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Mobile Big Data for Cities: Urban Climate Resilience Strategies for Low & Middle- Income Countries

Cities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels and storm surges, heat stress, extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding and landslides.

In a time of unprecedented urbanisation and greater global uncertainty, it has become more challenging for cities in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) to configure themselves more sustainably. Traditional planning strategies have led to urban sprawl and produced negative impacts ranging from habitat fragmentation and water and air pollution to higher infrastructure costs, inequality and social homogeneity.

The compact city model, based on density, diversity, mixed land use, sustainable transportation and green space, offers a sustainable response to these challenges and an opportunity to design and develop cities for long-term resilience and viability. Given these trends, the integration of digital technology in the environmental and physical development of urban areas is urgently needed across LMICs.

Summary of findings This study highlights the potential value of using mobile big data (MBD) in preparing for and responding to climate-related disasters in cities. In line with the “3As” of urban climate resilience, a framework adopted by the GSMA Mobile for Development programme, this study examines how MBD could help cities and their populations adapt to multiple long-term challenges brought about by climate change, anticipate climate hazards or events and/or absorb (face, manage and recover from) adverse conditions, emergencies or disasters.

Building on insights from recent GSMA publications, this study maps best practices in the transport, land, service delivery, finance and early warning sectors, and the potential benefits of integrating MBD in plans and frameworks to respond to the impacts of climate change in urban settings. Best practices in these sectors show that MBD can reveal the daily mobility patterns of a city’s population and generate insights on population distribution, the intensity of human activity and shifting population density. All these are crucial in the coordination, communication and allocation of resources to respond to climate change and build resilience. In some instances, combining MBD with other data sets, such as climate, population census, GIS and traffic, provide more comprehensive and accurate results that are instrumental in decarbonisation strategies, land use classifications and real-time urban disaster response and financing plans.

Barriers and recommendations Despite best practices, interviews for this study revealed that MBD is still underused in planning, monitoring and response strategies for urban climate resilience in LMICs. The primary barriers to using MBD include low capacity of national and local government to apply MBD in practice; weak data- sharing culture; underdeveloped data privacy and security laws; lack of coordination; limited gender disaggregation (for example, women, those living in rural areas, those with lower incomes); and the costs of supplying MBD for MNOs.

However, these constraints can be overcome if governments, MNOs and development partners pursue well-informed initiatives that have determined the value of MBD for urban climate resilience. It is important to acknowledge the limitations of MBD to serve the most underserved.

Certain demographics, such as women, are less likely to be digitally included (e.g. own a mobile phone or use mobile money and mobile internet) and are therefore less likely to be represented in the data. This means that using MBD to design new disaster warning systems and optimised public transport routes, for example, risks further excluding these groups.

This report proposes next steps for national and local governments, MNOs and development partners to use MBD to strengthen urban climate resilience. Our call to action includes building the capacity of the public sector and MNOs to use MBD for urban climate resilience; combining MBD with other data sources to have a more effective impact on urban climate resilience; developing partnerships and commercial models to ensure social inclusion and transparency; and lobbying for effective and efficient data infrastructure and data security measures to apply MBD insights at scale.

The full report is available online: Here


Thank you to the UrbanEmerge team and partner organisations.

Authors: Judith Mulwa, GSMA, ClimateTech

Andreas Beavor, Managing Partner, UrbanEmerge

Bian Li, UrbanEmerge Partner organisation, Hungry Lab Dr. Steve Lorimer, Independent Expert, UrbanEmerge

Mark Harvey, Resurgence

Sunayana Sen, Resurgence Oscar Cartagena, Resurgence

Ben Hawes, Independent Expert, UrbanEmerge

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