Indian NGO uses Google Earth to map slum areas

The NGO Shelter Associates uses satellite imagery to map slums in Sangli city, India. Photo: Shelter Associates
By Julien Bouissou in Sangli
LE MONDE/Worldcrunch

[29 March 2012] -- Before Google Earth existed, the slums of Sangli, a city of 550,000 in southwestern India, was acknowledged on government maps by nothing more than some clumsily outlined, empty spaces. But then, from high in the sky, the eye of a satellite saw what no municipal geometer had taken the trouble to show: small islands of huts with dilapidated roofs spread throughout the city.

Thanks to the satellite images available on Google Earth, a full picture of these forgotten slums has emerged. They now have borders; they are mapped; they have an identity. And using these images, Shelter Associates, a Pune-based NGO, has begun rehabilitating the slums. For the first time in their lives, 3,900 families in Sangli are going to be moving into apartments.

"Google Earth’s maps are true to reality. They help us reshape and rehabilitate the slums in a way that makes sense within the overall city plan of Sangli,” says Pratima Joshi, the director of Shelter Associates. The families don’t just need a leak-free roof or proper toilets; they need to be relocated to a place nearby so they don’t lose their jobs -- the salary of a domestic worker, a chauffeur or a security guard won’t stretch to pay for two bus tickets a day. In Delhi, families who were relocated in comfortable houses in the suburbs returned to the city within a few weeks.

So Shelter Associates teams examine the satellite maps carefully and calculate distances to come up with the best places to relocate families from the slums. Added to the information provided by the maps themselves are precious details gathered by field research teams about each existing family dwelling, such as whether or not it has electricity and running water, the size of the family living in it, and their caste.

Could this slum rehabilitation model be used elsewhere? "It would be possible, but more difficult in big cities because of high cost and the rarity of available land,” Joshi admits. But her NGO has already mapped a slum in Indonesia, and is scheduled to rehabilitate five slums in Pune, India’s seventh largest city.

You can read more about the Cities Alliance's involvement in the Community-Led Sangli Toilet Construction Activity here.

Read the full version of this story on Worldcrunch

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