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Tackling Gaps On Africa’s Maps Tags: News Africa Maps

DONATING to disasters used to mean writing a cheque to Oxfam or the Red Cross. In the internet age, however, citizens from all over the world are donating their time to the Ebola crisis by going online to build maps for relief workers.

Call it crowd-sourced cartography that can save lives.

Roads or paths to remote villages through deep forest in West Africa, bridges and river crossings, school buildings that can be used as temporary clinics, an open field for a helicopter landing — all these are visible from satellite imagery and provide critical information for delivering aid.

However, these details never made it onto official maps in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone — countries too poor to worry about whether there are accurate Google Maps loaded onto smartphones.

So when the Ebola epidemic erupted earlier this year, Doctors without Borders, the American Red Cross and other groups on the ground found that unreliable maps made fighting the spread of the deadly virus much more difficult. They could not trace the likely vectors of transmission because they did not know the patterns of peoples’ daily lives, and they could not plan effective aid delivery.

Enter the collaborative Ebola project by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT).

OpenStreetMap is a project to create a free, open map of the world, built by volunteers through GPS surveying, aerial imagery and public sources of geographical data.

Taking that concept a step further, HOT connects the OpenStreetMap community with humanitarian players on the ground to fill in the gaps on maps for disaster and crisis zones.

About 1,200 volunteers so far have logged onto HOT’s website, clicked on a map quadrant and traced in the rich geographic details visible from satellites.

A quick tutorial guides volunteers through the work, which is similar to using a software programme such as Adobe Photoshop. By using the satellite imagery to add details such as population density and connecting paths between communities, remote map makers give humanitarian groups vital tools for planning their ground campaign in combatting a disease that has claimed more than 2,400 lives.

"They will print out the maps poster sized and pin them on the wall to plan their work, how to distribute supplies," said Pierre Beland, a retired economist living near Montreal, Canada, who has turned his computer knowledge to map making.

For Andrew Buck, an unemployed computer scientist who logs on daily from his home in Fargo, North Dakota, the work transports him a continent away.

"You are acutely aware and start to get a sense of being in that place and learn about how people live, their farms, the fields, where the kids play soccer, the schools, and connections to the next village," Mr Buck said.

The volunteer cartographers have recorded 7-million data points so far and still have large swathes undone. By comparison, Typhoon Haiyan was 4.5-million data entries, and Haiti only 1.3-million, Mr Buck and Mr Beland said.

Source: Reuters

Gates Foundation Announces $12.4 Million to Improve African Sweet Potatoes Tags: News Food Bill Gates

North Carolina State University has announced a $12.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of research on sweet potatoes, a critical food staple in sub-Saharan Africa.

The four-year grant will help fund the development of modern genomic, genetic, and bioinformatics tools to boost the plant's ability to resist diseases and insects and better tolerate drought and severe heat. As part of an international collaborative that includes researchers from the International Potato Center; Michigan State University; Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University; the University of Queensland, Australia; the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda; and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Ghana, NC State will also work to expand knowledge of the plant's complex genome.

A vital food security and cash crop with the potential to reduce hunger, vitamin A deficiency, and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, sweet potatoes have become a priority for the Gates Foundation's Agricultural Development Program. More than 13.5 million metric tons are produced in sub-Saharan Africa annually, predominantly in small plot holdings by poor women farmers.

"NC State has a long history of commitment to developing Africa's sweet potato breeding programs," said project director Craig Yencho, a professor of horticultural science in NC State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "We will work very closely with the sweet potato breeding community to identify young breeders for advanced training to build long-term capacity in use of genomic breeding. During the project term, we will make efforts in training to ensure that new researchers and partners are fully capable of employing newly developed tools."

"NC State Receives Grant to Improve African Sweet Potatoes." North Carolina State University Press Release 09/17/2014.

Source: philanthropynewsdigest

West Africa Infrastructure Projects, Gulf Companies Commit $19 Billion Tags: News West Africa Developments

African countries secured commitments from companies in the Persian Gulf totaling $19 billion to invest in roads, railways and airports at the first West Africa Investment Forum held in Dubai on Tuesday.

Construction firm Trojan General Contracting LLC, owned by Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, committed to invest up to $16 billion in roads and railway projects across the West African Economic & Monetary Union, a group of eight African countries that organized the event in the U.A.E.

