Vietnam: Re-inventing itself

Vietnam: Re-inventing itself

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A rising economy in South East Asia, Vietnam is blessed with abundant natural resources and is investing significantly towards nation building, offering immense opportunities for the geospatial industry. Here”s an insight into the geospatial ecosystem of the country

As Vietnam takes centrestage in South East Asia, it embodies the spirit of a strong and growing nation. This small country may be an enigma to most of the world, but it is a growing economy and a country that is rapidly reinventing itself. Rapid urban expansion is taking place around Hanoi as the administrative capital in the north and Ho Chi Min City (HCMC) as the economic hub in the south. Other urban centres are also growing under a relatively well coordinated effort for distributed urbanisation across the country. Complementing this urban growth story is the flurry of economic activities in agriculture and aquaculture, with fertile rice growing lands and rich harvest from the seas. A long and beautiful coastline forms a haven for tourism as well as serves as a platform for extensive port development to support the growing industrial production of a nation on the move. Forests and rich ecosystems add depth to the rich palette of land management within this increasingly complex country. All these multi-faceted dimensions of existence and growth, combined with environmental awareness and concerns for climate change, are representative of the diverse portfolio that awaits the extensive and intrinsic use of geospatial technologies.

Exploring GIS in Vietnam
Back in 2006, it appeared that there was nothing much to work with. Further probing and questioning revealed that Vietnam has a fantastic data resource base – the availability of which is obscured by language limitations for an outsider and the tendency of the GIS community to hold data very close to itself as data represents business opportunity. The topographic data, satellite imagery, updated information on administrative boundaries (that continue to change shape like amoebae), demographic and statistical information, agricultural productivity, forest cover and even climate change scenario mapping available in the country can put other countries in the region to shame.

Human resource capacity
Vietnam has a cluster of very capable, experienced and eminent individuals and organisations that have contributed to the growth of the use of GIS in Vietnam. Industry stalwarts like TECOS, VidaGIS, and GeoViet, among others, have contributed much to the growth of the practice of GIS in Vietnam, with the active presence of Esri, promoting knowledge and capacity through its user forums and seminar series.

More extensive development of GIS in Vietnam is supported by the academia. Frontrunners in this endeavour are academic institutions like the University of Mining and Geology and the University of Science – Vietnam National University, Water Resources University, Urban Architecture Institute within the Hanoi Civil Engineering University that are integrating GIS into their curricula.

Government organisations
As the governmental arm that provides the base data, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) has the directive control on facilitating the use of this technology. It is also a key user of this technology while supporting the national initiatives and modelling efforts on climate change.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) is another key user of GIS with its potential to address agricultural productivity and food security and water resource management. Natural disaster risk management in the face of climate change impacts is another key use of GIS under MARD. Use of GIS for rural development and resettlement is undertaken through NIAPP (National Institute of Agriculture Planning and Design) and for forestry management through FIPI (Forest Inventory and Planning Institute).

With growing urbanisation, the Ministry of Construction is emerging as a significant potential user of geospatial technologies. Under the guidance of the Ministry, VIAP (Vietnam Institute of Architecture and Planning) and UDA (Urban Development Agency) are working towards developing more responsive urban development strategies.

GIS and NGOs
An increasing awareness of GIS and the benefits of data visualisation have brought GIS into the domain of local and international NGOs. These organisations are applying GIS for better field based information capture, participatory mapping, information analysis, visualisation of areas of operation and impact, better monitoring and evaluation and in many instances, for better coordination amongst the NGOs themselves.

Sourcing GIS Data
A key source of data in Vietnam is MoNRE for its topographic maps. A range of very good cartographic products such as thematic atlases, provincial maps and special maps such as those for the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) are also available. However it would be useful for the new entrant into the field of GIS in Vietnam to understand that availability is a rather subjective term here. While maps can be officially procured from MoNRE, a flourishing grey market operates that specialises in making such maps available more expediently, often with value addition such as regional or local updates. For a suitable “data creation cost”, a variety of maps, even restricted area maps of some of the border areas, northern provinces and maps at higher levels of detail, can almost magically appear. And while this may not be official, it isn”t necessarily a bad thing as most of the GIS professionals clamour for more openness in data availability and more readily available data.

