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

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

Photo credit: NDTV

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the lives of almosteveryone across the world. In India, one of the worst-hit segments has beenthat of migrant, low-income workers, most of whom moved to bustling metros likeMumbai and Delhi, from villages across the country, in search of employment andopportunities.

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 evenroadside vendors shutting shop overnight due to the lockdown, most of theseworkers have suddenly found themselves out of a job. With no income, novisibility on the future, living in cramped and unsanitary environments, manymigrant workers have been desperately trying to return to their hometowns andvillages. Unfortunately, their problems have been compounded exponentially withthe halt of all forms of public transport. In desperation, most have set out onfoot, trying to cover distances of hundreds of kilometers.

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

However, some NGOs and social impact-oriented organizationshave been at the forefront of providing relief in these trying times, and arecollaborating to jointly address these challenges which are at an unprecedentedscale. Many are using innovative technology to help mitigate not just theproblems of stranded migrants, but also of the health and welfare of the largerpublic.

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 isalso being optimized by Collaboration/COVID Action Support Group or CoAST. Thisis a consortium of field NGOs that have pooled their resources and datatogether to create effective solutions. As one of the founding partners of thisinitiative, Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) is acting as a clearing-housefor information from various sources, and visualizing this data using the IndiaObservatory platform.

The platform can be used very effectively to helpadministrators, civil society organizations, and volunteers in planningtransportation routes, identifying where migrants' are stuck in large numbersas well as directing and allocating relief supplies and other assistance.

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

Such direct and streamlined action is the need of the hourto ensure that help reaches people who are undertaking arduous journeys withlittle or no access to even food and basic medical assistance. Platforms likeCoAST and TOS, and the data they are gathering, could go a long way inalleviating these struggles.

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