Home Articles Spatial Data Infrastructure: The Road Map for Middle East Development

Spatial Data Infrastructure: The Road Map for Middle East Development

El Fatih Wadidi
Senior GIS Engineer
Greater Nile Petroleum Operating
Company (GNPOC), Sudan

K. A. Abdalla
Department of Surveying Eng,
Faculty of Engineering & Arch.
University of Khartoum. Sudan

The information technology and geoinformation systems of today, require integration and adoption of an accurate reference systems and unification of datums and spatial data infrastructure standards and specifications for the implementation of information systems within Middle East, this will be vital for spatial data sharing, integration and mitigations. The unification of the geo-referencing systems within Middle East countries will assist in improving the organizational integration and data sharing capabilities as well as increasing the ability to link data sets based on common location data, such as local or regional tracking and monitoring applications and exchange of information.

The unification of spatial data infrastructure standards and specifications will also help in increasing the integration capabilities of databases between different countries in the continent in performing a number of operations in cost effective and manageable manner. These operations may include information analysis, map production, creation of unique opportunity for identification of common information. This trend will assist each country to expand its capability for the enhancement of data collection and management that dramatically improve the level of support for spatial data activities and providing solutions that enable the effective and efficient integration, sharing and delivery of spatial data.

The paper discussed the technical considerations urging Middle East countries to design and operate a number of interconnected systems for spatial data infrastructure and to create relations between different geospatial data sets and improving the existing systems functionalities. The paper also outlined the benefits of adopting one or geo-related geoinformation systems, emphasizing that the spatial data infrastructure is the basic central resource to be considered as the road map for development.

1. Introduction
Spatial data infrastructure (SDI) is often used to define the matrix of technologies, policies and institutional arrangements that will facilitate the availability and access to spatial data for all levels of government, the private sector, and academic organizations. The importance of Spatial Data Infrastructure can be considered as crucial in the world of today, as it support all terrestrial applications, many decision making processes and management of resources in the growing national, regional and global levels. So SDI is vital for sound applications at the local level as well national and regional levels. SDI can be useful in many applications such as crime management, flood mitigation, environmental restoration, community and land use assessment and disaster recovery, these are just few areas in which Middle East countries may be benefiting from Spatial Data, and can support their information discovery, access and use of the information. As Spatial data is an expensive resource, this will increase the need for corporation between Middle East countries in the acquisition of spatial data, this will require an establishment of regional programs and projects to obtain and access the spatial data, promote its use and ensure that continuous additional investment in spatial data collection, and management of results in an ever growing, readily available and useable spatial data. The authors call for Middle East initiatives for Spatial Data Infrastructure, starting with the harmonization of standards and specifications for spatial data capture and exchange, coordination of data collection and maintenance activities, and studying the use of common data sets by Middle East countries. The initiative can also concentrate on mapping the changes in Middle East to anticipate future conditions, devise a course of action and evaluating its results, these may include the use of spatial data to:

  1. show where and how, local or regional changes have taken place and their behavior over a period of time, such as changes in meteorological conditions, sea rise, ground water, geological activities and recent crustal movements.
  2. show map changes to anticipate present and future needs, such as an increase or decrease in urbanization, farming, crime patterns from year to year.
  3. study conditions before and after an action or event take place and to investigate its impact, such as studying the changes of Middle East environment, natural resources through establishment of monitoring systems.

Most of the infrastructures required for Middle East development in have spatial component, thus spatial data is an important asset for decision making and exploitation of natural resources required to be handled in an integrated process, within Middle East in a multi disciplinary network. Spatial data infrastructure can be used for sustaining the development, creating impact in the necessity of having strong commitment in data sharing and integration (Muggenhuber, 2004). This will increase the demand and use of spatial data, and the benefits of the society in handling the human resources, natural resources and physical infrastructure.

2. Unification of Spatial Reference Systems
All Spatial data must be referenced to a coordinate system and adopt projection systems which will help in matching correctly, information about certain area or combining them to study their relationships. This will require that spatial data must be in the same map projection and coordinate system. Several issues are involved in choosing a map projection and coordinate system, including the location of the region in the globe, extent of the area to be mapped, quality of mapping and purpose of spatial data.

The coordinate system specifies the units used to locate features in two dimensional space and origin point of these units as in geographic or geodetic systems based on ellipsoidal coordinate system. A map projection translates the locations on the ellipsoidal earth to the flat surface on a map. All map projections distort the shapes of features being displayed to some degree, as well as the measurements of area, distances and directions. This fact highlighted the importance of the unification of spatial data coordinate systems and map projection in Middle East to facilitate data sharing and integration of systems, and this will minimize the effect of map projection distortions within the region having at least the same type and amount of distortion all through the region.

