About The Project

EthioGIS-2 workshop with experts from government, non-profit organisations, and academia in 2014.

The MapServer Ethiopia project

MapServer Ethiopia is a web-based open-source platform for the dissemination of geospatial data maps and information about Ethiopia. The website contains three main web apps that enable
  1. mapping based on pre-produced maps,
  2. desktop mapping of selected information layers, and
  3. open geospatial data download.

The MapServer Ethiopia data platform and website are intended to improve mapping and spatial understanding in the context of project management, natural resources governance, humanitarian aid work, and academic education. The MapServer Ethiopia project is part of the activities of the Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC) to improve data sharing and dissemination in support of land and water resources management. The project is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).


National spatial data infrastructure plays a significant role in the development of Ethiopia’s fast-growing economy, but it contributes just as much to sustainable use of natural resources and efficient management of food crises. An assessment of national spatial data infrastructure in Ethiopia (Dessalegn Obsi Gemeda, 2012) revealed that a shortage of digital data, lack of standards, insufficient sharing, and limited access to online information have caused a certain backlog in geospatial data processing. Maps are means of visual communication and foster understanding of complex problems. They are containers of data, show spatial patterns, enable geographic analysis, and contribute to the UN’s “data revolution” initiative. It is common knowledge that people retain 80% of what they see, 20% of what they read, and 10% of what they hear. Maps and visuals are processed a thousand times faster than text, and content with visuals gets 94% more total views on the Internet. This makes maps an ideal means of communication and planning on all levels.

Building on EthioGIS-3, the new (2018) release of the National Geospatial Database System for Ethiopia, MapServer Ethiopia aims at providing a web-based gateway for open and non-authoritative geospatial information for the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The mapping services are designed to provide improved decision support for development actors, government authorities, NGOs, international organizations, and civil society. The EthioGIS MapServer is part of the Water and Land Resources Information System (WALRIS) of the Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC) and adds server capabilities for both registered and unregistered user communities. The main product lines are scalable on- and offline mapping services based on data from WLRC and open-source data (OSM, Copernicus, NASA, NGA, and many more), as well as hardcopy print services provided at the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern, Switzerland, or at WLRC, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia (see contact information).

MapServer community

MapServer Ethiopia services are designed mainly for governmental offices, non-profit organisations, aid agencies, research institutions, and individuals with a keen interest to improve communication of spatial baseline data in the context of their work. Professional uses range from simple sketch-mapping to spatial modelling in a complex environment. Feedback provided by EthioGIS users and WLRC workshop participants were used to design the new platform and the geospatial layers used for mapping.

Agricultural extension agents and WLRC field staff working on-site in WLRC’s research and learning watersheds have been another important source of valuable comments on mapping apps. Use of online tools is not yet common in fieldwork in rural Ethiopia. Accordingly, hardcopy-based field mapping remains an import means of collecting and communicating data.

Finally, the data available through MapServer Ethiopia offer an extraordinary potential for planning, decision support, and scenario modelling. Population projection, mapping of health centre accessibility, and visualisation of projected water level changes due to dam construction are among the key capabilities of the geospatial information provided by MapServer Ethiopia.

Accessibility of WALRIS and MapServer Ethiopia for non-registered and registered users

Institutional affiliation

MapServer Ethiopia links closely with WLRC’s Water and Land Resources Information System (WALRIS). The server complements data and information provided by WLRC’s knowledge hub with web-based mapping facilities. In view of strong limitations on geospatial data exchange due to low transmission bandwidth, MapServer Ethiopia provides a large number of compressed (pdf) topographic and thematic maps at various scales. Users with a valid login for WLRC’s data repository have direct access to maps and spatial data as provided by MapServer Ethiopia. All other users may access the entire range of maps and open data through the MapServer Ethiopia website at www.mapserver-ethiopia.org.

