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Meeting on Cartography and GIS at the United Nations Headquarters

New York, 28-30 March, 2000

The newly formed United Nations Geographic Information Working Group concluded its first meeting on collaboration in the fields of cartography and geographic information science at the UN Headquarters on 30 March 2000.

The objectives of the three-day meeting were to understand the mapping projects as well as data holdings of each agency and programme to discuss the development of a common United Nations geographic database and to establish procedures for collaboration in handling geographic information.

To realise the objective of developing and maintaining a global geographic database consisting of basic cartographic elements and toponymic information, the project will be based on commonly applied business principles such as needs assessment and cost factor considerations. It will be implemented in many phases. The first phase will examine the needs of every organisational entity, develope hardware and network designs and establish collaborative arrangements between the United Nations, national mapping agencies and industry partners, among other strategies.

The character of the database wll comprise geographic data at various scales. Layers of the data will include international boundaries, coastlines, transportation networks, elevation and settlements. The database will be maintained as a distributed network with participating agencies serving as the custodians of their respective data layers.

The interdepartmental, inter-agency Geographic Information Working Group was initiated by the cartographic section of the Library and Information Resources Division of the Department of Public Information. According to a draft resolution adopted by the Working Group, the need for collaboration to increase awareness, share knowledge, create and ensure support for all aspects of cartography, geographic information and spatial data infrastructures throughout the United Nations system was strongly underlined. Several other topics including problems and data needs in areas such as field operations, environment and health and political and development issues were also considered.

The Working Group stressed the importance of a common United Nations geographic database as a crucial capacity-building effort to enhance programme and operational capabilities and efficiencies. Towards the achievement of these goals, the Group received enthusiastic pledges of support from the participating non-government organisations and industry partners. The Group elected the Cartographic Section of the Department of Public Information as its Chair. The high level of interest in the Geographic Information Working Group, both internally and externally, reflects the importance and timeliness of the initiative and the need for the UN to take a leadership role in this area.

Participants included experts and observers from the United Nations Department of Public Information, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Department of Political Affairs, Office of Legal Affairs, Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations Centre for Human Settlement (Habitat), United Nations Development Programme(UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Other participants included the World Bank, Centre for International Earth Science Information Network, Global Spatial Infrastructure, International Cartographic Association, International Steering Committee of Global Mapping, Multipurpose European Ground Related Information Network, Open GIS Consortium, United States Board on Geographic Names, ERDAS, ESRI Inc., Laser-Scan Ltd., Lockheed Martin, Oracle Corporation, SGI, and Space Imaging.

It is expected that a common geographic database would enable many United Nations departments and bodies to experience direct cost-saving benefits and it would boost transparency and global awareness of many of the fundamental issues the organisaton handles. It would also be beneficial to developing countries where digital geographic data are unavailable. Further, the organisers believe that understanding the geography of conflict, hunger, disease, poverty and natural resources could lead to more powerful preventive measures.

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