Home Articles South Asia co-operation in GIS technologies – Some thoughts

South Asia co-operation in GIS technologies – Some thoughts

B.L. Deekshatulu
Director, CSSTE-AP (Affiliated to UN)
Dehra Dun

The problems of Asian countries are similar which is characterised by high rate of population growth and less modernisation besides, floods,cyclones, drought, deforestation, land degradation etc. We have less per capita resources and the depletion rate is fast; therefore optimal utilisation of natural resources is the key issue for development. Developing countries are information poor, though lot of informations available globally. Information is recognised as priority for defining sustainable developmental strategies. We may realise that there is today no wealthy, developed country that is information poor and no information rich country that is poor and under developed. When the rate of change is more we need information fast, reliable and open. Information and related technologies have become important for defining, monitoring and management of natural resources. Advances in telecommunications and the development of computers, software and semiconductor technology will significantly impact the structure of modern society. A glowing example is the internet resolution. Its impact on society speaks of volume; the development of more powerful open system is an urgent requirement. Development of more powerful computers, networks and integrated communication systems and development of new methods of infrastructure processing – the search for new computer paradigms, will be the major challenges of the 21 century. GIS which is a part of the Information technology will change the world more permanently and more profoundly than any technology so far, and will be a market force for business and societal applications. GIS will provide the information power and will be the value system. Human resources will have to cope with these challenges and use positively for betterment.
GIS Systems of different ranges are being used for mapping, analysing, planning, interpreting and decision making massive amounts of natural resource data, socio-economic data, topographic and demographic data making this one of the most potent tools for planners. It also provides vivid visual aids to corporate decision making and for intelligent Managers.

What made GIS speed up
One of the major driving forces of scientific development in the last 10 years has been the rapid development of computers and associated software. Today, we are able to

  1. Handle large sets of data with rapid access. Improve processing power (of modern m/cs) to manipulate the data.
  2. Condensed storage using databasing techniques.
  3. Display results using sophisticated graphical technology.

It is simultaneous advances on these 3 fronts that made Geoinformatics/GIS powerful.
Modelling also has advanced; ex. computational statistics or spatial inter-polation techniques.. We can use now randomised data sets, use computer intensive methods of inference instead of assuming a particular distribution as in classical statistics.
In ecology and Agriculture Sciences one uses now, System Theory to derive equations of interactions and create complicated mathematical methods for biodiversity or for sustainability.
Further interest in modelling has lead to the chaotic models in which, despite precise knowledge of the underlying process, it has been impossible to predict far into the future. It is possible that chaotic systems will bridge the gap between deterministic interactions and uncertain future.
So, given the existence of both mathematical models and GIS, it is possible to make predictions at different points in space and time.
What are the constraints and opportunities for the growth of GIS in South Asia
Technology has progressed faster than Institutions, attitudes and policies. Organisations have to change their attitude towards Information dissemination and Decision making process i.e. Information Structures have to improve for better decision making.
Cost effective implementation. We have to unleash the true potentialof GIS which is a part of IT for the benefit of the mankind.
Talk of personalised information systems using GIS (similar to the PC resolution 20 years back).

Data standardisation and protocol for data sharing.

GIS in Asia Pacific :
Lots of a awareness, realisation and utilisation of GIS in Asia-Pacific is ON. GIS is being increasingly used by infrastructure and telecommunication industries to assist them in their preparation for the new Information age (also for strategic purposes). It will have

  1. Ability to manage huge relational databases.
  2. Instantly produce computerised maps, based on modelling.
  3. Analysis of  What if Scenarios.

Andhra Pradesh (India) – an example

Entire Andhra Pradesh road network map with details on type, present status, traffic load, date of last repair, number of bridges etc. are available as a centralized database in Chief Ministe’s office who monitors the status and checks its proper functioning.

Qatar’s nation-wide GIS. 1994 installed. It wants that base maps be available to all Ministries. Uses dual ring star topology FDDI (100 MB p sec.)

The Cabinet Minister said “GIS has brought all Government Directors and we have decided to use”. That unity to “go ahead”. Every  one shares the view that Decision making needs GIS. OMAN and BAHRAIN integrated GIS functioning in communications. Telecom Companies feel that the same wires, which are used for Telecom, can be used for high speed data links. It is an Integrating Technology for all aspects of the Telecom industry.

Today it is used in typical AM/FM applications such as planning, fault tracing and engineering design.

Soon it will have applications in demand forecasting and strategic marketing. 