Data and Technology

MapServer Ethiopia technology

The MapServer Ethiopia platform builds on ESRI’s ArcGIS Enterprise software components for Windows. From the MapServer Ethiopia HTML Website with its three sections, users directly enter ESRI’s portal technology with WebGIS apps developed using Web AppBuilder and AppStudio for ArcGIS. ArcGIS Desktop 10.6 and Data Driven Pages were used to compose the pre-produced maps. The MapServer Ethiopia is partly based on technology development through the OneMap Myanmar initiative (https://www.onemapmyanmar.info/) led by CDE. ESRI’s community and its African partners are currently developing Africa’s new one-stop-shop portal for geospatial data. The aim of the new portal is to share geospatial information, data, and skills to improve access to knowledge particularly relevant for African countries (see https://www.esri.com/en-us/landing-page/corporate-programs/2018/africa-geoportal).

Map and geodata authors

Jürg Krauer, Ulla Gaemperli, and Matthias Fries of CDE Geoinformatics, University of Bern, Switzerland; Gete Zeleke, Tibebu Kassawmar Nigussie, and Yohannes Aragie Sisay of WLRC, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. Map reference: Please note that you must indicate the source of MapServer Ethiopia geospatial data or map base layers when using this information in other products, as follows: WLRC Ethiopia and CDE, University of Bern, Switzerland. EthioGIS-3: Thematic and Topographic Overview, Field and Base Map Series {map} 1:100,000–1:1,500,000. Release 3.0/December 2018. www.mapserver-ethiopia.org.

Origin of data

MapServer Ethiopia datasets and layers are taken mainly from the National Geospatial Database System EthioGIS-3. This third version of EthioGIS, completed in 2018, represents a comprehensive update of geospatial vector layers first published in 1999 as an initial set of shapefiles on a CD-ROM under the title of “Geospatial Database EthioGIS”. A first update with new raster and imagery datasets was published as EthioGIS-2 in 2014. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence, EthioGIS-3 is now the main source of geospatial layers used to compile the new topographic and thematic map series presented on the MapServer Ethiopia platform at www.mapserver-ethiopia.org. EthioGIS-3 is a geospatial modelling resource developed by experts from WLRC in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, and CDE at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The team welcomes any information that might serve to improve the map series. For comments and suggestions, please contact WLRC at gete.zeleke@cde.unibe.ch or CDE at juerg.krauer@cde.unibe.ch.

Open geospatial data

Data and in particular geospatial (cartographic, map) data are a valuable asset in natural resources monitoring and management. They account for an estimated 80% of public sector information and are the most significant category of open public data (see www.opengeospatial.org). However, until fairly recently these data were accessible only to public authorities and institutions concerned with geodesy and cartography. Two developments over the past decades have fundamentally changed the ways in which we work with geospatial information: first, the omnipresence of maps and imagery in navigation and online services, and second, the “open access” movement, which supports free and unrestricted access to tools, software, and data. The MapServer Ethiopia platform and its applications provide users with open geospatial data as well as pre-produced and user-specified maps for all kinds of mapping activities involving a wide range of end users. There is broad agreement that increasing the availability of open geospatial data removes a key obstacle to widespread use of geospatial technologies (GIS and related tool sets), making it possible to leverage “spatial literacy” across disciplines and applications. These global developments go hand in hand with the advancement of spatial data infrastructure in Africa. Users of MapServer Ethiopia are not only encouraged to use open data to their full potential, but are also invited to contribute additional data from their own projects and data holdings. The concept of “sharing openly” will only succeed if, in addition to requesting free access to government data, non-governmental users – institutions and individuals – also contribute their own data, for example to crowd-sourcing efforts. Accordingly, sharing and exchange of geospatial information is the core aim of the new MapServer Ethiopia platform.

The Water and Land Resources Centre Project

The Water and Land Resource Centre (WLRC) Project has completed its third phase (2015–2018) with the establishment of two resource centres on land and water management in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia (www.wlrc-eth.com) and in Nanyuki, Kenya (www.cetrad.org). The centres serve as knowledge hubs for their respective countries and the region at large, supporting decision-makers and planners in their efforts to reduce land degradation and improve livelihoods in rural areas. Both centres build on long-standing achievements and activities in land system science and have highly qualified teams.

Picture: The WLRC teams from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Switzerland at their 2018 annual workshop in Bern, Switzerland.