Let's Stop Asking People to Walk All Day: A Call for Easily Accessible Walk Time Estimation

Kathryn M. Clifton, ICT4D Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist, Catholic Relief Services
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Kathryn M. Clifton, ICT4D Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist, Catholic Relief Services

Kathryn M. Clifton, ICT4D Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist, Catholic Relief Services

A program in Madagascar may have just changed the way international development programs operate, but we need an easy tool to take this to scale. CRS’ Daniel Andriantsimba considered why some beneficiaries were not showing up for a food distribution. He realized some were likely walking far more than others. We were not taking into account terrain in hilly Madagascar. CRS Madagascar contacted the spatial analysis gold standard ESRI, to estimate walking times for project beneficiaries to figure out where they could better place food distribution. ESRI estimated walking times based on steepness, streams, and walking speed in different conditions. This process created a map that told CRS where the best sites to place food distribution. Once CRS moved the distribution location based on walk times (not proximity to roads as most of us do), they recorded a 30 percent increase in participation. CRS Ethiopia used a similar analysis in the summer of 2016 for its El Nino drought response distributions also with positive results.

Berthe was one of women who benefited from the change. She used to walk 4.3 miles to get food distribution. This changed with the help of spatial analysis. For many weeks, Berthe had to walk these miles with her son, Soafiavy, carried on her back because the whole process of walking and attending the food distribution would last all day long and no one would take care of her son if she were to be absent for the whole day. After the food distribution session, it would take her 3 hours to walk the 4.3 miles back with the bag of rice, the bottle of oil and her son on her back, including a several number of stops through the tiring journey.

“Sometimes, I had to beg my husband to stop working on the field for the day and accompany me to the food distribution session because each time I had to carry all these loads on my own, I always feel like I couldn’t make it. It quickly became problematic between my husband and me because stopping his work on our fields could delay our crops and all his planning was turned upside down even if I could convince him to accompany me.

I even once deliberately decided not to attend a session, despite the fact that the food distributed there is essential for my son, as I was returning from a week of hard work to plow our fields with my husband and as he could no longer accompany me, I felt unable to walk 8.6 miles again (twice 4.3 miles back and forth).”

The poor walk a lot, and analytics should help them walk less. They walk to attend trainings, farmer demonstrations, participatory mapping, project meetings, to go to clinics, access water at wells, and more. They have limited time and may be tired like Berthe after working all day on her farm. Berthe now walks 0.3 miles instead of 4.3. While that may not sound like a lot to you, it is to her. She explains “now that I don’t have to walk long miles to get to the food distribution site, I can go early to our rice field and help my husband before leaving the house and attend the session. It also gives me the time to prepare the lunch when I’m back home and prepare something for my son with the food I just received. I remember when I had to spend the whole day walking to attend this kind of session, we just didn’t have lunch and all I did was bringing a few bananas to feed my son on the road.”

  After the food distribution session, it would take her 3 hours to walk the 4.3 miles back with the bag of rice, the bottle of oil and her son on her back  

Why do we need spatial analysis in all of our programs?

• Development practitioners make best guesses on where to meet with beneficiaries and sometimes those guesses are misinformed.
• Often the neediest in our programs are the farthest out and hardest to reach.

The challenge

To use location analysis in all our development programs it needs to be easier. 

Like social workers, many development practitioners don’t know how to conduct this analysis. It is complicated. We don’t have the time to learn the ins and outs of spatial software and not every project has the budget to have this analysis performed externally. For this to go to scale, it must be easy and affordable so that every project regardless of budget can access it. We need a simple web application that anyone can use for different types of development programs, not just food distribution. Beneficiaries walk to different types of project activities. CRS in encouraging technology companies to make a simple web application available so that this technology can go to scale for development programs at large.

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