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Geospatial Science and Technology for Development

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This study explores the ways in which tools and methodologies used to collect, manage and analyse data related to the Earth, can support development. Chapter 1 defines GS&T and provides an overview of its applications. Chapter 2 describes a multi-level approach for the examination of GS&T, and related recent developments. The next three chapters considerthree specific areas where GS&T can be applied to support development. Chapter 6 sets out challenges to implementation. Chapter 7 provides policy recommendations.

New York and Geneva, 2012

U n i t e d n at i o n s C o n f e r e n C e o n t r a d e a n d d e v e l o p m e n t

Geospatial Science and
Technology for Development

W i t h a f o c u s o n u r b a n d e v e l o p m e n t , l a n d a d m i n i s t r a t i o n a n d d i s a s t e r r i s k m a n a g e m e n t

U n c t a d c U r r e n t S t U d i e S o n S c i e n c e , t e c h n o l o g y a n d i n n o v a t i o n N º 6

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management


The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) serves as the lead entity within
the United Nations Secretariat for matters related to science and technology as part of its work on the
integrated treatment of trade and development, investment and finance. The current UNCTAD work
programme is based on the mandates set at quadrennial conferences, as well as on the decisions by the
United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), which is served by the
UNCTAD secretariat. UNCTAD’s work programme is built on its three pillars of research analysis, consensus-
building and technical cooperation, and is carried out through intergovernmental deliberations, research
and analysis, technical assistance activities, seminars, workshops and conferences.

This series of publications seeks to contribute to exploring current issues in science, technology and
innovation, with particular emphasis on their impact on developing countries.

The term “country” as used in this study also refers, as appropriate, to territories or areas; the designations
employed and the presentation of the material do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the
part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area
or of its authorities, or concerning the delineation of its frontiers or boundaries. In addition, the designations
of country groups are intended solely for statistical or analytical convenience and do not necessarily express
a judgement about the stage of development reached by a particular country or area in the development
process. Mention of any firm, organization or policies does not imply endorsement by the United Nations.

The material contained in this publication may be freely quoted with appropriate acknowledgement.

Copyright © United Nations, 2012

All rights reserved. Printed in Switzerland.



Geospatial Science and Technology for Development was prepared under the overall direction of Anne
Miroux, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Technology and logistics, and the direct supervision of Mongi
Hamdi, Head, Science, Technology and ICT Branch.

This study was a collaboration with ITC, the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation at
the University of Twente. The report was prepared by a team comprising of Dong Wu (team leader), Yola
Georgiadou (ITC) and Oscar Kapur Keeble. Significant contributions were received from Rohan Bennett,
Kate lance, Mark Noort, Richard Sliuzas, Jeroen Verplanke, and Cees van Westen.

Useful comments and feedback were received at various stages of preparation from Dr Sudarshana
Ramaraju (United Nations Compensation Commission), Francesco Gaetani (Group on Earth Observations),
Prof Huadong Guo (Center for Earth Observation and Digital Earth), Oliver Johnson (German Development
Institute), Andre Nonguierma (UNECA), Emanuele Gennai (Esri) and the following UNCTAD staff members:
Jason Munyan, Bob Bell, and Claudia Contreras.

Patrick Bechet designed the cover, Nadège Hadjémian formatted the manuscript and David Neal edited the

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

CBDRM Community-based disaster risk management
CODATA Committee on Data for Science and Technology
CORS Continuously Operating Reference Stations
DEM Digital Elevation Model
DRM Disaster risk management
DRR Disaster risk reduction
ECOSOC United Nations Economic and Social Council
EO Earth observation
ESA European Space Agency
EU European Union
FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency
GEO Group on Earth Observations
GEOSS Group on Earth Observations System of Systems
GGIM United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management
GIS Geographic information system
GMES Global Monitoring for Environment and Security
GNSS Global Navigation Satellite System
GPS Global Positioning System
GS&T Geospatial science & technology
GSDI Global Spatial Data Infrastructure association
HAZUS Hazards U.S.
HRSI High-resolution satellite imagery
ICSU International Council for Science
IDNDR International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction
IMD Index of Multiple Deprivation
InSAR Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar
IRDR Integrated Research on Disaster Risk
ISDR International Strategy for Disaster Reduction
ISSC International Social Science Council
LASRI low-altitude remotely-sensed imagery
NGO Non-governmental organization
PAGER Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response
PGIS Participatory GIS
PRA Participatory rural appraisal
RRA Rapid rural appraisal
SADC Southern African Development Community
SBA Societal benefit area
SMS Short message service
SNL Supersites and natural laboratories
UNITAR United Nations Institute for Training and Research
UNOCHA United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
VHR images Very high resolution images
WFP World Food Programme
WHO World Health Organization



acknowledGements ................................................................................................................................................................iii

abbreviations ..............................................................................................................................................................................iv

1. introdUction ...........................................................................................................................................................................1
1.1 Structure and scope of this study .........................................................................................1
1.2 What is geospatial science and technology ............................................................................1

2. a mUlti-level approach to Gs&t ................................................................................................................................4
2.1 The global level ..............................................................................................................4
2.2 The regional level ...........................................................................................................5
2.3 The national and subnational government level ........................................................................5
2.4 The community and citizen level ..........................................................................................6
2.5 Summarizing the multi-level approach ...................................................................................7

3. sUstainable Urban-reGional development .....................................................................................................8
3.1 The issues ....................................................................................................................8
3.2 Urban poverty dynamics ....................................................................................................9
3.3 Urban infrastructure and services ...................................................................................... 13
3.4 Urban transport and mobility ............................................................................................ 15
3.5 Challenges .................................................................................................................. 16
3.6 Summary of benefits ...................................................................................................... 17

4. land administration ...................................................................................................................................................... 18
4.1 The issues .................................................................................................................. 18
4.2 High-speed adjudication and surveying ............................................................................... 19
4.3 Low-cost demarcation and recording .................................................................................. 22
4.4 Challenges .................................................................................................................. 22
4.5 Summary of benefits ...................................................................................................... 24

5. disaster risk manaGement ....................................................................................................................................... 25
5.1 The issues .................................................................................................................. 25
5.2 Disaster relief, recovery and reconstruction ......................................................................... 28
5.3 Disaster prevention – hazard and risk assessment .................................................................. 29
5.4 Disaster preparedness .................................................................................................... 32
5.5 Challenges .................................................................................................................. 34
5.6 Summary of benefits ...................................................................................................... 35

6. challenGes to UtiliZinG Gs&t ................................................................................................................................... 36
6.1 Global strategy and vision ............................................................................................... 36
6.2 National strategy and vision ............................................................................................. 36
6.3 Infrastructure and data ................................................................................................... 37
6.4 Participatory GIS and crowdsourcing .................................................................................. 37
6.5 Cost and cost-efficient access to geospatial data .................................................................. 38
6.6 Capacity-building of human ressources ............................................................................... 39
6.7 Research .................................................................................................................... 39

7. recommendations and conclUsion.................................................................................................................... 41
7.1 Global strategy and vision ............................................................................................... 41
7.2 National strategy and vision ............................................................................................. 41
7.3 Infrastructure and data ................................................................................................... 42
7.4 Participatory GIS and crowdsourcing .................................................................................. 43
7.5 Cost and cost-efficient access to geospatial data .................................................................. 44
7.6 Capacity-building of human ressources ............................................................................... 46
7.7 Research .................................................................................................................... 47
7.8 Conclusion .................................................................................................................. 47

biblioGraphy .............................................................................................................................................................................. 49



i. introdUction

1.1 Structure and scope of this study

This study explores the ways in which geospatial
science and technology (GS&T) can support

Chapter 1 introduces the study and describes
its structure and scope. It also gives a definition
of GS&T and provides a brief overview of its

Chapter 2 argues that a multi-level approach is
required to examine GS&T, including the global,
regional, national/subnational government, and
community/citizen levels. It describes each of
these levels and related recent developments in
them. The following three chapters then consider
three specific areas1 where GS&T can be applied
to support development, namely:

Chapter 3 deals with sustainable urban–regional
development, a response to urbanization by local
governance actors and one of the most significant
global processes today. Sustainable urban–regional
development impacts a range of development
issues, including food and water security, economic
development, accessibility to infrastructure, shelter
and social services and natural risks. All of these
issues have a strong geospatial dimension at
different jurisdictional levels (national, provincial,
local), which makes them appropriate to examine
through the lens of GS&T.

Chapter 4 deals with land administration, a
field where Government acts as the guarantor of
fundamental property rights and land tenure security.
land administration systems in the developed
world have evolved at a glacial rate over several
decades to their current level of sophistication.
Appropriate high-speed and low-cost geospatial
technologies could help developing countries to
leapfrog towards sustainable land administration

Chapter 5 deals with disaster risk management.
It examines the role of GS&T in disaster relief,
reconstruction and rehabilitation, in hazard risk
management and in disaster preparedness. It
also shows how new technologies enable large
numbers of volunteers to be mobilized in disaster
risk management.

Chapter 6 then sets out a number of general
challenges to successfully implementing GS&T to
realize its potential benefits. These challenges are
grouped under the following seven headings: global
strategy and vision; national strategy and vision;
infrastructure and data; participatory geographic
information systems (GIS) and crowdsourcing;
cost and cost-efficient access to geospatial data;
human resource capacity-building; and research.

Chapter 7 then makes a number of
recommendations for steps to overcome these
challenges and concludes the study. These
recommendations are grouped under the same
seven headings used in Chapter 6.

