H.E. Engineer Muhammad N ALRAJHI
Director General For Surveying & Mapping
Ministry of Municipal & Rural Affairs
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The General Directorate of Surveying and Mapping under the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA), Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is recognised among the global geospatial community for making geospatial information emerge as an important tool for decision makers and planners in the Kingdom. In this exclusive interview His Excellency Eng. Muhammad Alrajhi, the Director General of Surveying and Mapping, MOMRA shares his views on the various activities of the directorate
Saudi Arabia is highly urbanized with around 80 per cent of its people living in urban areas. In what ways does the Ministry utilise geospatial tools such as GIS, Remote Sensing, Satellite Imagery, Aerial photography in municipal administration, city and town planning, and the development and maintenance of infrastructure?
Indeed Saudi Arabia is highly urbanized country. Due to our large extent of deserted areas, (the Rub al-Khali Desert alone is the largest sand desert in world) and no permanent rivers or bodies of water, our demographic statistic show that 77.3% of people live in the urban areas and only 22.7% in rural areas. Our Municipal administration is aware of the vital need for efficient information systems to effectively monitor, improve, promote and administer our continuous urban growth. Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA) makes large use of Satellite images, Aerial Photography, large and small scale Maps and Remote sensing solutions for its administrative and technical departments.
Utilization of Geographical Information Systems and Seamless Geo-databases has been introduced in our departments, dramatically improving decision-making. The powerful enabling tools, that geospatial information technology provides to analyze and manage our land on daily basis and for decision-making is simply indispensable. In specific Satellite, Aerial Images, Maps etc. have or are in the process to be integrated in our Geo-databases which enables wide access throughout the Municipality from Administrative department to technical department such as Water Supply, Sewerage, Electricity, Town Planning, Roads and Building Construction, Health and Sanitation, Land Estate etc.
LANDSAT-7 images have been widely used for landuse determination and regional planning. Very high-resolution satellite images (IKONOS and QuickBird) and orthophoto have been used for urban planning, utility network integration and municipal administration. GIS and Planning Information System are now offering excellent tools to MOMRA departments and municipalities.
Administrative departments mostly use customized software applications to query and analyze individual department information for taking prompt decisions. Technical department use available and customized software application tools to view, access, retrieve, modify, update the geospatial information required for decision-making, planning etc. Our systems capacities are evolving and improving continuously, enabling our Ministry to effectively maintain and develop the Kingdom’s infrastructure growth.
What are the key activities and objectives of the GDSM? What is the status of maps and geospatial data availability for the Kingdom as of now?
MOMRA created the Surveying and Mapping Department in 1976, in support of the activities of the Deputy Ministry for Town Planning producing over two thousand map sheets at scales of 1:1,000; 1:2,500; 1:10,000 and 1:25,000 were produced covering a large portion of the urbanized and the surrounding areas of the Kingdom. A Royal Decree mandated the responsibility for nation-wide large scale mapping to the General Directorate for Surveying and Mapping (GDSM) expanding its role from a monitoring agency to a full production facility.
The Department during these years was able to satisfy the needs for mapping in MOMRA to support regional and urban planning activities as well as local planning in municipalities in a timely and effective manner. In addition, the upgraded Department was promoting surveying and mapping activities and assisting in developing technical capability within the municipalities. In summary GDSM is the pre-eminent civilian survey authority for geodetic surveying, large-scale mapping, GIS, and cadastral activities within the Kingdom. MOMRA recognizes the General Directorate for Surveying and Mapping with the capability in manpower, equipment and organizational structure to create and maintain the basic elements of the civilian surveying and mapping infrastructure such as:
- nGeodetic engineering using GPS techniques
- Large scale topographic surveying and photogrammetric mapping
- Orthophoto production
- Cadastral Mapping
- GIS Mapping
- Use of satellite imagery for mapping and planning purposes
- Establishment of a geodatabase
- Development of a geographic and land information system
- Development of application software for mapping purposes
- Definition of geomatics standards, the preparation of manuals and the specification of procedures for the mapping tasks in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
- Archival of ground control, mapping and imagery databases
GDSM as per today is proceeding with the updates of large-scale maps for the whole Kingdom and integration of MOMRA geospatial database.
