Fighting environmental devastation starts with better maps

The Need

For decades, Indonesia’s forests and peatlands have suffered devastating annual wildfires, releasing massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, impacting the country’s economy and biodiversity, and affecting human health throughout the region.

The Solution

The Indonesian Peat Prize is a $1 million USD competition to create more-accurate, affordable, timely methods for mapping the thickness and boundaries of peatlands.

Every year, Indonesia’s forests and peatlands suffer devastating wildfires that pollute the atmosphere, cause billions of dollars in damages, and threaten the health of its environment and its citizens.

To rein the fires in, the Indonesian government had to understand the landscape where they occur. The country’s peatlands are vast and poorly mapped, making it nearly impossible to predict fire patterns or direct firefighting resources effectively. The Indonesian Geospatial Information Agency (BIG) approached Context Partners in 2015 to help face this challenge, by designing a mapping competition that would accelerate the process.

After extensive research and discussion, we realized that a fast, broad, low-res map is better than a slow, detailed one. What’s needed is a better mapping method, not just a better map.

The expertise is out there—a prize focused their efforts

Scientists and researchers have studied these environments for decades, but rarely work jointly to define the specific challenges facing Indonesia’s peatlands. Working with advisers and researchers to identify potential entrants, we were able to shape the $1 million Indonesia Peat Prize to attract maximum interest. Ultimately, it drew 10 entrant teams, comprised of researchers, students, companies and government agencies from over a dozen countries.

More than just a prize, the effort also includes a long-term strategy for creating and maintaining this emerging global network of experts, creating a resource for the Indonesian government as it improves its understanding of mapping techniques and peatlands, and ultimately makes these cataclysmic fires a thing of the past.

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