1.2 What is geospatial science and technology

GS&T can be considered the tools and
methodologies that are used to collect, manage and
analyse geospatial data.2 Geospatial data is data
related to the Earth. Examples include topographic
data, land property records, spatial plans, soil
and forest survey inventories, and a variety of
geographically referenced social and economic
data such as population characteristics. Geospatial
data are spatially referenced in a consistent manner,
for example by means of latitude and longitude, a
national coordinate grid or postal codes or some
other reference system. Often geospatial data also
have a temporal dimension, to signify that features
change over time.

Governments at all levels—national, provincial
and local—need data in order to govern. They use
geospatial data in a wide variety of areas, including
legislative and policy development, the allocation
and management of natural resources, defence
and public safety purposes, spatial planning and
many others. Specialist government agencies3
around the world have long traditions in the
collection of geospatial data. Each agency employs
specialists to organize the collection, updating and
management of the type of geospatial data for
which it is responsible.

The academic study of GS&T is a cross-disciplinary
research domain that draws on concepts and
methods from engineering, natural and social
sciences. It encompasses the methods, techniques
and theories required to (1) generate information
about Earth processes from Earth observation (EO)
and from data stored in geographic information

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

systems (GIS); and (2) examine the impacts of
geospatial technology on individuals, organizations
and society, and vice versa.

GS&T as a field has undergone significant
transformation in recent years. In the past, the
process of collecting geospatial data was laborious
and performed with ground-based methods. The
updating cycles often spanned several years, and
the outcomes (such as paper maps) could not be
easily shared across government agencies. The
potential for integration and multiple applications, a
key characteristic of geospatial data, could not be

Recent technological advancements have changed
this state of affairs. GIS uses modern software and
hardware to store, access, visualize, map, analyse
and disseminate geographic data. Geospatial
data can now be referenced to a globally defined
coordinate system. Global Navigation Satellite
Systems (GNSSs) such as the Global Positioning
System (GPS) use satellites to allow users to
determine their exact location, velocity, and time
in any conditions, making traditional positioning
instruments such as tapes and theodolites
obsolete. The products of these new digital

geospatial technologies include digital maps,
satellite image maps, topographic maps, and
land use change statistics. With GIS, it is easy to
combine and share these different geospatial data
sets. An integrated analysis of these combined
data can provide new insights into the interaction
of geographic phenomena. These new geospatial
technologies can support the realization of many
diverse benefits which the intergovernmental Group
on Earth Observations (GEO – see chapter 2) has
categorized into nine distinct societal benefit areas
(SBAs). These SBAs and the associated geospatial
decision support systems which enable benefits
to be realized are set out in table 1.1 below. The
wide range of potential benefit areas in table 1.1
demonstrates the scope of GS&T.

This study examines a subset of these benefit areas,
namely: sustainable urban–regional development,
land administration, and disaster risk management.

To realize benefits in these areas, action will be
needed across multiple levels, ranging from global
coordination to the actions of communities and
individual citizens. Chapter 2 explains these different
levels and why each is important to understanding
the use of GS&T in development.

Table 1.1: Societal benefit areas and related decision support systems

GEO societal benefit
areas (SBAs)

Related GEO decision support systems

1. Disasters Hazard and risk assessment/simulation models, forecasting/early warning, monitoring, damage assessment,

2. Health Air quality forecast/early warning/monitoring, epidemics forecast, relation between diseases and environ-
mental factors

3. Energy Resource assessment for renewable energy, energy resources exploration support, pipeline monitoring and
optimization of biofuel production (crosslink with Agriculture SBA)

4. Climate Monitoring and modelling, carbon accounting schemes and prediction and mitigation of effects

5. Water Ocean topography, temperature and currents, ocean water quality & chlorophyll (crosslink with Agriculture
SBA (fisheries)), drought monitoring/early warning (crosslink with Disaster SBA), hydrologic information
systems (including agro-meteorology) (crosslink with Agriculture and Disaster SBA), soil moisture modelling
(crosslink with Agriculture SBA) and monsoon monitoring/forecast

6. Weather Forecasting global/local; precipitation monitoring/forecast (crosslink with Agriculture SBA); and sand/dust
storm forecast (crosslink with Health SBA)

7. Ecosystems Marine and coastal ecosystems (global/regional), terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems (global/regional),
biogeophysical variables (vegetation, soil, radiation, water cycle) (crosslink with Water and Agriculture SBAs)
and local applications, for example protected areas

8. Agriculture Satellite-based fishing (crosslink with Water SBA), precision agriculture, monitoring and modelling of crop
conditions, including food security (crosslink with Climate and Water SBAs), insurance monitoring (EU: Com-
mon Agricultural Policy), forestry monitoring, including illegal logging (crosslink with Climate SBA)

9. Biodiversity Biodiversity modelling & monitoring, invasive species monitoring and ecological forecasting (crosslink to the
Ecosystems SBA)



1. There are many other possible applications of GS&T in support of development (and other goals) in ad-
dition to the three areas explored in detail in this study. See table 1.1 for a comprehensive list of GS&T

2. Geographic, spatially referenced, or georeferenced data are alternative terms for geospatial data.

3. Such as National Mapping Agencies, Cadastres, Statistics, Forest, Soil, Hydrographic, Geological Sur-
veys and land Affairs departments, among others.


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

governments plus the European Commission and
64 organizations around the world. GEO aims to
build on and add value to existing GS&T systems
by coordinating efforts across nations, addressing
critical gaps, supporting their interoperability, sharing
geospatial data, reaching common understandings
on user requirements, and improving delivery
of data to users (GEO, 2005). GEO promotes
scientific connections and interoperability between
observation systems, with a particular focus on nine
societal benefit areas, as discussed in chapter 1.

In 2005, GEO issued a 10-year plan for
implementing the Global Earth Observation System
of System (GEOSS) initiative. GEOSS aims to be
a global and flexible ‘system of systems’ allowing
decision-makers to access an extraordinary range
of information in a coordinated manner at their
desk. This ‘system of systems’ “will proactively link
together existing and planned observing systems
around the world and support the development
of new systems where gaps currently exist. It will
promote common technical standards so that data
from the thousands of different instruments can be
combined into coherent data sets.”4

Another relevant global institution is the Global
Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) association. GSDI
is a collection of organizations, agencies, firms, and
individuals from around the world. Its purpose is to
promote international cooperation and collaboration
in support of local, national and international spatial
data infrastructure developments.5 Spatial data
infrastructures or SDIs are essentially strategies for
geospatial data management, often at a national
level. The association supplies geospatial data
providers and users around the world with the
necessary background information to evaluate
and implement geospatial strategies to ensure
regional and global (technical and institutional)
interoperability. The information GSDI provides
includes existing and emerging standards, open
source and commercial standards-based software
solutions, supportive organizational strategies and
policies and best practices.

A further recent global institutional development is
the United Nations initiative on Global Geospatial
Information Management (GGIM), established
by the United Nations Economic and Social
Council (ECOSOC) in July 2011. This initiative
aims to, among other things, “provide a forum
for coordination and dialogue among Member

2. a mUlti-level approach to Gs&t

GS&T is a complex field in which activities take
place and impacts are felt at multiple levels. Earth
processes, such as disasters, epidemics, climate
change, deforestation, soil degradation and loss
of biodiversity do not stop at national boundaries.
They have spillover effects that affect entire regions
and require regional and global human action and
institutions to mitigate or prevent. Equally, geospatial
technologies such as satellite-based EO and GNSS
can often also be global in nature. A global lens
must therefore be used when examining some
aspects of GS&T. However, the majority of GS&T
implementation is led either by multiple countries
working together at a regional level or by countries
working at the national/subnational government
level. As these are the two levels where most activity
occurs, it is also essential to consider GS&T through
regional and national/subnational government-level
lenses as well. It is important to note that on these
three levels, governments are not the only actors:
initiatives may also include non-state actors such
as supranational bodies, the private sector or
NGOs. The fourth and final level at which GS&T
must be considered is the level of communities and
individual citizens. Technological advances have
increased the ease with which communities and
citizens can both consume and create geospatial
data, making them important players in the field. The
remainder of this chapter briefly discusses these
four levels and recent developments within them. An
understanding of the multiple levels at which GS&T
operates provides the contextual background to the
more practical examples and discussions covered
by chapters 3 to 5.

2.1 The global level

As discussed above, by their very nature Earth
processes often take place at the global level, which
implies that many EO systems will also need to be
global in scale. Accordingly, a global view of the
potential challenges and solutions related to GS&T
is essential.

To address this need for a global view on GS&T,
the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observation
(GEO) was launched by the 2002 World Summit
on Sustainable Development and by the Group
of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries.
GEO is a voluntary effort of (currently) 88 national


typically address at least three crucial elements:
(1) the development of a regional capacity-building
strategic plan; (2) identification of the appropriate
decision support systems for the region; and (3) the
installation of low-cost reception stations at strategic
locations. Regional geospatial strategies can be
the outcome of deliberation among geospatial
scientists, government officials and private sector
providers. The Southern African Development
Community (SADC) region plans to implement a
regional geospatial strategy containing these three
elements which could serve as a template for other

2.3 The national and subnational
government level

A national government has the authority to legislate
open data access, promote the sharing of geospatial
data across networked government agencies,10
and regulate aspects of dissemination, security,
copyright and pricing, in contrast to global or
regional (supranational) initiatives that are voluntary
in nature. National geospatial strategies, or SDIs, are
older than GEO/GEOSS. They date back to the early
1990s, when several national governments around
the world embarked on ambitious schemes to join
up stand-alone GIS systems across agencies and
levels of government to Internet-based, networked
environments (Nedovic-Budic et al., 2011).

