GIS proves boon for planners
November 2005; Slowly but steadily, the Geographical Information System (GIS) is making its mark on the country as an indispensable tool for planning and decision-making.
GIS application has practically revolutionised the planning process in Nepal, and more and more people and institutions are being attracted to its usefulness and efficacy.
In Kathmandu alone, 200 to 400 organisations are making use of GIS database, informs GIS expert Nanda Kishor Shrestha, who is also the geographical information advisor of the Participatory District Development Programme, a flagship project of the UNDP.
The programme, which is active in 30 districts in the country, started the GIS facility since 1992, and it now has an inventory of spatial and non-spatial information for at least 20 districts.
This includes geo-physical information on river systems, road systems, boundaries, land utilisation among others, and socio-economic information such as human settlement database, household and resource information, agriculture or food production database and flood damage data.
The programme shares its information with other organisations, especially with the districts in its working area and also with different line ministries, educational institutions, organisations and even individuals. It sells its data as per guidelines set by the National Planning Commission.
Already, Rs. 5,00,000 has been earned through the data is sold at minimal prices, Shrestha said.
The GIS is indispensable for development planners, says Shrestha. "This is because locational information is the primary source for development planning exercise".
When planners and policy makers sit down together to formulate plans, they rely on date with local variability. They need information that reflects the actual situation of the target area so that development projects can be responsive to and address the needs and priorities of the targeted community.
In the absence of GIS data, they have to rely on statistical summaries and analogue maps from central agencies, and pore through large volumes of paper -work. Moreover, these lack the inherent local variability. "On the contrary, all the analysis and planning can be done sitting at a desk with GIS database," Shrestha reasons.
Building up an information infrastructure is the most fundamental, time consuming and expensive component in planning exercises.
Information necessary for planning is fed in several parameters in different 'layers' such as geographical boundary, population, land use and services, and they can be viewed separately or in composite.
Local resources and knowledge have been utilised to prepare the existing GIS database for PDDP. The respective District Development Committees (DDCs) provided the resource maps for their districts, which were fed into the GIS software through the process of digitising. The wealth of information has proven to be very useful to decision-makers in the planning process.
Application of GIS is becoming especially popular in the districts since NPC has categorically mentioned its use in the national and district level planning and decision-making process.
To cater to the high demand of GIS application to the country trained manpower is gradually increasing in this field.
Programme officers in all the DDCs where PDDP are active, have received rigorous training in GIS, in map recording, plotting, planning tools and techniques. Likewise, employees of the Central Bureau of Statistics, environmental and other organisations and students have undergone training in GIS.
Although officially, the GIS stands for Geographic Information System, it is being increasingly called Geo-Informatic Science in several places of the world, says Shrestha.
The reason, he says, is that GIS is not just a system or computer programme but a whole science in itself.