Community Mapping 101


By Charmaine Caparas

The map you are looking at tells a story of a potential threat to the coral triangle region of the Pacific, one of the most spectacular dive spots in the world. But what’s different about this approach is that it’s the result of a participatory mapping process, in which a vulnerable community helped identify threats to its socio-economic well-being.  

While it has some of the highest diversity of marine life compared to other countries, as a developing country, the Philippines faces challenges which threaten the environment, not least the pristine undersea world that divers from everywhere flock to. Rampant uncontrolled development too often brings trouble in its wake.

Case in point – Anilao; a diving community some two hours south of the capital Manila with a protected marine sanctuary which backs onto a steep hillside covered in lush bamboo and native hardwoods creating the perfect backdrop for spectacular sunsets.

Beneath the veneer of paradise, Anilao carries on its back a multitude of environmental risks, including landslides and flooding, mainly due to the rapid population growth, slash-and-burn farming and uncontrolled development.  

Maptastic is an innovative, high-tech initiative to help vulnerable communities build resilience, ahead of the coming hurricane/typhoon season, by using low-tech solutions. Using GPS devices, the team mapped risk areas in the baranggay, indicating potholes, broken roads, fallen trees and other risk points in the baranggay.

Jennylyn Candelario, the baranggay treasurer of Sitio Ligaya, said the community is trying to build a new and safer access road because the main passageway they use had already been destroyed by the typhoons and landslides.

"We started the project in December 2012 but we are still unable to continue it due to lack of budget," Candelario said. "Our baranggay captain is requesting funds, but we don't know yet if there will be any."

The mapping activity continues to a more elevated part of the baranggay, leading up to Mt. Gulugod Baboy. The two-hour hike leads up to a small community of about 10 families. One of the residents, Mely Ilao, said their main concern is the lack of accessibility from the lowlands to their place.

"It's very difficult to have access to the hospitals, schools, etc.," she said. "Garbage disposal is even more difficult because we have no road."

Ilao added that she thinks they're not getting much attention from the local government because their community is small.

Now, after being awakened by the harsh reality of Anilao, we ask ourselves, what can we do to help? Plenty – road building, reforestation, sustainable livelihood and so on. But the more immediate assistance we can do is to put their community on the map. By participating in mapping process themselves communities become empowered. Soon there will be a large banner map in the heart of the community to help residents understand the risk of certain behavior, such as cutting down hardwood trees.

Maptastic maps aim to stir local communities into appropriate action against these environmental risks. By harnessing the power of maps we can open the hearts and minds of ordinary people to come up with solutions.

Through this mapping activity, we have started the process of participatory mapping. But it's not enough. The challenge now is to come up with more sustainable ideas to mitigate the threats and teach the community on how to adapt.

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Charmaine Caparas is a communications specialist for IOM