A national SDI forms the geospatial base for wider
government strategies and initiatives, such as
electronic government (e-government). Ideally,
an SDI encompasses the institutional, technical
and economic arrangements that enhance the
availability (access and use) for up-to-date, fit-
for-purpose and integrated geospatial data and
services. The aim is to create a “one stop shop”
for geospatial data, where data are collected once
then used many times for a variety of purposes.
Government agencies collaborating in a national
SDI can be spread widely over several locations.
In an SDI, the functional components of a GIS are
available as web-based applications. Much of the
functionality is provided by geospatial web services,
i.e. software programmes that act as an intermediate
between geospatial databases and users on the
World Wide Web. Geospatial web services can
vary from a simple map display service to one that
involves complex spatial calculations.

States, and between Member States and relevant
international organizations, including the United
Nations … on enhanced cooperation in the field of
global geospatial information.”6 It is expected to
be comprised of experts from all Member States,
as well as experts from international organizations,
as observers, and should further promote a
coordinated, global view of GS&T.

There are also a number of private sector actors
operating globally in the GS&T field. Global sales
of geospatial software, services and data were
expected to exceed $5 billion in 2011.7 A 2009
study by industry analysts identified Esri, Bentley,
Intergraph, Autodesk and PB MapInfo as the key
suppliers of GS&T to the public sector.8 These
businesses are important actors in the global GS&T
field, and often interact with global GS&T institutions
to discuss policies, trends, standards, products and

The institutions and companies mentioned above all
take a global view of GS&T. Given the global nature
of GS&T, such a view is essential, and the further
actors can coordinate at a global level, the more
effective GS&T can become.

2.2 The regional level

The developments described in section 2.1 are
global institutional innovations that can offer a
common global vision. However, while global
focus is vital, it is at the regional and national levels
where most activity will occur in harnessing GS&T
to support development. While the market for
GS&T is global, it should be noted that sales are
not evenly spread. North American accounts for
almost half of the industry’s annual sales, followed
by Asia/Pacific and Europe. The geospatial market
outside of these three key regions is growing fast
but currently accounts for just eight per cent of total
industry sales.9 This illustrates the strong inequality
in GS&T capacity between regions. For developing
countries in regions with little established GS&T
capacity, collaborating on a regional basis may
in many cases be more achievable than working
alone. Regional approaches allow countries to pool
resources in order to address common, regional

One form of regional collaboration is for governments
to work together to establish and implement a
regional geospatial strategy. Such a strategy could

2. A mUlTI-level AppROACh TO GS&T

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

of whom might be described as geospatial activists,
has been active in participatory geographic
information service (PGIS)12 for decades. PGIS is
a community-based approach that seeks to involve
local affected communities in the acquisition and
analysis of geospatial data. This is with the aim of
better meeting the needs of the affected community
and achieving the right outcomes. PGIS consists of
many tools for non-conventional data acquisition,
ranging from semi-structured interviews and
open-ended discussions to the whole range of
participatory rural appraisal/rapid rural appraisal
(PRA/RRA) methods, particularly sketch maps,
diagrams, historical time lines, time-space diagrams,
etc. Table 2.1 gives an overview of appropriate tools
and methods for specific applications.

However, national governments only account for half
of public sector spending on geospatial technology
and services. The other half comes from subnational
governments, and is driven by the need for cities
and counties to manage property information and
other municipal assets.11 The government level
must therefore consider subnational as well as
national government agencies as key consumers
and creators of geospatial data.

2.4 The community and citizen level

Specialist government agencies, who have
traditionally been the authoritative providers of
geospatial data, still have a major role to play in
the provision of geospatial data, but a growing
community of users with roots in civil society, some

Table 2.1: Overview of Participatory GIS methods and tools according to their applications

















































RRA & PRA methods
(for spatial info) o o o o o

P-mapping with:
sketch mapping o o o o

P-mapping with:
topo maps o o o o o o

P-mapping with:
aerial photos o o o o o o o o o

P-mapping with:
satellite images o o o o o o o

3D modelling o o o o o

Mobile GIS, GPS,
CyberTracker o o o o o

GIS (mainstream) o o o o o o o

graphics software o o o o o

Digital camera,
video, multimedia o o o

Web-based GIS o o o o

Virtual reality o o o o

planning tables o o o o o o

Source: adapted from McCall and Verplanke, 2008


2.5 Summarizing the multi-level approach

The four levels discussed above are all necessary
for understanding the use and application of
GS&T, and they feature accordingly throughout the
remainder of this study. The following three chapters
discuss the ways in which GS&T can support
development in three key areas, offering examples
of initiatives at each of the four levels discussed.
These four levels form the contextual background
against which the more practical applications of
GS&T take place. Without this background and the
activities that happen at each level, many of the
examples discussed in subsequent chapters could
not be taken up in their current form. The challenges
and recommendations discussed in chapters 6 and
7 also cover each of the four levels.

In recent years, commercial geobrowsers (e.g.
Google Earth, ArcGIS explorer) and the new
possibilities for data collection or “sensing” by
citizens with Web 2.0 are transforming PGIS into a
global crowdsourcing phenomenon. Crowdsourcing
relies on mobile communication technology,
GNSS receivers, SMS-based services and the
representation on maps of the needs of citizens
and grassroots organizations, especially regarding
basic public services (Georgiadou et al., 2011).
Citizens “sense” and report failures of governance
(e.g. corruption) and the condition of public services
via a standard mobile phone or computer, much like
non-human sensors record temperature, river flow,
or the speed of vehicles. Examples of the potential
of crowdsourcing are discussed in more detail in
subsequent chapters.


4. See http://www.earthobservations.org/geoss.shtml

5. http://www.gsdi.org/

6. Terms of reference of the Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management avail-
able from http://ggim.un.org/docs/meetings/Forum2011/E-C20-2011-2-TOR.pdf

7. http://govpro.com/technology/gis_gps/gis-geospatial-market-20091201/

8. Ibid.

9. http://www.geospatialworld.net/uploads/magazine/f98ffc_GeospatialWorld-December2011.pdf

10. National Mapping Agencies, Cadastres, Statistics, Forest, Soil, Hydrographic, Geological Surveys,
land Affairs departments, et cetera

11. See http://govpro.com/technology/gis_gps/gis-geospatial-growth-20110127/

12. See PPgis.net for further details available from http://www.ppgis.net/

2. A mUlTI-level AppROACh TO GS&T

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

3. sUstainable Urban–reGional

3.1 The issues

Urbanization is one of the most significant global
processes in the world today. With more than 50 per
cent of the world’s population now living in cities and
a trend for further urbanization, particularly in the
world’s less developed countries, we are witnessing
urban development at an unprecedented scale (UN-
HABITAT, 2010a). The rapid expansion of existing
towns and cities, through both planned and unplanned
development, as well as the creation of new towns and
cities, is relentless.

Urban regions of all sizes share many basic processes
and concerns. Some of these concern the relationships
of urban regions with the natural environment on which
they depend for water, food, waste disposal and energy
or their vulnerability to natural disasters (see chapter
5). There are also common concerns as to how to
provide efficiently for the basic needs of the residents
and those who visit the city for economic or leisure
activities. Adequate and safe shelter, accessible social
services, efficient transportation systems, energy and
telecom services, business and commercial services
and public administration and governance services
must all be planned for, delivered and operated in a
sustainable manner.

Geospatial information is a vital element in the quest
for sustainability in urban and regional development.
Planning for future development should be based on
a sound understanding of both the current situation
and the historical development path of the urban
region. Given the scale and speed of contemporary
urbanization, this requires three basic layers of
geospatial data: (1) the substrata layer, which is
mostly the natural environment; (2) the infrastructure
networks layer for water, drainage, transport, etc.; and
(3) the occupation layer consisting of the buildings
and the activities that take place within them, all at

multiple scales over extended time periods (Priemus,
2004, 2007). Each of these layers consists of multiple
thematic and topographic data sets which need to
be updated at regular but different time intervals,
according to the appropriate rates of change.

The substrata layer is generally the least dynamic layer.
However, when natural disasters occur (see chapter 5),
substantial and rapid change may occur to the natural
environment due to flooding, erosion, earthquakes,
landslides etc. The network and occupation layers
require more frequent updating. In a well-planned city,
changes to these two layers will be tightly synchronized.
New networks should only be created to support new
activities, and no buildings should be constructed and
occupied if they do not have the required infrastructure
connections. Moreover, they should be designed on
the basis of a sound understanding of the substrata
structures and processes and their implications for the
built environment (such as load-bearing capacities,
ground and surface water, etc.). Thus, establishing
properly synchronized and coherent geospatial
connections between the three layers is paramount for
sustainable urban development.

GS&T provides useful tools and platforms to realize
these connections. It also supports several tasks
often associated with planning and development
(Webster, 1993a, 1993b). Tasks related to the plan-
making tradition of urban management are more
ad hoc in nature, while those in the administrative
tradition of urban management are more geared to
routinized procedures such as development control,
land administration or public utility operations and
maintenance (Masser and Ottens, 1999).

Urban–regional development tends to be driven from
the national/subnational government and community/
individual levels, as cities do not cross borders.
However, the global level is still relevant to urban–
regional development, and attention is being paid to
this topic globally as shown in box 3.1.

Box 3.1: GS&T and urban planning at the global level

The GEO Task “Global Urban Observation and Information” in the GEO 2012–2015 Work Plan is designed to
improve the coordination of urban observations, monitoring, forecasting, and assessment initiatives worldwide.
An international Task Team representing data providers and end users is working together to support the
development of a global urban observation and analysis system, producing up-to-date information on the status
and development of the urban system and filling existing gaps in the integration of global urban land observations
with data relevant to urban structure, ecosystems (including air quality), and socioeconomic indicators.

