| Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Countries in South East Asia (SEA) have unique problems which pose challenges to resource managers. These regions have some of the highest population densities, the greatest need for infrastructure development, need for employment generation and need for environmental protection. These areas have some of the world’s most unique natural habitats with amazing biodiversity. These regions are also highly vulnerable to natural disasters. The problems are many and the biggest of them all is the conflicting demands on natural resources. Huge populations need huge areas for agriculture but land is a limited resource. The demand on land is not only for agriculture but for creating infrastructure to support the population’s needs and industries which provide jobs. This leads to the destruction of virgin forests, poses threat to the region’s environment and endangers the rich biodiversity. To cap it all, disasters like cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis can, in moments, destroy lives and infrastructure in a matter of seconds.
It is therefore natural that resource managers and decision makers have embraced geospatial technology to enable rational decisions to balance the conflicting demands while protecting the fragile ecosystem. However, they do not find the task to be an easy one. Data is the first hurdle. Most of these areas are poorly surveyed, were surveyed long ago or not surveyed at all. Creating new and updated database is the first task. It is therefore not surprising that remote sensing has become the source of choice for data. This implies a need for suitable capacity building in modern image analysis technologies. While departments with scientific background find it easier to adopt new technologies, other administrative departments tend to be wary of adopting a technology that involves large investment up front.
The multilingual nature of the region also poses a difficulty and this can only be overcome by having a home grown community of scientists, experts and industries. This is the route being taken by all the countries. Another problem has been the political unrest in most of the countries. This does puts the brakes and often delays investment as funds are diverted or become scarce. A good move by many countries is the tying up of geospatial systems with ICT which essentially g-enables e-governance and acts as a force multiplier. Stable economy and a mature government have helped countries like Singapore to forge ahead while others are in various stages of development. Progress has been slow but one does see the acceleration picking up.
However, no two countries are the same and it is fascinating to see how each country is utilising geospatial systems for their areas of applications in unique ways. We hope that this edition provides a snapshot of the developments in this region and succeeds in highlighting the opportunities that exist as countries adopt geospatial systems in their day- to-day activities.