Officials from the union, which includes Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, were in Dubai canvassing investment for 17 public-private partnership infrastructure projects in West Africa. The group said it also had received a $1.98 billion commitment from Essar Projects, the U.A.E. subsidiary of India's Essar Group, to co-invest in road, bridge, airport and thermal-power-plant projects in Benin, Guinea Bissau and Niger.

A further $700 million was committed by Oman's Hasan Juma Backer Trading & Contracting LLC in a dry-port project in the Ivory Coast, the union said. No additional financial details of any deal were disclosed. The union added that each party had six months to sign a firm deal based on their commitments.

On Monday, one of the Dubai government's major investment arms, Investment Corporation of Dubai, said it would buy a minority stake in Nigeria's Dangote Cement for $300 million, as Gulf entities ties to West Africa deepen.

Source: WP

A ‘gay-friendly’ mosque just opened in South Africa Tags: News South Africa Religious Muslim

On Friday in a suburb in Cape Town, South Africa, Muslim worshipers convened for the first time at a new prayer hall. Outside, a few protesters gathered against them. Inside, they were outnumbered by the news media crews sent to watch them.

The "Open Mosque" is intended a space of worship for all, irrespective of sect, gender or sexual orientation. It is the creation of Taj Hargey, a Cape Town-born academic and cleric based at Oxford University who has long agitated against fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. This new prayer space, open to all, was a direct challenge to the extremists he opposes.

Hargey delivered the sermon, inveighing against the unnecessary divisions between Christians and Muslims, according to Agence France Presse. He blamed "contaminated Saudi money" for promoting "toxic and intolerant manifestations of Islam."

South Africa is home to nearly 800,000 Muslims, who belong to communities that have a diverse origins and histories in the country. But Hargey says a growing Wahabist or Salafist influence -- the same strains that animate the extremism of Sunni militant groups such as the Islamic State -- are creeping into South Africa. "South Africans have become Arabized, they think they must wear the burka, must have face masks, that men must wear pyjama dresses," Hargey told the Daily Telegraph. "They think that is the only version of Islam."

He wants his mosque to prove otherwise. It opened not without opposition. "There's been threats about castrating me, beheading me, hanging me upside down. But South Africa has the most liberal constitution in the world -- they cannot stop us opening today," he told reporters. "I have a PhD in Islamic studies from Oxford University, unlike my opponents who went to some donkey college in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia."

Hargey, fiery and clean-shaven, is known for courting controversy. He wants British Muslims to better integrate into their society and supports a total ban on burqas in the United Kingdom. In a 2009 interview with the notoriously xenophobic Daily Mail, he lamented Britain's supposed multicultural tolerance of Islamist extremists, labeling it "the biggest disaster to happen to Britain since World War II."

Source: WP

8 Ebola Aid Workers Killed 'In Cold Blood' By Villagers Tags: Guinea Ebola West Africa Crime

CONAKRY, Guinea — The team of health officials accompanied by journalists came to the village to educate people about how to avoid contracting Ebola. Instead, a group of local residents turned on their would-be benefactors, attacking them with knives and rocks and killing eight of them, witnesses say.

Guinea’s government said in a statement Friday that six people have been arrested in connection with the attack earlier this week on the health and government officials who were doing disinfection and education on prevention methods.

The horrific violence in the village of Womey underscores the mistrust and fear that remains in the area nearly nine months after the first person here died from what was later discovered to be Ebola. The disease that can cause bleeding from the eyes, mouth and ears had never before sickened people in this forested corner of Africa. And when it did, villagers immediately feared that outsiders had brought it here.

There have been attacks on health centers in several affected countries but these are the first fatalities.

“The government strongly condemns the killings of these Guinean citizens including those officials who were carrying out their duties at the time,” the statement issued by the presidency of Guinea said. “These crimes are especially regrettable coming at a time when the international community is mobilizing to help the affected countries in their fight against the Ebola virus.”

The victims from Tuesday’s attack included the deputy administrative official in Womey and the head of the health care center there. Two top health officials from the nearby town of N’Zerekore were killed, along with a pastor and three radio journalists who had been covering the awareness campaigning. The son of the deputy administrative official managed to escape and survived, the government said.

Doctors Without Borders had to temporarily suspend operations in Macenta, Guinea back in April after a crowd attacked the facility. The mob accused aid workers of starting the outbreak. Some young people threw rocks at the aid workers, though no one was seriously hurt.

More than 2,600 people have died across West Africa from Ebola, including at least 500 people in Guinea.

Source: AP

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