Source: See task SB-04 at: http://www.earthobservations.org/ts.php


time interval of 5–10 years. Data from the official 2001
Indian Census has been used by Baud et al. (2008)
to analyse and map urban deprivations based on
a livelihoods approach using a set of indices for
four types of capital (social, financial, physical,
human) to generate an Index of Multiple Deprivation
(IMD) (see Figure 3.2). Alternative sources of useful
statistical data for poverty analysis may be available

The following sections look more closely at the role of
GS&T in three areas of urban management. While not
comprehensive, the coverage of the applicability of
GS&T in these areas provides insight into the growing
range of possible GS&T applications as well as some
of the interrelationships between different issues and

3.2 Urban poverty dynamics

In many developing countries, urbanization means
the “urbanization of poverty” and hence higher rates
of child morbidity and mortality. Although in general
child mortality rates are higher in rural areas than in
urban areas, the rates in urban slums may exceed
those of rural areas (Martinez et al., 2008; UN-
HABITAT, 2003). Urban deprivations (e.g. high infant
mortality rates, lack of safe shelter, overcrowding
and inadequate water and sanitation systems) in the
world’s many slum communities are symptomatic of
urban poverty. In some cities of sub-Saharan Africa,
more than 60 per cent of the population live in so-
called informal settlements, often with more than
one of these urban deprivations.

Responding effectively to urban poverty dynamics
is a major challenge for local and national
governments, particularly in the world’s poorest
countries, whose governments have limited human,
technical and financial resources. Key development
information and indicators become quickly outdated
as a result of rapid urbanization. The lack of current
data is an obstacle to understanding the scale,
speed and locations of newly developing urban
areas, particularly informal development.

Statistics and statistical mapping to study the
patterns of urban poverty are well-established ways
to provide useful, policy relevant insights into the
patterns of urban deprivations for local governance
processes (Baud et al., 2009). Routinely collected
data on urban poverty may be available through
a national census, and can be used to analyse
the level and spatial patterns of urban poverty
(Martinez, 2009). Figure 3.1 below shows such an
analysis, with one measure of urban poverty, in
this case unemployment rates from census data,
geographically referenced and visually displayed
on a map.

Such analyses can be repeated over time as new
census data sets become available to provide an
impression of dynamics, albeit at the relatively long


Figure 3.1: Rates of unemployment in
Rosario Argentina 2001 Census

Source: Martínez, J. (2009)

Source: Baud, Sridharan and Pfeffer (2008)

Figure 3.2: Hotspots of poverty in Delhi


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

very high resolution (VHR) imagery, which is
typically captured from satellites. This technology
has been available since approximately 2000.
VHR images have been used to provide additional
details on the distribution of poverty “hot spots”
in Delhi, revealing that the high aggregation level
of census tracts conceals substantial diversity in
living conditions (Baud et al., 2010). The maps in
figure 3.3 show the distribution of different types
of formal and informal building typologies in four
wards of Delhi. The socioeconomic and physical
structures of many wards are very mixed, but
this diversity can only be revealed through the
use of VHR imagery. The urban poor tend to be
concentrated in the two informal housing classes
as well as the basic formal type, which are usually
so-called resettlement colonies. A purely statistical
analysis would not have revealed this diversity.

for some cities through local statistical surveys such
as the Demographic and Health Survey (which
recently started to georeference its statistics to
enable spatial analysis)13 or the Multiple Indicator
Cluster Survey, which covers the health and well-
being of women and children.14 These data are
a key source for United Nations reporting on the
Millennium Development Goals such as UN-
HABITAT’s State of the World’s Cities series.

However, such methods suffer from significant
shortcomings, not least of which are the delays
between the collection and release of census data,
lengthy planning and implementation procedures,
as well as the high cost and relatively high levels of
aggregation of census data required to protect the
privacy of individuals. A purely statistical approach
can however be supplemented by EO, specifically

Source: Baud, Kuffer, Pfeffer, Sliuzas (2010)

Figure 3.3: Visual interpretations of different housing typologies in selected wards of Delhi to refine poverty targeting


Several NGOs have developed the capacity to
collect and use geospatial data extensively in their
technical and advocacy work, in which self-reliance
and empowerment of community members has a
central role. These include Shelter Associates in
Pune (India),16 the Society for Promotion of Area
Resource Centres in Mumbai (India),17 Pamoja Trust
in Kenya,18 and Shack/Slum Dwellers International,
which focuses on urban poverty alleviation and
slum improvement.19 The development of their
geospatial capability arose from the recognition
of the importance of spatial data in expressing
community claims for land rights and services.
Shelter Associates trained community youth to
carry out surveys. They also added qualified
land surveyors to their staff to prepare settlement
maps from plane table surveys, but this approach
has gradually been combined with digital survey
tools and satellite imagery. Shack/Slum Dwellers
International has a strong desire to promote
empowerment and self-reliance, also with regard to

In association with UN-HABITAT and the Regional
Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development
in Nairobi, associated NGOs such as Pamoja Trust
have also developed an independent capacity for
settlement mapping and enumeration that includes
a high level of community participation and
engagement. The active involvement of community
members in physical and socioeconomic
enumeration assists them with individual skill
development and in raising their spatial awareness
of their community and its environs. The independent
generation of detailed geospatial databases
of slum areas and slum dwellers is in principle
empowering, as it improves the knowledge base of
residents and communities and also reduces the
information imbalance between communities and
the Government (Abbott, 2003; Sen et al., 2003;
Sliuzas, 2003). Figure 3.4 is an example of the type
of detailed geospatial data that can be collected
on slums by NGOs working together with local
residents to produce maps.

Thus, the combination of statistical and geospatial
information is both a necessary and a powerful way
to examine and monitor poverty dynamics. Unless
slums can be identified, policymakers cannot do
anything to respond to them.

Much research by remote sensing experts on the
use of VHR images is concentrated on the use of
advanced object-oriented approaches for automatic
feature extraction (Blaschke, 2010), and such
techniques are also being developed for slum
detection and classification (Kohli et al., forthcoming).
This type of work is as yet far from operational but
will continue to improve. In the meantime, human
interpretation of VHR images remains an important
means for slum identification and monitoring.

As VHR imagery becomes more widely known
through web-based mapping services such
Google Earth, Google Map Maker, OpenStreetMap,
ArcGIS Online, Microsoft Bing Maps etc., the range
of geospatial information users is dramatically
expanding. Organizations and individual citizens
which or who would have once relied on official
maps from a national government mapping agency
now have the ability to generate their own maps
and even collect, manage and disseminate spatial
data on an increasing scale. For example, with the
assistance of the German Development Agency,
the Greater Cairo Governorates have developed
methodologies to create their own detailed urban
district level databases of buildings and associated
socioeconomic data, sidestepping the traditional
government mapping agencies. Their geospatial
database is now regularly updated and used to
address local poverty and other urban management
issues.15 Their bottom-up geospatial data collection
strategy is a key instrument in the building of a
sustainable local urban management capacity in
Egypt’s Governorates. VHR images can be used
to bridge the time gap between official census
surveys, allowing local planners and engineers to
monitor the physical development process in order
to make reliable estimates of population data for
fast-changing urban districts.


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

the spatial or temporal gaps in existing spatial data
coverage; and (2) provide near real-time information
to the Government and relief agencies in disaster
situations (see chapter 5). Establishing working
protocols for the collection and delivery of data of
acceptable quality, and scrutinizing and using a more
diverse range of data sources in an integrated manner
are some of the major challenges. Being on “a” map

Such initiatives demonstrate how accessible and
useful geospatial technology has become. While the
democratization and popularization of geospatial
technology have barely started, it is already creating
new opportunities and challenges for traditional
government mapping agencies. Two opportunities are
the potential to (1) mobilize large numbers of citizen
mappers to collect spatial data in order to help fill

Figure 3.4: Part of a webpage produced by Shelter Associates showing extent and details of a slum area in Sangli, India

Source: Shelter Associates


Provision of physical infrastructure is guided by
principles of equity (ensuring that all segments of
society enjoy equal access to appropriate, good-
quality and safe infrastructure); affordability (providing
infrastructure that people can afford); and efficiency
(organizing the development, delivery and operation
of infrastructure in the most efficient way). In many
developing countries, however, huge challenges exist
in catering for the rapidly growing urban population
and the spatially dispersed rural population.

Notwithstanding large investments by national gov-
ernments and international donors, the infrastructure
challenge remains real: for example, despite recent
improvements, close to a billion people in develop-
ing countries lack clean drinking water and over two
billion do not have access to improved sanitation.20
The electrification rate of developing countries aver-
ages around 75 per cent but with large variability. Even
where the correct infrastructure exists, services may
still not reach the population. For example, water may
be supplied but not be fit for consumption; an area
may be electrified but only actually receive electricity
for a few hours a day and so on. The poor are often
the least served and also pay high costs for alternative
services. These alternatives can be informal and often
illegal (see figures 3.5 and 3.6). Due to poor planning,
engineering, operations and maintenance, the useful
life of infrastructure facilities is often much shorter than
the normal design lifetime. This leads to a rapid depre-
ciation of assets and high costs of replacement.

is not equivalent to being on “the” (official) map, and
governments may have reservations about the official
use of data collected directly by citizens.

