Mapping Zambian Urbanisation Using Geospatial Data

The Challenge

Urbanisation has become a defining feature of the 21st century, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is experiencing the fastest rate of urbanisation in the world. Accordingly, the Zambian government is challenged by a rapid growth of its cities, which demands prompt policy adaptation and infrastructural development. The country already suffers from insufficient and overcrowded housing as well as limited access to water and sanitation in informal settlements. The lack of necessary infrastructure hinders the promotion of a sustainable and liveable urban environment.

The Approach

Policymakers in Zambia leveraged an automated digital base map of the capital Lusaka which had previously been created by Ordnance Survey in collaboration with the International Growth Centre (IGC) and the Commonwealth Association of Architects (CAA). The project aimed to address the untapped potential of spatial data and focused on identifying informal settlements using satellite and aerial imagery. The project provided authorities with important information on urban features such as transportation infrastructure and access to clean water. ​

The Benefits

The creation of a map of Lusaka based on satellite and aerial imagery provided Zambian policymakers with a more comprehensive understanding of the extent and growth of informal settlements. The map enabled the Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development to better target investments in the city’s critical infrastructure and services such as transport systems and utility planning, leading to more effective urban development.

The project thus significantly contributed to SDG 11 Sustainable cities by supporting inclusive and sustainable urbanisation and improving access to safe and affordable living. The digital base map of Lusaka also contributes to SDG 6 Clean water and sanitation by providing key information on the availability of access to clean water. The project further contributes to SDG 9 Industry, innovation and infrastructure by providing authorities with a comprehensive understanding of Lusaka's current infrastructure and future infrastructure needs.



more people will live in Africa’s cities by 2050, compared to today.

The context​

Rapid urbanisation can pose a significant strain on infrastructure and housing, particularly in places like Lusaka, Zambia, which is among the fastest growing cities in southern Africa. With a population of over three million people, 70% of whom live in informal settlements, residents often lack basic services, decent housing and access to clean water and sanitation facilities. Without proper infrastructure and planning, rapid urban growth exacerbates these problems. There is a clear need for effective policies to ensure that urbanisation in Zambia can instead become a positive force for development and growth.

Zambia is taking a major step towards sustainable urban development by formulating its first National Urbanisation Policy with the support of UN Habitat. The government-led effort aims to develop a long-term vision for urbanisation that addresses poverty reduction, spatial planning, social services and infrastructure development, as well as coordination of large-scale investments. In doing so, the Ministry of Local Government & Rural Development hopes to ensure that urban settlements are not only prosperous and resilient, but also inclusive, to transform Zambia's cities and towns into drivers of national growth.

Using geospatial data for sustainable urban development

Data plays a crucial role in providing policymakers with information for effective urban development. Geospatial data, in particular, can integrate multiple layers of information geographically, enabling responsive and evidence-driven policy formulation.

To capitalise on such potential, Zambian policymakers drew on the automated base map of Lusaka created in collaboration between Ordnance Survey, the IGC and the CAA, and focused on identifying informal settlements.

“A map is critical to display the location of infrastructure. Governments see this as a game changer.”
Joseph Minango, Surveyor General of Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources, Zambia

What is the Lusaka base map?

Using aerial and satellite imagery provided by the Survey Department of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources Ordnance Survey generated a base map of Lusaka. In the process, artificial intelligence processes identified and labelled various features found in the imagery such as roofed structures, natural and sealed surfaces, roads, grass, trees and water.

Figure 1: Aerial imagery provided by the Survey Department of the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resource
Ordnance Survey, Improving Urban Living
Figure 2: Base map with identified buildings, roads, water and other features from the aerial imagery.
Ordnance Survey, Improving Urban Living

How can better data contribute to better policy? ​

Lusaka’s base map, derived from aerial and satellite imagery, provides important data on the location and size of informal settlements, the number of buildings in the city and population density. Using this information, the Zambian government is able to better plan and invest in public infrastructure and services as outlined in the National Urbanisation Policy. This includes improvements in sanitation and health services (including the construction of new sewage and water treatment systems and the provision of waste disposal services), expansion of utility capacity and demand-driven transportation planning (including increasing the numbers of buses and trains).

“Ordnance Survey’s ground-breaking technology used to create the map enables Government to make informed decisions quickly, about urban housing policy, and climate change adaptation issues.”

Dr. Emmanuel Tembo, Head of Land Titling of Zambia Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources

This map helped policymakers more effectively target its resources at the most critical gaps in public service provision and help improve the living standards of vulnerable citizens. The availability of detailed and accurate data on city trends enables policymakers to assess the effectiveness of their policies and adjust them as needed, positioning Lusaka for sustainable and inclusive urban development.

Where do we go from here?​

Digital base maps of Zambian cities have the potential to incorporate additional data, providing government agencies with greater clarity and insight to enhance decision-making in other areas. For instance, the base map could facilitate the implementation of policies surrounding land audits, which have long been a priority for the Zambian government. Additionally, an updated base map could be used to effectively plan the location of additional critical public infrastructure such as hospitals, schools and transport networks. The base map could also be useful in disaster management, enabling better planning and response to events such as floods or pandemics.

Case Downloads

Urbanisation Case Study
Better city planning in Zambia

Further ressources

Urbanisation Report
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