“Nepal has learned the importance of geo spatial data”
Government of Nepal Briefly explain the mandate of Survey Department of Nepal?
Survey Department, under the Ministry of Land Reform and Management, is the National Mapping Organization (NMO) of Nepal. The Department is responsible for regulating, monitoring and coordinating mapping activities in the country.
Most of the national surveying and mapping activities such as geodetic surveying, topographic surveying, and cadastral surveying are under its mandate. Through cadastral survey, the Department is mandated to do the first registration of the land property. All the land records prepared by the Department are the foundation of land administration and management activities of the country. The Department is also mandated for international boundary surveys. Currently, the Department is working in the line to develop full functional national spatial data infrastructure (NSDI).
Furthermore, the Department is also mandated to issue license to the private surveyors, approve specifications for surveying and mapping activities undertaken by other agencies with public fund, provide permission for aerial photography in the country, maintain the quality of surveying and mapping activities carried out throughout the country, among others.
How does Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) fit into your mandate?
Geospatial data are fundamental to respond any kind of disaster ranging from preparedness to rescue and post disaster reconstruction. Similarly, land records are equally important in order to assess the loss and restoration of land property affected by the disaster. Survey Department, being responsible for all kind of surveying and mapping activities at national level has produced all kinds of geo-spatial data including land records of whole country. Furthermore, Survey Department has the largest workforce in the country to work in the field of geospatial data or surveying and mapping, which the Government can mobilize at the time of need in order to response the disaster or its effect. On this basis, we can imagine how widely the DRR fits into the Department’s mandate.
What has been the role and initiatives of Survey Department of Nepal?
Immediately after the devastating earthquake, Survey Department issued all the geo-spatial data of the disaster affected area free of charge through online. Some of the companies were so kind to provide the image data of preand post- disaster and the Department made use of it to produce damage assessment map, which was very useful for rescuing as well as assessing the loss. The Department provided necessary spatial information to the task force of the Government formed for the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA).
At the same time, the Department mobilized its staff, as instructed by the Government, to the disaster affected areas to assess the damage caused by the disaster. The Department feels proud to be a part of the Government’s initiatives to assess the damage in a very short period of time.
As a scientific contribution, the Department carried out geodetic surveys soon after the devastating earthquake, using GNSS technology, in the affected areas and released the outcome of the study. The study found the shift of Kathmandu valley approximately 1.8 meters southwest wards. The study further made the Department to realize that the disaster has greatly affected the Geodetic Reference Frame of the country. Therefore, the Department has taken necessary steps to re-store the geodetic datum.
What are the key lessons learnt post Nepal earthquake of 2015?
There are several lessons we learnt from this disaster but I will concentrate mainly on the areas of the Department’s mandate. We have realized that we need to have a higher level of awareness on the importance and availability of geo-spatial data and its type. The geo-spatial data needs to be updated frequently, there must be easy access to the data for everyone, the data sharing mechanism should be easy and user friendly, the involved organizations and human resources should have highest level of competency on GI technology, geo-data and its use.
What kind of applications of geospatial and GNSS technologies you visualize?
Information is power and location based information further adds value to it. As occurrence and effect of disaster is always location based, in my understanding, there can be numerous application of geospatial and GNSS technologies. We don’t need to explain very hard core Geospatial and GNSS technology for this. Just look at the example of your mobile devices. Nowadays, most of the users have such devices and can acquire and share photographs in their surrounding and send to the relief and rescue personnel making use of social media. Google image is another such tool which is very helpful. Similarly application of open source platform are other easily accessible and low cost tool for sharing information during disaster. For serious disasters at some risky and inaccessible area application of low cost UAV and drone can be done.
What role do you see of Spatial Data Infrastructure in DRR?
If there is anything that plays important role in DRR is SDI. Without sufficient information, a good planning cannot be expected. A single entity cannot have all the data as required. Varieties of data are required to respond any disaster. What’s the use of the data if its hold by many organizations but cannot make use at the time of need. Therefore, full functional SDI, with clear guidance of data sharing and accessibility, is essential to respond the disaster promptly.
What is the current status of SDI in Nepal?
Current status of SDI is very primitive in Nepal. Survey Department has taken some initiatives for establishing SDI at national level through National Geographic Information Infrastructure Project since 2000. However, lots of things are yet to do to make it fully functional and bring all the geo-industries in the network. The NGII portal can be accessed at www.ngiip.gov.np. It has established all the digital database of the topographic base maps of the whole country.
Besides the initiatives from the Survey Department, there are some other government and non-governmental organization as well, which are generating spatial data for their specific purposes. For example, if we talk about different disasters, ICIMOD has been doing intensive research on glacial lake outbursts flood (GLOF) and established the database of occurred and may occurring GLOF. Similarly Department of Hydrology and Meteorology has detail information about the floods, and the Department of Mines and Geology has established some 29 GPS stations to monitor earthquake regularly. These are some of the examples and there are lot more. But unfortunately, all these information are isolated. So I prefer to say as I said earlier that the SDI in Nepal is in primitive stage.
What are the challenges in developing technology tools for DRR?
In my understanding, main challenges we, the geospatial professionals, are facing in developing technology tools for DRR are the capacity and policy issues. Our organizational setup are quite traditional and capacity to work with modern technology is quite low. If we talk in context of modernization in geosector, we can say that our organizational setting is yet to get equipped with GI personnel and inbuilt GI technology. The organizational capacity is yet to get the position of fully exploiting the potentials of recent graduates in the field of Geo- ICT. Many more has to be done to ensure the exposure of recent graduates with the advanced Geo-technology and its application in DRR. Lack of coordination among the various organization is another serious issue. In some cases, still there are gaps and overlaps in terms of jurisdiction and responsibilities among different organization of the government. Shortsightedness from the policy makers may result into the discontinuation of the Disaster response in long term. Research and Development issues in the field are rare due to the lack of long term commitment and financial support which limits the motivation of young GI professionals.
Do you think that there should be an interface between geospatial professionals and common man in terms of awareness and preparedness?
Of course, there should be an interface between geo-professionals and users. We as geo-professional, believe the involvement of common people will make our life easy in responding Disaster. In the recent time, various technologies have provided opportunity to enhance cooperation between geo-professional and common people. We can have several examples, one of the very common is the crowd sourcing. People with the help of their mobile devices can share very useful information among various social media. Open street mapping is another example. During Nepal earthquake, more than 5000 common people with the help of Google images and Open Street Mapping helped spreading very useful information for rescue and relief. These information shared by the people are processed by the professional at the situation room and supplied to the relief and rescue personnel which contribute saving hundreds of life. These kind of media and interaction will be very useful to raise awareness and enhanced preparedness.
Is Nepal better equipped now to face a similar situation in future?
It will be too early to say YES. But has Nepal learned the importance of geo spatial data and easy access to the data when required. Most important thing is the coordination among the institutions and their capacity to deal with such location based information. The recent disaster has opened the eyes of everyone including politicians, policy makers, bureaucrats, developers, and general people. Several steps have been initiated by the Government. Weakness and lacking have been identified. We need to have clear geo information policy regarding acquisition, maintenance, sharing and use. Integrated geo portal and SDI, Appropriate Geo-information technology, adequacy of human resources capable to deal with the technology, Government commitment and support including financial resources are basic and urgent needs to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information to respond such disaster. We really believe that we are going in right direction and will be capable to deal such kind of disaster in the days to come.