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‘MLIT provides tailored package of technologies and policies’

Goro Yasuda
Director, Overseas Project Division
Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, Japan

The Overseas Project Division of MLIT plays a key role in promoting Japanese technologies overseass. Goro Yasuda explains how MLIT made corrections in spatial data post the 2011 earthquake and plans of the Division to maximise the benefits of geospatial technology.

What are the mandate and activities of Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT), and its Overseas Project Division?
As its name indicates, the mandates and activities of MLIT can be summarised under the following four categories:

  1. Land – Responsible for regional policy, city planning, real property, construction industry
  2. Infrastructure – Roads, water, ports and harbours, disaster management, housing, public buildings
  3. Transport – Surface/maritime/air transport including public transport
  4. Tourism

The Overseas Project Division, in tandem with International Policy Division, is responsible for the promotion of overseas projects incorporating Japanese technologies in our fields of activities. This includes establishing bilateral communication at ministerial level, concluding memorandums of cooperation between MLIT and counterpart ministries in the partner countries, holding government-to-government seminars which sometimes involve the participation from private sector, providing technical cooperation such as dispatching experts to partner countries and providing technical training in Japan. To promote overseas projects, we also run two PPP (public private partnership) councils in the field of road and water infrastructure development. We are also active in disaster response. In response to the devastating flood in Thailand last year, we facilitated the dispatch of experts and 10 high-capacity drainage pump vehicles from MLIT with the cooperation of our colleagues in MLIT and also by the cooperation of colleagues in Thai and Japanese governments. During the 32-day operation in seven major inundated locations including industrial estates, universities, and communities in Ayutthaya, Pathumthani and Nonthaburi provinces, approximately 8 million cubic meters of floodwaters were efficiently drained out.

MLIT was established as part of the administrative reforms in 2001. The idea of bringing together land, infrastructure, transport and tourism is a fairly unique practice. How do you establish synergy between four different sectors?
To promote tourism, regional coordination of administrators in the fields of road, river, city planning and tourism has been strengthened. Another example is the coordination of the transportation modal mix. Taking into account the characteristics of the region and the characteristics of the transport modes available, coordination among railways, buses, private cars, ships and so on has been strengthened in order to realise an effective and harmonised transport network for the region.

Personnel policy is one tool for establishing such synergy. Interchange of personnel between different bureaus is important to unify the cultures of works.

In how many countries is the Overseas Project Division active and what are the key projects that are incorporating geospatial technology?
We regularly intercommunicate with ministries, municipalities and other related organisations in more than 10 countries. In the field of surveying and mapping, we dispatch an expert to the Survey of Bangladesh as Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA) long-term expert for extending their capacity in digital mapping at the scale of 1:25,000 and 1:2,500. There are similar finished projects in several countries including Kenya, the Philippines, Senegal and Timor Leste. The Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI) of MLIT runs two JICA training courses on surveying and mapping.

We understand there are 13 bureaus of MLIT. What are their roles in the activities of Overseas Project Division? How these bureaus are supporting the Division?
In general, each bureau has a team working on international projects and other international affairs. The Overseas Project Division keeps close connection with these teams and coordinates their activities. In addition, our division is generally responsible for contacting the partner countries, including through the embassies of Japan in these countries. We get strong support from each bureau on technical aspects and on dispatch of experts to the partner countries.

In your view, how significant is the role of geospatial technology in the activities of Overseas Project Division?
In general, geospatial technology can play more important role in near future in both Japan and overseas; for example, the advancement of positioning technology will enable automatic control of cars and automation in construction using ICT. It will also provide precise fieldwork data in managing environment.

Automation in construction using ICT is not a juvenile dream. Such automation is sometimes essential in order to secure safe work environment. If the work site is at the risk of landslides or in very high temperature, automation can be the choice. Japan has quite good experience because we have experience in sabo works whose work sites are at the risk of debris flow or pyroclastic flow from volcanoes.

Geospatial technology is important also in disaster management. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is an important technology to figure out inundated areas under thick cloud layer. Light detection and ranging (LiDAR) is also an important technology for precise inundation flow simulation and precise planning for handling mudslides by providing dense digital elevation models (DEM).

The Overseas Project Division is willing to introduce such applications to partner countries.

The earthquake had moved Japan coast 8 feet and shifted Earth”s axis. What was its impact on MLIT’s surveying data and land records? Did this incident compel you to rethink and change the way of performing surveying, mapping or any other tasks?
By virtue of 1,240 GNSS control stations which constitute GNSS Earth Observation Network system (GEONET), we could obtain crustal deformation data every second before and after the earthquake. I believe the data obtained can contribute to progress of seismology.

On May 31st 2011, 81 days after the quake, GSI resumed the publication of the revised survey results for 438 GNSS control stations in affected area because GEONET indicated that the crustal deformation mostly stopped. This enabled network real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning services to continue with revised Japanese Geodetic Datum (JGD) which is called JGD2011.

On October 31st 2011, GSI released correction parameters regarding crustal deformation due to the earthquake. This enabled the correction of the coordinates of geospatial data obtained before the earthquake. The correction parameters are used to update the land records in Japan. On the same day, GSI also resumed the publication of the survey results for 43,312 control points and 1,903 benchmarks.

The crustal deformation due to the earthquake was actually huge, but in general the framework of the location infrastructure was not subject to major change. Because Japan is under constant crustal deformation, GSI has researched on semi-dynamic correction of the survey results in order to cancel the effect of the crustal deformation. The semi-dynamic correction was partially introduced in surveying in January 2010. If we put aside the scale, the measures mentioned above are the same as ones already established.

Does Overseas Project Division provide support to universities and research institutes in capacity building in geospatial technology?
We do not provide direct support to universities and research institutes. In general, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) provides support to academia including that of geospatial technology. On the other hand, we sometimes collaborate with researchers on joint efforts. GSI of MLIT sometimes invites researchers from foreign countries to conduct a joint research in GSI for several months.

Does the Overseas Project Division work through public-private partnership (PPP) model?
We support PPP model for the development and the management of infrastructure if it is suitable. We focus on some projects in water and transport infrastructure because of the revenue management possibility.

What are the future plans of Overseas Project Division? How does it plan to capitalise on geospatial technology?
In order to provide best solutions for each country’s needs, the Overseas Project Divisionis taking more efforts in providing a tailored package of technologies and policies. By periodical dialogues with authorities in the counterpart countries and making the best of Japan’s technologies and policy experiences, we believe we can contribute to infrastructure development and management.

I suppose geospatial technology is one of the most important technologies that could yield additional value if it is customised to meet the user’s needs. In addition, geospatial technology can also be an integrative framework of various applications. We are conducting a survey as to how we can customise the process of surveying to best meet the users’ needs.