While the topographic maps form the general basis for GIS mapping activities, satellite imagery is also increasingly available for professionals. The SPOT satellite data is most readily available in Vietnam through a dedicated ground receiving station. Private sector suppliers like Singapore- based DES provide access to a variety of imagery products, not only for Vietnam but for the region. More cost effective and a wide array of imagery is also available from the progressive Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) range of products.

KEY SECTORS USING GIS IN VIETNAM
  • Utility asset management: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Society for International Cooperation) is supporting provincial city waste water management companies to use GIS for creating an asset management system within an asset documentation unit.
  • Biodiversity mapping: International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is working in the North Vietnam for mapping land use and cover to understand the viability of UNESCO world heritage site at Babe, Nahang in Backan and Tuyen quang.
  • Disaster risk management: Red Cross is using GIS for mapping and evaluating mangrove planted for countering storm surges.
  • Climate change: UN-REDD along with Stichting Nederlandse Vrijwilligers (Netherlands Development Organization), WWF and International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) are using geospatial products created by FIPI in better understanding scope of REDD in Vietnam
  • Public health: Family Health International (FHI360”s) pioneering working with mapping nutrition status in Vietnam is gathering world”s attention.

Potential verticals
Vietnam, as a nation, holds tremendous potential for the geospatial industry. Some of the key areas are outlined below. Beyond this, we are bound only by our imagination, resource constraints and deeper understanding of application of geospatial technologies.

Environment management
Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing Vietnam. MoNRE, through the Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment (IMHEM), has been at the forefront of working on multiple scenarios addressing sea level rise and coastal storm surge. Along the same lines, pioneering work in the REDD+ programme appears to be an interesting use of the geospatial technology. Given the large number of coastal cities, the role of GIS in planning and managing the impacts of climate change is becoming increasingly essential.

Agriculture
For an economy that is still largely agricultural, Vietnam is investing heavily in enhancing agricultural productivity and food security. The quality and quantity of the main crop rice has significant implications on the regional export pricing and on the well-being of its own population. The ability to pre-anticipate the market value of the produce drives economic decisions and influences strategies for food procurement and management. In this aspect, as well as in other agricultural output, the role of GIS applications is quite vast. Improved models for crop yield prediction, studies of climate change impacts, better data, and better data analysis are areas with tremendous opportunities in the times ahead.

Urban planning
Growing urban centres are driving demand for transportation infrastructure, electricity and energy management, industrial growth and overall economic expansion. GIS holds the potential to support, enhance and stimulate decision making activities in these inter-related and massive sectoral domains. The interest and use of GIS in urban planning is growing incrementally among organisations such as the Vietnam Institute of Architecture, Urban and Rural Planning (VIAP) and the Urban Development Agency (UDA), under the Ministry of Construction. Beyond the national level where macro-level analytical GIS holds much potential, the technology is poised to make inroads into the provincial and urban centres under the respective government departments.

Constraints
Success stories and examples of application of GIS in various sectors are encouraging; however the very fertile field of opportunities for GIS is constrained in part due to the absence of a wider range of players who can bring in their experience and lessons learned from failures. A significant focus of the geospatial industry remains the business of data creation and sale of valueadded data products.

Adding to the constraints are the limited experience and technical expertise on the part of the clients requiring such services. For the most part, there may be limited or incomplete understanding of the benefits of the technology, as well as the lack of relevant experience in the use of GIS to adequately frame projects, programmes and procurements. The problem of successful delivery is further dependent on the presence of technically competent and mature GIS professionals who can manage the expectations of the client and the output of the technical consultants to achieve incrementally good standards of delivery.

There is perhaps an opportunity for growth and participation of more national and international players, shifting away from the production business of data to the intellectual space that brings domain expertise to marketplace in Vietnam.

Conclusion
With a diverse landscape, varied ecosystems, rich reserves of mineral and natural resources and valuable potential in the coal, petroleum, and hydropower sectors, Vietnam holds tremendous opportunities for the use of geospatial technologies. This technological expertise is also poised for growth with major universities introducing curricula in modern geospatial techniques. While there is great potential and more adventureloving geospatial enthusiasts are welcome, they should not ignore the expertise already present; rather acquaint themselves with that and work collaboratively to expand the opportunity to create higher value geospatial solutions in this fascinating country.