Tools of the Trade: GPS Assisting in Exploring the Challenging Environments by Mary Louise Tatum

The expansions of peri-urban environments are occurring without any strategic development or management which places its inhabitants at risk for environmental hazards.  In 2013 I was fortunate to develop a partnership between Kent State University (Geography Department) and The University of Zambia (Public Health Department) (please look for my next blog discussing in further detail creating international opportunities). As a result, I was able to observe various environments in Lusaka in close detail. This included illegally settled peri-urban areas on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia.

Zambia is a landlocked country with a population of approximately 13.1 million located in southern Africa. The capital of Lusaka has a population of 2,191,225 and has seen disproportionately higher growth compared with the national average: Lusaka has an annual population growth rate of 4.6% compared with 2.8% nationally (Central Statistical Office Ministry of Health; 2013 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey). As a result, there has been rapid growth in illegal settlements. Due to rural urban drift many people have settled in unoccupied land in the peri-urban areas. “Six-Mile” is one such peri-urban community in the outskirts of Lusaka.  As residents of an unofficial settlement, residents lack municipal support and basic needs conceivably leading to increased disparities in environmental health related diseases.

Assessing and documenting public health risks have proven to be a challenge in such environments.  Minimal information is currently available regarding Lusaka’s peri-urban environments. Fortunately, advanced technologies, such as, Google Earth and cameras equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) can be used to capture, analyze, manipulate, and understand patterns and relationships between people and their environment. Geography and public health unite to utilize geospatial techniques to explore the construct of a specific peri-urban environment. Utilizing a vector-based system, a real world (Local Map) map will be created demonstrating the “real” environment for analysis. This is important as currently there is no paper map documenting this settlement. Data was collected using cameras equipped with a GPS during walks and drives through the area in August 2013 and July 2014.

Preliminary data collection demonstrates Six Mile residents may be at risk for exposure to malaria, cholera, and other bacteria, as a result of the pools of stagnant water and piles of waste observed during the walks and drives through the area. The one closet-size toilet, shared by a community of approximately seventy-five people, is a tiny areas surrounded by discarded plastic pieces that rest on wooden posts of various dimensions. The toilet, which also doubles as a bathing area, is in close proximity to the source of water collection for drinking and household use. During the walk-through and drive-through it was noted that children played in the stagnant pools of water and piles of trash without interruption.

Our partnership is planning to continue data collection this year and to add to our evolving map. Our goal is to develop a visual tool that may be used by agencies to educate residents in healthier practices and for improved development practices that will mitigate environmental hazards that lead to infectious disease.

With advanced technological tools, such as GPS, Google Earth, and other mapping systems we can capture real-time information to analyze how the environment impacts residents and vice versa. As noted during this field study there are numerous hazards which may be mitigated with government and/or nonprofit environmental organization involvement. Promoting behavior change is one aspect of addressing this issue, but the stark lack of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities is a major public health threat that needs simultaneous attention for risks to be alleviated.

The expansions of peri-urban environments are occurring without any strategic development or management which places its inhabitants at risk for environmental hazards.  In 2013 I was fortunate to develop a partnership between Kent State University (Geography Department) and The University of Zambia (Public Health Department) (please look for my next blog discussing in further detail creating international opportunities). As a result, I was able to observe various environments in Lusaka in close detail. This included illegally settled peri-urban areas on the outskirts of Lusaka, Zambia.

Zambia is a landlocked country with a population of approximately 13.1 million located in southern Africa. The capital of Lusaka has a population of 2,191,225 and has seen disproportionately higher growth compared with the national average: Lusaka has an annual population growth rate of 4.6% compared with 2.8% nationally (Central Statistical Office Ministry of Health; 2013 Zambia Demographic and Health Survey). As a result, there has been rapid growth in illegal settlements. Due to rural urban drift many people have settled in unoccupied land in the peri-urban areas. “Six-Mile” is one such peri-urban community in the outskirts of Lusaka.  As residents of an unofficial settlement, residents lack municipal support and basic needs conceivably leading to increased disparities in environmental health related diseases.

Assessing and documenting public health risks have proven to be a challenge in such environments.  Minimal information is currently available regarding Lusaka’s peri-urban environments. Fortunately, advanced technologies, such as, Google Earth and cameras equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) can be used to capture, analyze, manipulate, and understand patterns and relationships between people and their environment. Geography and public health unite to utilize geospatial techniques to explore the construct of a specific peri-urban environment. Utilizing a vector-based system, a real world (Local Map) map will be created demonstrating the “real” environment for analysis. This is important as currently there is no paper map documenting this settlement. Data was collected using cameras equipped with a GPS during walks and drives through the area in August 2013 and July 2014.

Preliminary data collection demonstrates Six Mile residents may be at risk for exposure to malaria, cholera, and other bacteria, as a result of the pools of stagnant water and piles of waste observed during the walks and drives through the area. The one closet-size toilet, shared by a community of approximately seventy-five people, is a tiny areas surrounded by discarded plastic pieces that rest on wooden posts of various dimensions. The toilet, which also doubles as a bathing area, is in close proximity to the source of water collection for drinking and household use. During the walk-through and drive-through it was noted that children played in the stagnant pools of water and piles of trash without interruption.

Our partnership is planning to continue data collection this year and to add to our evolving map. Our goal is to develop a visual tool that may be used by agencies to educate residents in healthier practices and for improved development practices that will mitigate environmental hazards that lead to infectious disease.

With advanced technological tools, such as GPS, Google Earth, and other mapping systems we can capture real-time information to analyze how the environment impacts residents and vice versa. As noted during this field study there are numerous hazards which may be mitigated with government and/or nonprofit environmental organization involvement. Promoting behavior change is one aspect of addressing this issue, but the stark lack of adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities is a major public health threat that needs simultaneous attention for risks to be alleviated.

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