GIS will have much better comprehension of market segmentation and recognition of population distribution patterns. It will therefore help understand better, the customer base and therefore better service. At the present juncture some GIS that are used in municipalities are accessed by many user departments for doing their respective functions such as scheduling the day maintenance teams and construction. When such a situation develops, i.e. the organisations activities are also integrated with its GIS, then there is a great advantage to the organisation in terms of savings on efforts and improvement in efficiency due to the timeliness of information availability. As a natural corollary to the above, it may be a good ides if GIS is dove tailed into the organisation’s computerisation or office automation processes even though at a first glance it will appear that there is not much in synergy between the two. The utilisation of IT as a method of working or a resource by itself has to become a part of the culture. The point is that the GIS needs to contribute to the organisation activities and people in an operational way; for day to day work, from small things to big projects. If on the other hand, it is an isolated ivory tower feeding information only to the decision makers or planners, it is bound to slowly lose its relevance and decay. Geoinformatics beyond 2000 An international conference organised at IIRS, Dehra Dun during March 9-11, 1999. With real international gathering , the 3 days were reverberating with many paper presentations and poster sessions on Key GIS development, applications studies and trends. GRAM ++

Georeferenced Area Management (GRAM) is a PC-based raster GIS software package developed at IIT, Mumbai. It is now available in windows 95/NT along with modules on Network analysis, spatial query language support for combined attribute and map based queries, Vector analysis and Digital topographic vector data. This package GRAM ++ will assist the planners and decision makers at district/block level in development planning.

Geo-data bases for natural resource management : the NRIS experience
The National (Natural) Resources Information System (NRIS) is an important component of the National Natural Resources Management System conceived and developed by Department of Space (DOS), Govt. of India. The NRIS provides an integrated database with Remote Sensing data and collateral information in the framework of spatial information system. The data at 1:50,000 scale at district level, at 1:250 K scale at state level and at 1:1M scale at country level is analysed. Earlier ISRO developed a PC based GIS package, called “Geospace” that handles spatial and non spatial data and runs on PC-AT and also under xenix environment and also ISRO-GIS. Currently 4 shells namely GELAP (Geographic Land Action Plan), GEOLAWNS (for land and water), GEOSMART and Decision Space using Arc Info are in use. Besides these, there are many other GIS packages developed both under Government and by private organisations such as NRDMS of Dept. of Science and Technology, ESRI, CSDMS, Intergraph, Rolta, SIEMENS, …

A number of journals are also available for may countries, GIS Developer, Geo Asia Pacific, GIS Asia Pacific, etc. etc.
What should South Asia do
Realising that we all share common environmental problems and that data/information/decision making are fundamental requirement for any development process, the South Asia countries should speed up adopting GIS in their day-to-day problems Though chronologically GIS was born later to Remote Sensing, it is to be realised that in some countries in Europe and in the Gulf, GIS is used more than Remote Sensing. In South Asia, though intellectually high, and time is passing by, the adoption rate is not enough.

Data source is the first step in any GIS. Aerial data, stereo pairs and updated maps are difficult to procure in many countries. Open data policy and easy access to data are fundamental requirements to use GIS. Furthermore, the Remote Sensing data is mostly formatted for easy application of Digital Image Processing. For GIS applications vector format, Geo TIFF format (platform independent in UNIX) etc. are needed so as to add/modify attribute information easily.

It is essential to build up national capacity in the field of GIS/Geoinformatics to increase efficiency in the planning process. However, there is realisation that the environmental and national resource management issues have gone beyond the national boundaries. The global/regional climate, biogeochemical cycle,water resources and tropical forests which are major sources of primary productivity are considered key issues requiring immediate need of regional co-operation in Asia Pacific. For example, the snow fall in the Hindukush region affects the monsoon influencing the agricultural productivity of slopes of Himalaya and flood plains of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Deforestation or increasing human interventions in Himalayas have led to increased run off, decreased productivity at slopes and have contributed to sediment discharge in rivers resulting into floods in plains. Tropical evergreen forests of Asia are major sink of carbon. These forests are reported to have experiencing fastest rate of deforestation. The oceans, which are major carbon sink, are economically interwoven as socio-economic fabric, are being polluted and over-exploited. In this back drop, it is essential that a consensus be arrived at on data sharing, data standardisation and effective monitoring and management of these environmental processing. It is felt that this can only be achieved through active participation of certain regional institutions like, CSSTE-AP, ICIMOD, IIMI, AIT, CIFOR, IRRI etc. These institutions can contribute on capacity building, promote research on regional issues and act as a network for catalysing data sharing mechanisms of the data producers and data utilisers. For GIS to pick up what is urgent is easy access to data for many users. The biggest bottleneck in implementing any GIS is data input. It is a time consuming, extremely costly and labour intensive process. It may or may not be successful. The constraints in the availability of aerial data due to costs and sensitivity, updated maps in digital form and other social data has only compounded matters. However, things are beginning to change. High resolution satellite data is soon poised to become a reliable source of GIS input data. (IRS-1C/1D PAN and IRS-P5 PAN of 2.5 m resolution, SPOT data). We would like to see GIS systems in each user organisation (sector) wherein the data is inputted from many sources continuously, information is tapped out by many users and is a busy system, with regular operations for various applications. Regular training programs should be organised in each application to different target groups using Multimedia lessons and using Internet. Techniques such as Data fusion, intelligent GIS should form a part of the syllabus. Non-Governmental organisations like CSDMS could help enhance the process and prepare the application scientists and decision makers to a new value system.

One suggestion to all specialists in the SA region. Whenever an application study is done, please also generate the final classified output in a GIS compatible form so that it can feed directly into tomorrow=92s GIS. Another suggestion is that those who are involved in networks (any network with geographic attributes) are candidates for GIS; marketing and service oriented companies, power and telecommunications companies, fertiliser and seed companies, real estate, housing and housing finance companies etc. These can and should be targetted by GIS companies.