It is important that policymakers recognize the chang-
ing landscape associated with the democratization of
GS&T. Spatial data serves an increasingly wide range
of public and private interests but to maximize the ben-
efit from this, appropriate standards and protocols for
data collection, management, sharing and dissemina-
tion are needed. Chapter 7 sets out recommendations
on how officials can more effectively engage with citi-
zens to meet their geospatial data needs.

To conclude this section, recent developments in
GS&T can allow for quicker, more accurate data
to be generated on dynamic, fast-changing urban
landscapes. Further, these data can also be collected
more cheaply, especially if crowdsourcing is used.
These more accessible data can better provide
governments, NGOs and other users with the
information they need to respond effectively to the
challenges posed by urban poverty.

3.3 Urban infrastructure and services

Clean drinking water, electricity for 24 hours a day,
proper sanitation, and good-quality education and
health care are important public services that help
create the conditions for human well-being and social
and economic development. They are provided
through both public and privately funded physical and
social infrastructure.

Source: Mark Brussel, ITC


Figure 3.5: Electricity connections in Hanoi

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

assets to optimize their operations. GS&T offers
important functionalities for managing infrastructure
assets, from relatively simple tasks such as being
able to quickly locate an underground pipe or cable
(thereby reducing the cost of unnecessary damage
and service disruption) to more complex operations
of maintenance optimization or service planning and
distribution adjustment.

This is why the infrastructure industry has been one
of the first and major driving forces behind GS&T
application worldwide. For most utility companies in
Europe and the United States, GIS has been the major
innovation of the last 25 years and is at the core of
their business processes. Governments and utility
companies in both the UK and the Netherlands, for
example, cooperated intensively in the development
of common spatial data frameworks and databases
that today are the basis for their GS&T applications.
In many developing countries, the infrastructure

The provision and operation of physical infrastructures
are complex, as they need to respond to a wide variety
of often conflicting demands. The reconciliation of
conflicting goals creates many dilemmas: financial
sustainability versus technological choice, economic
performance versus environmental impacts, short-
term versus long-term planning horizons (Sahely et
al., 2005), for which trade-offs are inevitable. This
balancing act requires the best available strategies
and methods and up-to-date information to support

GS&T has an enormous potential in the infrastructure
sector. The geospatial analysis capabilities of GIS help
analyse service provision levels and act as a support
tool in the physical planning of infrastructure. GIS data
analysis capabilities enable organizations to link their
traditional engineering drawings and maps of the
distribution, transportation and collection networks
with a wide variety of information about infrastructure

Figure 3.6: Informal and illegal water connections in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Source: ITC


sector has been one of the first to use GIS routinely
in day-to-day operations, and the opportunity for
governments to partner with infrastructure companies
to jointly develop and maintain their spatial databases
is therefore obvious.

Infrastructure asset management is a “combination
of management, financial, economic engineering and
other practices applied to physical assets with the
objective of providing the required level of service
in the most cost-effective manner” (CIRIA, 2009).
It is the most important contribution of GS&T in the
infrastructure sector. Typical infrastructure assets
are buildings, pipelines, pumps, valves, switches,
or any infrastructure object that forms a vital part of
the system and can be represented along with its
attribute information in a geospatial database. Both
public and private organizations may own and/or
operate infrastructure assets. GIS-based tools are
used to register their location and other characteristics
for strategy development and decision-making.
Typically, asset management takes place through
the integration of several geospatial databases that
provide simultaneous access for users to update
facilities and work orders. Since the 1980s, many GIS
packages with such capabilities have appeared on
the market. Recent advances in mobile technology
and global positioning systems have made it possible
for field crews carrying out inspection and repair tasks
to consult the geospatial database in real time, based
on their location, and to produce dedicated maps or
engineering drawings on the basis of which repairs are
made. Changes made to the infrastructure can also
then be uploaded to update the database.

Developments in GS&T therefore provide governments
and other operators and owners of infrastructure
with tools to both better manage existing urban
infrastructure and better plan for future needs and
developments. Better management and planning of
infrastructure can ultimately help to alleviate some
of the problems discussed at the beginning of this
section (such as unavailability of clean drinking water
and intermittent electricity supply), producing a wide
range of benefits to society.

3.4 Urban transport and mobility

People take part in activities such as employment and
education that are connected to specific locations.
Urban transport facilitates the movement of people
and freight. The attractiveness of locations of work or

leisure depends on how accessible they are, which is
influenced by the performance of the transport system.
The transport system is composed of various types of
more or less integrated infrastructure networks; roads,
bus lanes, railroads etc. These networks may be
used by different transport modalities—cars, buses,
motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians—depending on
the preferences of travellers and their socioeconomic

Sustainable transport is increasingly promoted as an
alternative to the traditional transport model (Newman
and Kenworthy, 1999). In terms of policy, planning
and implementation, the traditional model has been
dominated by the paradigm of the automobile.
The “predict and provide” approach of building on
forecasted demand has led to ever higher expansion
of roads and facilities, use of space and urban sprawl
(Schiller et al., 2010). Many cities in developed and
developing countries alike are grappling with how to
manage their urban growth, land use and transport.
These cities are already confronted with high levels
of congestion and pollution, mainly caused by the
“predict and provide” approach that has led to
inefficient land use and transport systems. This has
threatened the quality of life, reduced the economic
growth potential and aggravated the massive problem
of climate change.

Similar to the previous discussion on urban
infrastructure, the key to promoting sustainable
transport is to restructure the way urban mobility is
organized. Sustainable transport provision emphasizes
accessibility rather than mobility (therefore compact
development) and promotes multi-modality (with
a much bigger role for public and non-motorized
transport) while internalizing all environmental and
social costs (Blanco et al., 2009; Dimitriou, H. T., 2006;
Preston, J., and Rajé, F., 2007; World Bank, 2002).

GS&T can play a pivotal role in the development of
sustainable transportation. Geospatial technologies
are already widely used in the transport sector.
Several GIS applications have been developed in
transport planning and management, traffic control,
logistics and intelligent transport systems. The use of
geospatial tools in sustainable urban transport systems
and infrastructure provides insights into spatial
accessibility, equity and environmental sustainability
in urban areas. This is because GIS systems combine
three main information sources:


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

(i) Infrastructure information, with all its characteristics
associated with the geospatial features allowing for
proper operation and maintenance;

(ii) Movement information, allowing for data on flows,
modalities, energy use, pollution etc. to be modelled
and analysed; and

(iii) Physical, social and environmental contextual
information, allowing for spatial analysis of access,
equity, and environmental externalities.

Consequently, GS&T can provide information and
analysis to support evidence-based, sustainable urban
transport policies in a way that would not otherwise
be possible. Such policies can improve accessibility,
reduce congestion and limit environmental damage
resulting from transport.

3.5 Challenges

There is much unrealized potential when it comes
to the application of GS&T in the field of sustainable
urban and regional development. State-of-the-art GIS
software that runs on simple personal computers allows
even small organizations such as district municipalities
or small infrastructure providers to use GIS. Software
and hardware are no longer major issues, but effective
application is often still limited.

Effective use of GS&T is generally hampered by a
number of overarching challenges which are discussed
in chapter 6. However, there are also a number of
challenges specific to the use of GS&T in the context

of sustainable urban–regional development, which are
set out below.

Problems with image data: Although data availability
at a general level has considerably improved over
the last decades, especially since the availability of
VHR satellite images, many problems remain. Image
data is raw data and to be useful, information must be
extracted in a way that is efficient and consistent with
existing data. Moreover, official access to VHR images
is quite expensive, and even though partnerships
and group licenses can help save substantial sums,
institutional barriers often make it difficult to implement
such arrangements despite the substantial cost
reductions. Government agencies often buy expensive
high-resolution satellite images but do not share them
with other government agencies, unless there is
pressure from above. In many developed countries, the
Treasury or budgetary offices can coerce government
agencies into sharing expensive data by threatening
to cut funding if data are not shared. In developing
countries, a donor from country X may finance satellite
data for Ministry A and another donor from country Y
may finance Ministry B for the same data. The major
institutional barrier is the lack of coordination in cost-
sharing. For developing countries, the problem may be
solved by either better coordination within the country
or better coordination among donors in the new aid

Difficulties with locating underground infrastructure
assets: In the infrastructure sector, data acquisition
is complicated by the fact that infrastructure assets

Box 3.2: Abbott’s 10-step plan for the management of infrastructure assets

The key infrastructure assets to be captured are water supply systems, sanitation systems, solid waste
management systems, roads and other transport networks, drainage systems and street lighting.
Establishing a spatial database of these assets with GIS will create a spatial data infrastructure for
planning and management. Such a spatial database can be based on the available sketch maps if that
is the best available material. In other words, thematic and spatial coverage is initially prioritized above
spatial accuracy. The 10 Steps for Asset Management are:

1. Define infrastructure categories and subcategories
2. Build spatial and tabular database templates
3. Compile an inventory of assets
4. Assess the condition of the assets
5. Cost and value the assets
6. Measure assets against strategic goals and objectives
7. Develop plans for new assets
8. Develop a maintenance plan for each asset
9. Create a budget for each asset

Source: Abbott, J. (2006) Asset Management, Manual Series on Infrastructure, GTZ-IS, Ethiopia


are often underground and hard to locate. Satellite
images will not be able to find underground assets,
and in the absence of accurate records locating
these assets will likely require costly and disruptive
digging. On the other hand, this challenge also
points to the need to establish a GS&T approach to
ensure that sufficient information for operations and
decision-making is available. Often, setting up a GIS
is considered complicated and challenging under

the circumstances of limited resources of developing
cities, but GIS does not have to be highly sophisticated
to be effective. One example of a relatively simple GIS
is a 10-step plan developed for infrastructure asset
management in Ethiopian cities described in box
3.2. This simple approach would enable essential
infrastructure information to be captured in a GIS in
a straightforward way and could be applied in other
resource-constrained environments.


