The Famine in Africa Gets Mapped

Data predicts the situation in Africa will get worse before it gets better

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The rest of the world, perhaps, has been a little late to the game in addressing the famine in the Horn of Africa, which is plaguing nations such as Somalia, Ethiopia, and the newly-formed South Sudan on the eastern part of the continent. It took until early to mid-July for United Nations officials to determine that the situation met the conditions its complex definition of a famine. Meanwhile, relief organizations have had trouble raising awareness of the famine with the media focused instead on the U.S. debt ceiling debacle domestically and Norway shootings and U.K. hacking scandal abroad.

But the people at Development Seed, a D.C.-based firm that specializes in open source technology, have been making a series of maps in partnership with the UN's World Food Programme with data from the U.S. Agency for International Development that has been made open to the public--a rarity in the federal bureaucracy, according to the company. The map above, taken from the interactive visualization hosted on the WFP's website, shows the current famine situation in the Horn of Africa. Redder, darker shades indicate more severe famine. Some of the hardest hit areas include the regions of Somalia controlled by al-Shabaab, a terrorist group seeking to overthrow the Somali government, which makes getting aid to there extraordinarily difficult.

Development Seed's maps are meant to help aid organizations can more effectively coordinate their food relief efforts and people in general become more aware of the problem. The code used to create the maps is open to the public, meaning that aid organizations can use and modify the data at their discretion. "We're trying to leverage data visualization to tell a complex story," said Development Seed's Eric Gundersen in a phone interview. "Maps are really allowing us to show what's happening."

Development Seed also has two maps out that project what the famine will look like in two to three months and six months (it will get worse before it gets better) and another pair that charts the drought that helped cause the food shortage. The team that led the project plans to meet with a half dozen aid organizations this week or early next week to discuss how they can use the maps and identify new data that may be incorporated in them. The help can't come too soon for East Africa.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.