For the purpose of unifying the Middle East georeferencing system of spatial data infrastructure, a precise Geodetic Network should be established based on global or one of the local datum. This network will be considered as a basis and as a development guide for the region governments and private sector organizations. For a more convenient and precise geodetic network, it would be useful to tie the established geodetic control of the region to a number of well-distributed International Terrestrial Reference Frame (ITRF) stations. The proper connection of geodetic networks of the region to ITRF stations will lead to the adoption and use of the global reference frame as the Middle East common reference system and will be a good foundation for the SDI of the region.

3. Spatial Data Standards and Specifications
In the Middle East as in many regions of the globe, spatial data can be divided into two categories, the base maps and mapping for user applications. User or application data standards will depend on the requirement of the user and the objectives of the application. The base map standard is feature based, this means that each map feature may have its own defined standard that may be different from other map features. Each feature is also associated with a particular category. Each category may contain a list of features for that category and information describing their standards and attributes used to define the standard. In case of Middle East, the adoption of base map standards and specification are useful for data exchange of digital base maps and for updating of information.

4. Spatial Data Acquisition
The spatial data Infrastructure can be obtained from many sources including, land surveying, digitized or scanned digital data, land records, photogrammetry and remote sensing and Global Positioning Systems. The continuing rapid growth of human settlements, urbanization and developments in many parts of Middle East has increased the demand of regional spatial data infrastructure, which certainly require the development of large partnerships between Middle East countries as well as private and public sectors at local, national and regional levels.

Remote Sensing imageries can be used for environmental and resource surveys, crop conditions, forest and desert cover, extent of urban area development and assessment of damages caused by natural hazards such as scarcity of ground water and droughts.

The Spatial data Infrastructure can be considered as national or local assets and many of its components are used by the governments authorities for planning and development of basic infrastructures and utility services as well as for fundamental and strategic research for exploitation of natural resources, environmental impact assessments in the Middle East region. The range of SDI products developed in many countries include: cadastral maps, large scale and topographic maps, national base maps and small scale maps. Most of the other mapping products would use these main basic maps as a common reference and building upon this basic information, all required thematic data and applications. The common spatial data items include geodetic control points, transportation networks, hydrological networks, contour lines etc. Interoperability complications within the same country and between Middle East countries is expected to exist in the beginning at different levels, including: use of different datum and reference systems, cross border edge matching between data sets and over lap of some features obtained from different sources and processes. To resolve such complications a mixture of many ingredients are required, such as technology, adoption of a common concept for spatial data, standards and policies as well as political support to help in resourcing the necessary key implementations

At a regional scale, SDI programs should be started on a national scale with wide participation and partnership of public and private organizations in the development of Spatial Data Infrastructure. As well the beneficiaries will be driven from the public and private sector and non-governmental organizations. Middle East countries can build their national SDI based on provincial or state local SDI programs, and then arrangements and coordination are to be made to establish the national SDI and subsequently regional SDI programs.

In Middle East, Spatial Data Infrastructure can assist in many applications, such as: humanitarians’ crises management, monitoring of natural hazards, management and explorations of national resources, such as ground water exploration, land inventories, forest management and mineral prospecting and weather forecasting, desertification assessment. Mapping of Middle East Region should be based on land, social, climate, and topography information. Thus to get use of all available information, Spatial Data Infrastructure Initiative for Middle East region should be initiated. Participation of Middle East countries in this type of work is required and it would be recommended to be on line with the resolutions of the United Nation’s Regional Cartographic activities (UNRCC Resolution (1997), to capacity building, transfer of technology and technical cooperation for the promotion of global and regional strategies for sustainable development.

5. Spatial Data Sharing and Integration.
The concept of sharing the spatial data between users and across borders necessitates that the data sets provided by various data providers in local, national or regional levels must be integrated to develop regional SDI. This will help in the reduction of cost and effort as well as quality of the SDI. In such cases each user does not have to develop the basic data and can avoid duplicated efforts of data development. Consequently by sharing the cost of developing the data, data development cost will be minimized. The benefits of sharing and integrating the Spatial Data Infrastructure will mainly depend on the practical applications and businesses within each country. In all cases the user will be assured of using up to date data sets, in addition to that the data producers should develop the most detailed spatial data with high quality based on their business requirements.

Spatial data is important asset for decision making on resources and its integrated process within a multinational network. There are many benefits of spatial data Infrastructure for sustaining development, and creating some impact due to an increase of demand and use of spatial information. Tools are required for managing regional resources focusing on planning for spatial data infrastructure which should include awareness for available and changing resources, in addition to economic development and processes of integrated value added production. The use of spatial data is changing over time in many ways such as processes of planning and urbanization for large cities which further require the investigation of resources and basic infrastructure such as water-pipelines, transport systems and electricity. These showed the importance of continuous programs for updating the spatial information.