Table 3.1: Summary of GS&T-enabled benefits in sustainable urban–regional development

3.6 Summary of benefits

GS&T Enabler Direct Benefit Societal Benefit

Web-based mapping services Allows the public to fill gaps in existing
maps and information.

Provides public with choice of potential
service providers which are continuously

Allows maps to be updated and created
and shared more quickly and cheaply.

Spatial data readily available via mobile
devices, including smart phones.

Advanced object-oriented approaches for
automatic feature extraction

More rapid and effective urban mapping
(including slum identification and

Lower costs for urban mapping and map

Infrastructure management tools Better managed and maintained
infrastructure assets with increased

Lower costs for operation and mainte-
nance; less disruption of services due to

Better informed planning decisions on
future infrastructure development.

Synchronization of operation and mainte-
nance works leading to less disruption of

Transport GIS applications Provides insights into urban accessibility. Reduced travel times through integrated
land use and transport.

Better informed planning decisions on
future transport development.

Cleaner, safer and more livable cities;

Reduced urban sprawl.

13. See http://www.measuredhs.com/
14. See http://www.unicef.org/statistics/index_24302.html
15. See http://egypt-urban.net/ for details including English and Arabic guidelines and publications.
16. See www.shelter-associates.org
17. See www.SparcIndia.org
18. See http://www.pamojatrust.org/
19. See http://www.sdinet.org/
20. See http://www.unicef.org/wash/

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

4. land administration

4.1 The issues

land administration is a proven enabler of
economic, social, and environmental development
(UN-FIG, 1999; Dale and Mclaughlin, 1999;
Williamson et al., 2010). GS&T is at the heart of
land administration systems. However, successful
implementation involves overcoming a range
of technical, legal, institutional, and social

land administration systems collect, maintain and
disseminate information about land tenure, land
use and land value (UN-ECE, 1996). The bases
of the systems are also known as land registers
and/or cadastres. They include both textual and
geospatial information. The textual part contains
information about people, land tenures, land uses,
and land values. The geospatial part relates to the
location of that textual information, and is often
visualized as a map of land parcels or cadastral
map. Both types of information are collected through
processes of adjudication, demarcation, surveying
and recordation. The information is brought
together in an information system: land parcel
identification codes and geospatial coordinates
are used to create links between the different
types of information. It is usually Government
that manages the system, often with the help of
private professionals, such as land surveyors or
notaries. The information is often publicly available,
although fees and some restrictions apply. The
land administration system should be accurate,
authoritative, verified, unambiguous and available
(Williamson et al., 2010).

land administration systems support social
development in a number of ways. For individuals
and citizens they secure land tenures; enable
access to credit; facilitate cheaper and faster land
dealings; and reduce land disputes (Henssen,
2010; de Soto, 2001). For governments, the
systems facilitate the assessment and collection of
land tax; provide a land inventory to support land
reform, land consolidation, or land readjustment
(UN-HABITAT, 2007); facilitate controls on land
transactions (e.g. maximum amount of property
ownership per individual); support many other
government activities (e.g. environmental
management); and reduce information duplication

by acting as an authoritative base register for
Government (Besemer et al., 2006; Henssen,
2010). However, these benefits only materialize
if financial services and adequate institutional
capacity exist within a society (FAO, 2007).

All countries are at various stages of establishment,
maintenance, and renewal of their land
administration systems (Henssen, 2010). GS&T
offers opportunities for increasing the efficiency
and effectiveness of these processes. Emerging
geospatial tools can deliver cheaper, faster or
higher-quality spatial information with respect
to collection, maintenance, and dissemination.
This is of particular importance for governments
in developing countries, because systems must
be (a) faster and (b) cheaper to establish and

The primary objective when establishing a
cadastre (or land administration system) is to finish
it (Henssen, 2010). Currently in many countries, this
objective is not being met. Establishment of land
administration systems in the developing world is
progressing far slower than required (Deininger,
2003). At current rates, it will take decades, if not
centuries, to achieve full registration. Internationally,
land administrators agree that faster and cheaper
approaches are needed. In addition, high-level
tenure security should not be attempted in a “big
bang”: a staged approach is necessary (UN-
HABITAT, 2008). A staged approach provides for
more immediate land tenure security, of some sort,
and also affords the required time for growth of
strong land institutions.

Realization of the staged approach requires new
ways of thinking about adjudication, demarcation,
surveying and recordation (Van der Molen and
lemmen, 2005). The following paragraphs explain
these four processes and how they are traditionally
performed, before sections 4.2 and 4.3 set out new
ways of thinking about them.

Adjudication is the process of investigating
existing rights in land for recording purposes. The
conventional way to perform adjudication is through
lengthy legal checks of existing documentation,
drawn-out consultation with interested parties,
numerous on-the-ground visits, drafting of legal
rights, community approval, and final recordation.
lengthy dispute resolution processes should also
run in parallel.


Surveying is the process of measuring and
mapping the location of those land interests. It
is conventionally performed through a full on-
the-ground cadastral survey using plane tables,
optical squares, total stations, or some other form
of ground-based surveying technology. The latter
tools give higher accuracies (Jing et al., 2011).

Demarcation is the physical marking of a
boundary (Zevenbergen, 2009). The choice is
often described as being between “fixed” or high-
accuracy boundaries, and “general” or more
approximate boundaries. In many countries, a
mixture of both is used, but one method will tend to
dominate the other. The decision takes into account
the value of land, the risk of land disputes, and
the information needs of the users of the cadastre
(Henssen, 2010). Fixed boundaries tend to be more
expensive: greater amounts of labour, materials,
methods and expertise are required. However,
general boundaries also present challenges:
physical features such as walls, hedges, ditches,
or trails must already exist and be respected as

Recordation is the process of entering the textual
and graphical information about tenure, use
and value into the information system. A unique
identifier is attached to each parcel or property
object, and this becomes the primary organizing
tool of the land administration system. Modern
land administration systems tend to make use of
geographic information and database technologies
to perform this task.

In summary, each of the four processes is
traditionally complex, time-consuming, and expert-
labour intensive. New approaches to adjudication,
demarcation, surveying and recordation must
be rapid in application, low in cost per unit, with
appropriate accuracy, and simple in procedure.
They should also be amenable to higher accuracy
and registration, readily adaptable to further
modernization, not rendered useless when more
refined work occurs later on, and should allow
for the inclusion of new types and better-quality
information over time (Augustinus, 2005; Henssen,
2010). However, low-cost, rapid approaches do not
necessarily equate with low-tech solutions. Modern
GS&T can assist in delivering these progressive
land administration solutions. Applications of GPS
and two alternative methods of collecting VHR
images, high-resolution satellite imagery (HRSI),

and low-altitude remotely sensed imagery (lARSI),
are now explored in relation to these processes.

4.2 High-speed adjudication and surveying

GNSS technologies such as GPS can support high-
speed adjudication and surveying. GPS receivers
use the signals from a number of satellites to
calculate the coordinates of a location. GPS can
be used in the high-speed establishment of a
ground control network for a jurisdiction or country.
A ground control network is a collection of on-
the-ground points with precisely known locations.
The network of points are used as anchors or
“points of truth” to relate all other survey data
that is subsequently collected. The GPS version
of a ground control network uses continuously
operating GPS receivers or continuously operating
reference stations (CORS) as the precisely
known points. With a CORS network in place, the
accuracy of collected GPS data points can go from
metres to centimetres: the accuracy requirements
of traditional cadastral surveys are attainable.
Because GPS surveying is generally less labour-
and time-intensive than traditional surveying
methods, there is great potential for increasing
the speed of surveying by establishing a dense
ground control network. Many countries now have
at least one, if not multiple, CORS networks under
development (c.f. Abidin et al., 2011; Janssen
et al., 2011). As an alternative, where accuracy
requirements are lower, such as those generally
in rural areas, lower-grade GPS receivers can be
used to calculate boundary locations or identify
parcel centres without a local GPS control network
being in place.

At the parcel level, GPS can be used for determining
the coordinates of fixed boundary markers. These
coordinates can be collected rapidly with or
without a CORS network in place. For example, in
Turkey 120 cadastral points were collected over
a 3–4 hour period using precise GPS positioning.
The same points took 5–6 hours to collect using
more conventional approaches. Office processing
times were also cut in half: from 30 to 15 minutes
(Pirti et al., 2009). While this was only a pilot, if
these results were extrapolated across an entire
jurisdiction, the time reductions could be quite
significant: years could be saved from project
timelines. GPS receivers could also be used as
support tools in adjudication and surveying tasks.


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

Box 4.1: Indonesia, surveying, and GnSS

In Indonesia, over 50 per cent of the country’s 87 million parcels remain unregistered. In an effort to
speed up registration, solutions using GNSS technologies are being investigated and applied. Since the
1990s, geodetic reference stations and cadastral ground control points have been established with GNSS
technologies. More recently, the country has embarked on the densification of its GPS CORS networks.
The official national CORS network, the Indonesian Permanent GPS Station Network, now includes some
100 stations. The utilization of GNSS has expedited the establishment of the National Cadastral Reference
Network. The aim is to begin utilizing GNSS in the survey and registration of individual parcels. This is
currently done using traditional surveying tools and techniques such as total stations, trilateration or

Pilots show that using GNSS to establish and re-establish boundaries could simplify and accelerate the
surveying processes. A range of data capture techniques, including real-time (RTK), post-processed and
hybrid (including both terrestrial and GPS data capture), are under development. The different methods
are needed to overcome the limitations of GNSS in some contexts, such as signal obstruction caused by
terrain and topography. An added benefit of using GNSS for parcel surveys is that all boundaries would
be established within a single unified national reference coordinate system. The problematic experiences
of using GNSS technologies to re-establish the cadastre in Aceh following the 2004 tsunami could have
been overcome if more than just a local coordinate system had been in use. At any rate, GNSS tools were
used in these re-establishment exercises and have subsequently gained recognition across the country.

