthermore, the best thing about being involved in the Philippines is that we now have more resource, reference and experience (i.e. local capacity) to work with in case there is another big natural disaster in the future, preventing massive losses to lives, property, resources and getting us more prepared.

The OSM data of Kathmandu and Nepal as a whole is getting denser thanks to the contribution from Team KLL. Nepal is an attractive destination for tourism and I see huge potential for the usage of OSM data for trekking and tours routes. There are so many offbeat places that most of us have no clue of. If there were a portal or a hub that would share all those trails data to back-packers, there would be more in-flow of Tourism. This could result in the significant growth in the Tourism Industry because of the readily available data. Nepal is usually not that well-known for being innovative and there is no specific sector that Nepal is considered as a market leader at. However, on the mapping side, we are making a difference. Thanks Dr. Nama Raj Budhathoki (our Nama Dai) and the entire KLL team. Nepal’s OSM mapping experience is also helping the World Bank to take similar initiative in other countries in the region: Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan.

Nama Dai, KLL lead, in Bhutan

Nama Dai, KLL lead, in Bhutan

We have been lucky to have KLL in our office-space premises. They bring in a lot to our entrepreneurial ecosystem. A mobile app-entrepreneur working on an app that lists all the restaurants around the users’ vicinity does not need to pay extra for the freely available data on OSM. Moreover, KLL’s work has direct impact on the community that makes working there even more worthwhile. Moving forward, I would like to see our Tourism Industry leaders visit KLL, learn how to gather track sensual flawless med products and use it to creative innovative solutions for the future of Nepali Tourism. As for me, I am a contributor, I travel around Nepal quite frequently, I usually have a GPS with me and record the tracks I take and upload it to OSM so that other people can access it later. So what are you waiting for? Put your smart phone to the test, explore Nepal and actually see how smart it is, learn something new. Maybe.. just maybe while you are using your smart-phone to track your trail, exploring new places, somehow you bump into the next big idea, well for that and all your mapping questions, be sure to visit Biruwa sometime – Oh by the way, Team KLL is also located in Biruwa’s premises. 🙂