What is the level of awareness among the public on the potential of using maps? What steps do you think needs to be taken to promote the usage and awareness of GIS in the Middle East region in general and Saudi Arabia in particular?
People have used maps’ information for thousands of years, but yet the full potential of this extraordinary “tool of information” is not fully embraced or understood by the masses. Probably the level of usage, awareness of the masses over the potential information retrievable from maps is limited to roads direction, find specific locations or for tourism information. I believe that people should be provided with more means to access public information regarding their territory such as recreation facilities, parks, sport association, roads, educational institutions, schools, emergency services, local business and organizations etc. Maps should not only help in improving the lifestyle within the community, but also address at the same time local development needs.
Campaigns from government organization throughout the Arabian Peninsula for “Informed Communities” should be initiated, data should be structured more intelligently and thematically and facilities to access information through Internet should be widely promoted.
What is the level of e-Governance implementation in the domain of providing municipal services to the citizens of the Kingdom?
GDSM is a great supporter of e-Government service for the Kingdom. According to our official news some functioning structures are already in place and final organization and tuning are almost complete. MOMRA geodatabase will be the foundation of e-Government. Government official’s concern is to provide an efficient service to all our institutions – none excluded – investment have been made to strengthen sectors like Education and Health where proper structures may not be totally in place. The announcement of the opening of the portal shouldn’t be far.
What is the role of private sector in the various activities of MOMRA?
MOMRA seeks utilization of private sector know-how for innovative solution to the country needs. The speed with which new technologies are developing, the private sector has an increasingly important role in developing market and technical solutions. The private sector adopting and promoting new technological solution for the benefit of MOMRA’s affairs facilitates frame works and decision-making, simplifying the Ministry’s legal activities. MOMRA takes a leadership role in creating frameworks that facilitate the development and foster the use of information and services for the private sector establishing and enforcing policies and procedures that encourage, and do not discourage, investment by the private sector in the development and use of information products and services.
MOMRA has good relations with Japan with respect to knowledge sharing and likewise many other countries. What is the role of regional cooperation towards the achievement of MOMRA’s goals?
Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has over twenty years of cooperation history with Saudi Government organizations. While industrial infrastructure pertains to tangible things in a broader context, industrial infrastructures also pertain to intangible things that hasten the process of industrialization. These intangible industrial infrastructures include technological know-how, software, systems and techniques for managing development, information and database building, etc.
JICA has been cooperating with various Saudi governmental organizations to develop these intangible infrastructures, hence MOMRA has directly and indirectly benefited from this contribution. The framework of the MOMRA is planning and developing of cities and villages, management of municipal services and lands, and rural cultivation and improvement. Regional cooperation brings to MOMRA substantial benefits in experience, advanced technology and quality personnel. MOMRA aims to pursue and strengthen regional cooperation to supply quality spatially referenced information that is current, complete, accurate and finally accessible.
What is the status of NSDI and its future in the Kingdom? Please tell us about the future plans of MOMRA?
In 2001 a Royal Decree was issued to establish an Interim Committee for Saudi National Spatial Data Infrastructure. The Committee is headed by Ministry of Defense, Military Survey Department, and situated at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), the nation’s leader organization in science, space and technology research. The mission of the committee is to coordinate, standardize, facilitate, and encourage the sharing of spatial data among organizations and to define the strategies, standards and the requirements that are needed toward the establishment of spatial data network and infrastructure for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The committee has members from almost all the major ministries and government organizations that are providers or users of spatial data and GIS systems. At the NSDI initiative in GITA incubator or affiliate nations in 2002, members of the Saudi committee, presented the Proposed National Spatial Data Infrastructure for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, introducing the concept of designing and implementation of the Saudi National Spatial Data Infrastructure (SNSDI) Foundation network for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Currently a prototype is being developed to provide data exchange service for catalogued layers of different types of spatial data for the Kingdom. MOMRA has strongly supported the initiative, actively participating to national and international meetings and congress. Our future plan is to strengthen our internal resources to facilitate the activation of the infrastructure and support municipalities and government organizations during the development phase.
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