The Spatial Data Infrastructure may be considered as a driving force for economic development for Middle East, this indicates that it is a high time for Middle East countries to create their own information society and SDI imitative that will lead to knowledge economy based on information technology. All these indicate the urgent need to develop and sustain infrastructures that focus on issues of building spatial data infrastructure and procedures for accessing and integrating the data. The future of all types of developments will basically rely on spatial data and information together with the ability of cooperation and coordination between regional entities. This will expect to be the key qualification for develop and increase of productivity. The development and economic improvement will be based on information technology will result in faster and more cost effective and efficient production. Middle East countries are well behind in regional Spatial Data Infrastructure component, which necessitates the importance of cooperation, integration and sharing of spatial data in Middle East region> In the world of today, the global economy is focusing on local conditions – knowledge, partnerships and motivation components (Porter, 1998).

The current main challenges for Middle East countries in terms of spatial data infrastructure development will include data acquisition, data quality, standardization, data sharing and integration. The investment in spatial data infrastructure will maximize the economic, social and environmental benefits. Middle East countries have to make some effort to produce spatially referenced data from multi- sources and to improve the procedures for spatial data acquisition, integration and sharing of data, adoption of specification and policy guidelines and then creation of and maintaining data models and databases. Thus Middle East Countries should create organizations that shall activate Spatial Data Infrastructure activities and support the availability and accessibility of data in the right place at the right time and for the right user.

6. Spatial Data as a Central Resource for Development
The Middle East SDI can be defined as set of polices, standards, organizations and technology, all working together to produce, share, and use the spatial data of the region to support local, national and regional sustainable developments. There are many types of regional spatial data which can be integrated and shared by Middle East Countries, such as:

  1. Geographical Information: these may include but not limited to meteorology, environmental data, economic and social, ground water, geosciences, mineral resources and oil and energy.
  2. Environment information: to initiate a system for planning, design and development process to harmonize efforts and strength to consolidate national environmental information. This may target water resources, environmental policy, real time environmental status and changes.
  3. Geoscientific information: increasing the knowledge and improvement of the Middle East geoscientific activities, such as coordination of geomatics surveys to obtain, compile, integrate, validate and provide digital information for geology, geophysics, gravimetry, geological hazards, geochemical anomalies and mining activities in standardized format.
  4. Geostatistical information: integration of social, demographic and economic statistical information obtained from census, surveys and administrative records using current technology to store query and analyze information with emphasis in design and methodology, survey and research on social and economic data including quality of life, construction, national population and housing and collection of information for planning, development and control.

The Middle East Initiative should draft and develop and define standards and policies, and undertake regional programs for Spatial Data Infrastructure. The system will also require production of spatial data, analysis and distribution of georeferenced information which is aimed at supporting regional planning, territorial ordering processes. The initiative should also standardize and develop an integrated GIS to build and maintain national databases in topography, soil, ground water. The conceptual model of an integrated GIS may be considered to include aspects of design and implementation, creation of spatial databases according to the data model and the establishment of data exchange formats for internal and external users of the system.

7. Conclusions
Spatial Data Infrastructure has a fundamental role to play at the national and regional levels in ensuring the successful implementation of regional SDI initiatives and in facilitating sustainable development. SDI programs and organizational entities should be started in the Middle East with full support from the governments of the countries in the region. The authors recommend Spatial Data Infrastructure Initiative for Middle East region, and to be adopted by the countries of the region, acknowledging the fundamental roles to be played by this SDI initiative in enhancing the national and regional developments, competitiveness and productivity. The work of SDI initiative should be started by establishing regional geodetic infrastructures as a basis for a homogeneous spatial data in the Middle East region, and then followed by the implementation of regional information systems as well as joint research and scientific studies in the field of regional natural resource for exploration and exploitation and predicting the regional hazards. This can be done through promotion and coordination of related activities in the region and to encourage International Corporation, in order to provide more basic information for natural hazards such as earthquake prediction, volcanic eruptions, temperature and sea level rise. An effective national or regional Spatial Data Infrastructure can result in lower costs in obtaining data and in a continuous enhancement of handling spatial information.

The paper also suggested that emphasis should be given to standardization, specification and production processes of spatial data, and should be supported with policies, Metadata, dictionaries, format of data exchange, establishment of databases and networks. The adoption of standards and specifications will lead to a much wider applications in the government, industry and private sector applications, as well as the ease of GIS implementation processes. The standardization aims to develop a new more efficient and more functional automated system for mapping, records management, planning and other functions. This will help improve countries ability to accomplish the goals of the new standardization Plan. Enhancement of the overall land development process can be achieved through the integration of decision-making in the context of the current and forward planning issues. The integration of national and regional spatial data infrastructures will facilitate the creation of Middle East Spatial Data Infrastructure, which could be stand firmly as the road map for Middle East development.


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