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Come Together: Geospatial Technological Solutions for the COVID-19 Crisis

1st June 2020
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Photo credit: NDTV

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of almost everyone across the world. In India, one of the worst-hit segments has been that of migrant, low-income workers, most of whom moved to bustling metros like Mumbai and Delhi, from villages across the country, in search of employment and opportunities.

Many lack formal education and are often employed in blue-collar jobs on daily wages. Given the high cost of living in cities, most barely scrape by and live in overcrowded slums or informal settlements scattered across major cities , which also pose a larger threat with regard to containing the spread of COVID-19.

With business from restaurants and construction, and even roadside vendors shutting shop overnight due to the lockdown, most of these workers have suddenly found themselves out of a job. With no income, no visibility on the future, living in cramped and unsanitary environments, many migrant workers have been desperately trying to return to their hometowns and villages. Unfortunately, their problems have been compounded exponentially with the halt of all forms of public transport. In desperation, most have set out on foot, trying to cover distances of hundreds of kilometers.

While the discussion around the crisis continues in various quarters, few solutions have emerged.

However, some NGOs and social impact-oriented organizations have been at the forefront of providing relief in these trying times, and are collaborating to jointly address these challenges which are at an unprecedented scale. Many are using innovative technology to help mitigate not just the problems of stranded migrants, but also of the health and welfare of the larger public.

Open-source Resources for Collective Action

A useful resource that can be used as a decision support tool for public health officials in the fight to control the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic across geographies is India Observatory . This is an open-source geospatial platform that brings together data on over 1600 parameters, ranging from village to national level, presented in the form of maps, graphs, tables, and infographics. A collaborative technology initiative spearheaded by a number of NGOs including the Foundation for Ecological Security (FES), it is freely available for civil society organizations, students, government departments, and citizens.

In light of the ongoing migrant crisis, this technology is also being optimized by Collaboration/COVID Action Support Group or CoAST. This is a consortium of field NGOs that have pooled their resources and data together to create effective solutions. As one of the founding partners of this initiative, Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) is acting as a clearing-house for information from various sources, and visualizing this data using the India Observatory platform.

The platform can be used very effectively to help administrators, civil society organizations, and volunteers in planning transportation routes, identifying where migrants’ are stuck in large numbers as well as directing and allocating relief supplies and other assistance.

Another geospatial platform, Transerve Online Stack (TOS), is also helping governments and corporates to map locations with high Covid-19 density, health infrastructure and other resource centers. As an easy to use DIY platform, Transerve aims to allow users to perform real time analysis using multiple geospatial data stacks.

Such direct and streamlined action is the need of the hour to ensure that help reaches people who are undertaking arduous journeys with little or no access to even food and basic medical assistance. Platforms like CoAST and TOS, and the data they are gathering, could go a long way in alleviating these struggles.

In the larger picture, the current pandemic has caused unprecedented devastation, and it is going to take a long time before people recover. Technology is not necessarily a silver bullet, especially in such trying times. However, technology can help reduce the burden of mundane tasks and increase the availability of information across stakeholders. This in turn can enable people – be it NGOs or policymakers – to make informed decisions, and direct scarce resources appropriately where most required. Furthermore, a technology-led response to this crisis, if successful, could even lay the groundwork for the road to recovery in the future.