Box 4.2: China, Boundaries, and LARSI

In the Chinese city of Yan’an in the province of Shaanxi, an assessment of lARSI for cadastral mapping
purposes was undertaken. This occurred as part of the Second National land Survey Project in China,
which ran from 2007 to 2009. lARSI uses smaller remotely controlled unmanned aircraft equipped with
imagery sensors for data collection. The low, slow-flying aircraft are able to capture larger quantities of
higher resolution imagery per run. As they are unmanned and light, operation costs are lower. Imagery
is considered easier to interpret and provides for higher accuracies. Streamlined processes for fieldwork
meant that labour costs were decreased and the process was quicker. However, resultant cadastral maps
were still not considered adequate for urban applications (~21cm accuracy). (Jing et al., 2011).

Source: Abidin et al. (2011)

Source: Jing et al. (2011)

Figure 4.1: Application of LARSI for boundary mapping in China


Another example of high-speed land registration
using GNSS in Indonesia is described in box 4.1

Photogrammetric methods, including use of
orthophotos (geometrically corrected aerial images)
or enlarged photo prints, also offer the potential for
high-speed land administration. This is especially the
case when a systematic countrywide adjudication
project is being undertaken. Imagery is collected
from sensor-equipped manned aircraft, unmanned
aircraft (lARSI) or high-resolution sensors mounted
on satellites (HRSI).

Manned aircraft techniques can generally achieve
resolutions in the order of 25 to 50cm. However, in
many cadastral applications 25 to 50cm accuracy
is still not considered good enough (Jing et al.,
2011). Consequently, lARSI has emerged as a
new technique capable of increasing the speed
of adjudication and surveying processes. Box 4.2
gives an example of how lARSI was used in one
Chinese city to undertake cadastral mapping at
high speed.

Satellites can also be equipped with imagery
sensors. Until recently, the application of satellite
imagery was limited for land administration
purposes: image resolutions were not good
enough for determination of potential cadastral

features such as fences, hedges or even buildings.
Cadastral maps require larger scales, in the order of
1:500 through to 1:10,000, depending on the size of
parcels. Application of imagery from these satellites
was limited to areas with large parcel sizes, open
terrain, and scales smaller than 1:25,000 (Henssen,

A range of new commercially owned satellites
and constellations equipped with high-resolution
sensors are now in operation: GeoEye’s GeoEye-1
satellite; Digital Globe’s WorldView-1 and Quickbird
satellites; SPOT’s range of satellites; RapidEye’s
constellation of five satellites; and ImageSat
International’s EROS satellites. The market is
competitive. Image resolutions under 50cm are
technically possible: buildings, plants and certainly
many parcel boundaries can now be identified on
the image. However, legal restrictions, driven by
concerns about individual privacy, currently impede
the sale and use of lower resolutions for civilian
purposes in many country contexts. Rules are
regularly under review; however, the United States
of America, India and Russia provide prominent
examples of countries where these legal restrictions
are in place. The application of HRSI for high-speed
adjudication in rural areas is already recognized, and
Box 4.3 provides an example of this from Ethiopia.

Box 4.3: Adjudication and HRSI in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, conventional land titling is progressing
well, but the programme is limited to textual
certificates. Geospatial land parcel mapping is
not common yet. In a World Bank study, Quickbird
satellite imagery was used to establish a parcel
index map for a region (lemmen and Zevenbergen,
2010). large plots or prints of HRSI images were
taken in to the field: local villagers, rights holders
and local officials were asked to sketch in the
boundaries of their lands (Fig 4.2). The 1:2000
plots were of high enough quality to allow all parties
to understand the images, contribute input and
sketch boundaries. Back in the office, the images
were rescanned, georeferenced, the boundaries
digitized, and organized in an information system.
The process appears to be very useful in places
where high-speed coverage takes precedence
over survey accuracy, as is often the case in rural

Source: lemmen and Zevenbergen (2010)

Source: ITC

Figure 4.2: Trialing HRSI for boundary
identification in Ethiopia - World Bank Study


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

Meanwhile, in urban areas, where highly precise
boundaries are used, current HRSI resolutions are
not considered adequate (c.f. Ahin et al., 2000).
The trend towards higher imagery resolution and
lower cost may change this situation. The benefits
of using HRSI for cadastral applications, even in
urban areas, should become increasingly apparent
for some contexts.

Developments in GS&T therefore allow land
adjudication and surveying to be performed more
quickly and cheaply than was previously possible
with traditional methods, although not always to
the same levels of accuracy. However, as these
technologies develop further their level of accuracy
will continue to improve.

4.3 Low-cost demarcation and recording

The drive for cheaper land administration solutions
has resulted in new thinking about demarcation. In
some cases, the lack of progress in establishing
systems with highly sophisticated methods is leading
to new, low-cost approaches (Henssen, 2010). The
idea is that cheaper and less accurate solutions
can eventually be upgraded when Government and
citizens find it essential to do so. Contemporary
geospatial technologies offer more innovative low-
cost solutions, as reflected by the usefulness of GPS
and imagery for virtual boundaries, point cadastres
and crowdsourcing.

In the case of general boundaries, the concept of
the “point cadastre” offers an innovative low-cost
solution. Point cadastres use a single geographic
location or “point” to symbolize a land parcel or
tenure object. The approach provides a cheap and
quick solution in places where land information is
missing or in need of renewal (Fourie, 1994; Burke,
1995). The point becomes a “stand-in” for the parcel
or tenure polygon. The concept is also known as
“single point cadastre”, “dots for plots”, or “geocoded
address files”. Adjudication of actual boundaries
can take place at a later time when suitable drivers
and finance can be found. Even without boundaries,
general or fixed, multiple applications become
available: identification of parcels for simple property
taxation, basic tenure recordation, rudimentary land
use planning, and management of other activities
such as education and health. The approach can
also be used to complete gaps in pre-existing
parcel-based land administration systems (Griffith,

2011): the points can later be renewed into parcel
boundaries. International standards for modelling
the land administration domain, including the Social
Tenure Domain Model and land Administration
Domain Model, are already equipped to deal with
point representations (Oosterom et al., 2006; FIG,
2010). Currently, Kadaster International is working
to demonstrate the utility of the concept in Guinea-

As discussed in chapter 2, crowdsourcing
is a significant recent development in GS&T,
enabled by modern technologies. In the context
of land administration, crowdsourcing provides
another opportunity for low-cost demarcation
and recordation. Crowdsourced data comes from
citizens, often in a volunteered fashion. Individuals
collect the data in an active or passive fashion.
The potential for land administration to collect
and use crowdsourced data is under construction
(RICS, 2011). Citizens could potentially adjudicate,
demarcate and survey their own boundaries. The
bypassing of the State or privately-run surveying
establishment could help citizens quite significantly,
especially the poor and marginalized. The information
would be lodged in some form of registry, potentially
even without government involvement. Much is
still to be determined: issues of assuredness,
ambiguity, accuracy, authenticity, and availability
need clarifying. These characteristics are the
heart of conventional systems, and crowdsourced
data appears limited on these fronts. However,
crowdsourced land administration might help land
administration development in places where official
systems do not exist or are inadequate.

In summary, GS&T can be used to provide quick,
low-cost land demarcation and recording where
high levels of accuracy are not required. These
technologies can therefore allow countries with
minimal financial resources to quickly and cheaply
establish basic land registries and reap the
corresponding benefits.

4.4 Challenges

The land administration processes of adjudication,
demarcation, surveying and recordation are
essential for economic, social, and environmental
development. The differences in standards of living
between those countries that successfully maintain
land administration systems and those who do not


are well documented (de Soto, 2001). GS&T can
support land administration systems but there are
a number of challenges to using GS&T in this way.
As with chapter 3, only challenges specific to land
administration will be discussed below. Overarching
challenges which apply to a variety of areas will be
covered in chapter 6.

Technological limitations: The performance
of GPS receivers falls off in highly urbanized or
densely forested areas. Buildings, trees and other
structures can block or bounce signals, distorting
measurements. With respect to HRSI and lARSI,
the key issue is available accuracies. For urban land
administration applications, achievable accuracies
are still not considered adequate. In addition, issues
of cloud and vegetation cover inhibit HRSI use in
many cases. Moreover, HRSI and lARSI cannot
replace the need for in-field checks, surveys, and
more importantly, agreement on where boundaries
lie. Consequently, traditional methods cannot be
entirely replaced.

Cost of CORS networks: land administration
systems are expensive to establish and maintain,
meaning that some level of cost to society is
unavoidable. Even with reductions in price due
to technological advancement, equipment costs
for both ground control and boundary surveying
can still be high, particularly when the high
accuracies of traditional cadastral surveying are
sought. Continuously operating GPS nodes are still
relatively expensive to set up in terms of equipment,
maintenance and power supply requirements. They
also require adequately trained staff for ongoing
maintenance, and entail all the costs associated
with such maintenance.

