Home Articles The UAE Spatial Data Infrastructure: Initiatives and issues

The UAE Spatial Data Infrastructure: Initiatives and issues

Khalifa Al Romaithi
Military Survey Department, UAE
[email protected]
This paper describes the characteristics and concepts of spatial data infrastructures as they have emerged over the last five years in the UAE. It also reviews the developments in SDI initiatives that are taking place in selected departments, challenges and implementation issues

When someone mentions the term infrastructure in a country, people usually think of physical infrastructures, such as roads, electricity lines, airports, telecommunications, geodetic control framework and water supply. However, there is an underlying data infrastructure that supports these physical infrastructures; an assemblage of data that provides the means to plan and assess impact of projects and monitor everyday functioning of government initiatives. [1] For years, the scenario of GIS implementation has been experienced and investigated in many countries. Enormous efforts have been focused on the establishing of Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI), which can facilitate the data acquisition and sharing, from which both information uniformity and investment saving can be gained. Many organizations have been appointed for the establishment of geo-information on local and national level. [2] In the UAE, the above situation has prevailed for years. In an attempt to get through it, considerable efforts are being deployed primarily to get national agreement considering spatial data as a key to sustainable resource management and overall economic development of the country.

UAE Spatial Data structure
The United Arab Emirates UAE is one of the modern countries whose infrastructure is rapidly growing and developing. After independence, the UAE has witnessed rapid growth which is attributed to the provision of finance resources and to determination to compete with the developed countries. The need for geospatial information to assist in the planning and development of land resources in UAE has been felt since the early 90’s. As a consequence, many efforts have been made by various Federal and local government departments for collecting spatial information. Therefore, many different agencies collected the same data at the same or different time. In many cases this duplication of efforts, time and money is due to the fact that these organizations are not aware of or make use of data collected by others. Hence, a considerable amount of spatial data has been created, especially with the services and planning departments at the Emirate and the Federal levels. This has resulted in the use of various standards to collect, classify and maintain the data that are not homogenous with other departments.

The spatial data implemented systems contain valuable information for geospatial data users. However, they exist as stand alone systems, thereby making it difficult for users to obtain access to them. The infrastructure to support effective data sharing is clearly lacking, resulting in many Spatial Data Custodians (SDC) duplicating the work of others. In realizing that there is a need for the Government and the private sector to promote and facilitate the sharing, exchange, dissemination and use of geospatial information among SDC and other users. There have been several spatial data infrastructure initiatives being undertaken. The activities related to these initiatives involve collaborative efforts by the Federal and local Authorities. All these efforts contribute towards the development of important components of the UAE SDI, which will later be deliberated in the course of discussion.

Cooperation between all Spatial Data Custodians (SDC) and Collaboration with International Organizations will assist the country in achieving the goals of the NSDI. Various organizations in the UAE have made efforts to define SDI, in particular the data that forms part of such an infrastructure. The four most significant efforts have the potential to become valuable references for spatial data initiates and therefore, they should be briefly as follows:

UAE Military Survey Department (MSD)
MSD as the main actor in spatial data on a country wide-basis has realized the potential requirements to implement NSDI. Towards achieving this, MSD has already initiated a project for establishing major NSDI components such as framework data set, clearinghouse and geospatial data standards. Towards the creation of the framework data, UAE National Topographic Database NTDB is created. The geospatial data themes of NTDB such as, transportation, hydrography, hypsography, manmade features and Gazetteer are emerging as the major share of the framework dataset. Because of NTDB’s rich contents, accuracy, metadata, standards and national level coverage, a comprehensive data dictionary explaining all those components in details is created. NTDB is expected that it would come out as the geospatial data standard component of the UAE NSDI. MSD has also accomplished building the geoid model, based on the accurate national geodetic network, to unify the vertical and horizontal reference system for the country. A clearinghouse under development would allow the discovery of the geospatial data organized under NTDB and the other spatial data sets archives that are distributed across the MSD domain.

Dubai initiative
Dubai is considered to be one of the fastest expanding cities in the world. Dubai Municipality (DM) is responsible for providing geospatial data services to the various users for mapping and surveying areas within its jurisdiction. The scope of DM has further increased from a simple data provider to a GIS service provider, in the advent of e-governance activities initiated by the Dubai government. In 2001, a GIS centre was established with a wide scope and broad objectives. One of the main objectives of the centre is to generate and maintain geospatial data for all of Dubai Emirate. It is responsible for providing various GIS services, digital base maps, data integrity,data availability, and technical support to all users. It also ensures that the common data standards are enforced in the development and use of geospatial data in the Emirate.

ERWDA data initiatives
The Environmental Research & Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA) was established in 1996 to protect the natural environment of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Historically ERWDA had been a research organization and collected environmental data for its internal research activities. With the establishment of the six strategic goals and the additional mandate as the competent authority demanded a change in approach in collecting environmental data. Thus the environmental database (EDB) project was initiated. This project was successful in establishing the basic infrastructure for ERWDA, which included the required hardware, software, procedures and certain datasets. One of the major issues identified during the user requirement workshops was the lack of data to enable ERWDA to efficiently carryout the mandated tasks.

It is against this backdrop that ERWDA decided to initiate and champion the establishment of an Abu Dhabi wide environmental database (ADEDB), which would be beneficial not just for ERWDA, but for all partners in this initiative. The ADEDB is envisaged as a management tool for the Government of Abu Dhabi built using GIS, Relational Database Management System (RDBMS) and Internet Technologies, and implemented against international standards and best practices.

Page 1 of 3