Tanzania: the smartphone apps putting Africa's fastest-growing city on the map

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In Dar es Salaam, many people without formal addresses are denied access to services and a legal identity. But technology is set to change that.

Johan Knols is used to getting unusual directions as he travels around rural Tanzania. “Usually, when I’m trying to find someone’s house, they’ll guide me by saying, ‘after the fourth tree, down the path to the left’ or something like that,” says Knols, a field operations manager at In2Care, an NGO working to eradicate malaria by distributing mosquito traps in the east African country.

“When I started going to rural areas, I could see some houses had a weird number on them – not a house number – but I could see that some houses had markings on them from previous research that had been done. So everybody is battling with the same problem,” says Knols.

“They say to me, how do I tag a house? I say, keep it simple and keep it cheap.”

Now, Knols has started using what3words, an app that records GPS coordinates to nine square metres and simplifies them into a three-word combination, to mark the location of houses he has visited. This makes it easier for him to find the house if he has to return.

The app provides a universal addressing system by breaking the world into 57 trillion squares and assigning each one a three-word combination, making it easier to remember than long GPS coordinates.

For Chris Sheldrick, one of the app’s creators, what3words answers a global need.

“People can open a bank account more easily because they can describe where they live,” he says. “If people need to get aid, the authorities and NGOs will know where they live. They can register with a doctor. Their children’s schools will know where they live. People can get anything delivered by anybody because they’ve got a way of referencing their location.”

As the global population swells, many countries in the developing world are experiencing rapid growth. Much of this is concentrated in cities, making the need to organise and map informal settlements greater than ever. More than 4 billion people – more than half the world’s population – are not recognised by the law, largely because many governments require an address to establish a legal identity, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Not having an identity denies people access to a range of services. Read the full story here:
Source: The Guardian