AI helps track Africa's rapid rate of urbanization

Artificial intelligence is recording the rapid rate of urbanization

across sub-Saharan Africa.

Britain's national mapping agency, Ordnance Survey

is using aerial imagery provided by the Zambian government,

with machine learning

to generate a new, highly detailed map of the capital city, Lusaka.

This will help planners cope with the huge demand on basic public services.

According to the World Bank, more than 50% of people in Africa live in unplanned,

so-called informal settlements, with little or no access to water or sanitation.

Peter Oborn from the Commonwealth Association of Architects

“Many people, particularly in the global north, refer to the climate emergency but I think for many people living in the global south there is an urban emergency and that is the challenge posed by rapid urbanisation and the consequences in terms of health and wellbeing, prosperity or lack of prosperity, lack of access to employment and all the issues which come from poor planning. And the link between economic policy and spatial planning is terribly important and applications like this base map provide us with a starting point for bringing together economic planning and spatial planning and to address what has the potential of becoming a disaster frankly.”

The innovative technology can make detailed maps in a fraction of the time normally needed,

giving the government a better chance of supporting the new urban population.

Andy Wilson is the Ordnance Survey’s Region Director for Africa.

“The ability to map individual properties in an informal settlement, then map where the water points are, where the sanitation facilities are, where the transportation infrastructure is, where the pharmacies, the doctors surgeries and the hospitals are, you can very quickly analyse where the gaps are in that infrastructure.”

Sustainable urbanisation like this may be one answer to alleviating high levels of urban poverty.

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