Rural complexities: Another set of challenges
facing the application of GS&T in land administration
concern complications with administering rural land
tenure systems. In large parts of the world, people
seek resources that are seasonal, changeable and
spatially dynamic. This includes people benefited
by social forestry, semi-nomadic grazing rights and
tribal leases on land. land tenure systems in these
instances feature a wide range of rights, leases,
ownerships, transfers and other types of holdings.
Mapping these customary features is far more
complex than conventional cadastral mapping that
can be used in urban environments. A new range
of institutional norms need to be understood and
incorporated into any administrative approach.

This additional complexity requires more flexibility
in geospatial tools if all the features of rural land
administration are to be covered (Dalrymple et al.,
2004; World Bank, 2003).

The need for a new reference datum: GPS also
often requires the adoption of a new reference
datum if implemented on a scale such as in a
national land administration system. This will most
likely differ from the old reference datum within a
country. While technically solvable, it is an issue and
is often used as a blocking mechanism by various
interest groups.

Legal and institutional arrangements: Despite
all this, technology is often not the main issue.
legal and institutional arrangements often play a
far greater role in obstructing innovative low-cost
implementations. Successful projects, especially
in the developing or newly industrialized context,
are generally found in places with strong political
leadership and a sustained focus on building
technical capacity. Developments in Malaysia,
Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, and
more recently Rwanda provide examples (Henssen,
2010). Where impediments do exist, they generally
relate to social or political contexts. Rivalries between
different government land administration agencies
often inhibit implementation. This is particularly the
case when one agency is given the lead in a project.
Two agencies may be unwilling to share data or
cooperate with each other. Creating the collaborative
environment required for integrated recordation is a
major hurdle for development. Other stakeholders
including professionals, the private sector, and
educational sectors, also have vested interests.
New approaches often challenge the status quo,
meaning that incomes and jobs are potentially
at risk. Additionally, new geospatial technologies
frequently require training and equipment costs that
the existing workforce must bear.

Other impediments relate to existing bureaucratic
processes or red tape. For example, application
of HRSI, lARSI and GPS could already be much
wider if not for legislation and institutional norms
prescribing higher accuracies than feasible (Jing
et al., 2011). Drafting new legislation is a lengthy
process, and regardless of goodwill, the tools
cannot be used before the legislation is enacted.


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

4.5 Summary of benefits

Table 4.1: Summary of GS&T-enabled benefits in land administration

GS&T Enabler Direct Benefit Societal Benefit

GNSS ground control networks Faster and cheaper establishment of ca-dastral ground control at jurisdiction level
• Secured land tenures

• Access to credit

• Facilitation of cheaper and faster land

• Reduction of land disputes

• Facilitation of the assessment and
collection of land tax

• Provision of a land inventory to support
land reform

• Land consolidation or land readjustment

• Controls on land transactions

• Support for many other
government activities

• Reduction of information
duplication through its role as an
authoritative base register

GNSS receivers Faster surveying and demarcation at parcel level

LARSI Faster adjudication and surveying, potentially in urban areas

HRSI Faster adjudication and surveying in rural areas

Point cadastres
Lower cost adjudication,
surveying, demarcation, and
recording in urban and slum areas

Crowdsourced geospatial data Lower cost surveying and recordation


Hazards are potentially dangerous phenomena,
substances, human activities or conditions that may
cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts,
property damage, loss of livelihood and services,
social and economic disruption, or environmental
damage. Risk results from the combination of
hazards, conditions of vulnerability, and insufficient
capacity or measures to reduce the potential
negative consequences of risk (O’Keefe et al., 1976).
Disasters can therefore be prevented even where
natural hazards occur. If steps are taken in advance
to limit the damage and loss of life caused by a
hazardous event, a disaster will not have occurred.

Hazardous events have been on the rise in recent
decades (Figure 5.1). In the past decade, the
number of natural disasters increased by a factor of
9 compared with the decade 1950–1959 (EM-DAT,
2011). In terms of monetary losses, earthquakes
have produced the largest amount of losses (35 per
cent of all losses), followed by floods (30 per cent),
windstorms (28 per cent) and others (7 per cent).
Earthquakes are also the main cause of fatalities,
estimated in the order of 1.4 million lives during
the period 1950–2000 (47 per cent), followed by
windstorms (45 per cent), floods (7 per cent), and
others (1 per cent) (MunichRe, 2011; EM-DAT, 2011).
On the positive side, the number of human fatalities
due to natural disasters shows a decreasing trend.
This may be due to better warning systems and
improved disaster management, but the number of
affected people follows the increasing trend of the
number of events (see Figure 5.1).

5. disaster risk manaGement

5.1 The issues

Disasters are headline news almost every day.
They often take the form of sudden events causing
widespread losses and human suffering, such as
earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and floods.
Recent examples are the Indian Ocean tsunami
(2004), the earthquakes in Pakistan (2005),
Indonesia (2006), China (2008), Haiti (2010) and
Japan (2011), and the hurricanes in the Caribbean
(2005) and the USA (2008). Other hazards, such as
the recent drought in the Horn of Africa (2011), soil
erosion, land degradation, desertification, glacial
retreat, sea-level rise, loss of biodiversity etc, have
a slow onset. These processes also cause local,
regional, and global impacts, but do so in the long
run rather than immediately.

The United Nations International Strategy for
Disaster Risk Reduction (UN-ISDR, 2004) defines
disasters as “a serious disruption of the functioning
of a community or a society causing widespread
human, material, economic or environmental losses
which exceed the ability of the affected community
or society to cope using its own resources”. Although
the term “natural disasters” in its strict sense is
not correct (as disasters are a consequence of
the interaction between hazards and vulnerable
societies), the term is used extensively in both
literature and practice. It is also important to
distinguish between the terms “hazard” and “risk”.


1900 1910 1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2009

00 0


















. P







. P




Nr. People killed
Nr. People affected

Nr. Disasters reported






Figure 5.1: Summary of natural disasters, showing the numbers of reported disasters, people killed and people
affected between 1900 and 2009

Source: EM-DAT (2011)

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

About 85 per cent of disaster-related casualties
occur in developing countries, where over 4.7
billion people live. The greater loss of life is due to a
number of reasons, including:

• Construction of buildings and settlements in
hazardous areas due to lack of land use planning
and regulation (urban sprawl);

• Lower awareness and disaster preparedness
(lack of community resilience);

• Lack of political capacity to intervene on the
structural and organizational causes of disasters
(e.g., building codes or their enforcement, raise
awareness on mitigation and prevention);

• Missing or non-effective early warning systems;

• Lack of disaster risk management plans, including
evacuation planning and facilities for search-and-
rescue operations and medical attention.

Although 65 per cent of the overall losses occur in
high-income countries (with gross national income,
or GNI above $12,000 per capita) (World Bank,
2011), and only 3 per cent in low-income countries
(with GNI less than $1000 per capita), the effect
in the latter group is devastating, as such losses
may represent as much as 100 per cent of their
GNI (UN-ISDR, 2009). Economic losses in absolute
terms (billions of dollars) show an increase with
the level of development, as the absolute value of
elements at risk that might be damaged during a

disaster increases with development. In relative
terms, however, the trend is reversed, showing a
decrease in the losses expressed as a percentage
of GDP with an increasing level of development
(MunichRe, 2011). The effects of hazardous events
are therefore felt disproportionately highly in the
developing world.

In the past few decades, the focus has slowly
shifted from disaster recovery and response to risk
management and mitigation, and ways to reduce
the vulnerability of communities by strengthening
their capacity to develop coping strategies (Blaikie
et al., 1994; Birkmann, 2006). The decade 1990–
2000 was declared by the United Nations the
International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction
(IDNDR). As the impact of disasters increased
dramatically during that decade, the international
community decided to continue this effort after 2000
in the form of an International Strategy for Disaster
Reduction (ISDR).

Figure 5.2 shows how disaster risk management
has been portrayed differently over time. The size of
the boxes indicates the importance given to each of
the phases. The size of the circles indicates the time
between two successive disaster events. Initially
(Figure 5.2A), most emphasis was on disaster relief,
recovery and reconstruction, thereby getting into a
cycle where the next disaster was going to cause
the same effects or worse (e.g. Haiti which has
been affected by a series of hurricanes and a major
















Figure 5.2: Disaster management cycle, and its development over time


earthquake, and where most of the focus is on relief).
later on (Figure 5.2B), more attention was given
to disaster preparedness by developing warning
systems and disaster awareness programmes (e.g.
Bangladesh, where emphasis was given to the
development of an early warning system for tropical
cyclones, leading to a large reduction in human
casualties). Currently (Figure 5.2C), efforts are
focusing on disaster prevention and preparedness,
thus enlarging the time between individual disasters
and reducing their effects, requiring less emphasis
on relief, recovery and reconstruction. The aim
of disaster risk management is now to enlarge
this cycle, and only reach the response phase to
extreme events with very low frequency (e.g. Cuba
which has focused on disaster risk management
(see section 5.4 for details).

Disaster risk management (DRM) is defined as
“the systematic process of using administrative
decisions, organization, operational skills and
capacities to implement policies, strategies and
coping capacities of the society and communities
to lessen the impacts of natural hazards and related
environmental and technological disasters”. This

comprises all forms of activities, including structural
and non-structural measures to avoid (prevention)
or to limit (mitigation and preparedness) adverse
effects of hazards (UN-ISDR, 2004).

Geospatial data and technologies are now an
integral part of disaster risk management because
both hazards and vulnerable societies are changing
in space and time. In real-time emergency and
response phases, Earth observation (EO) can be
coupled with meteorological forecasts to monitor
events, evaluate their magnitude and expected
impacts and, most importantly, define near real-
time event scenarios to support decision-makers
in managing resources and organizing emergency
plans. For example, hazards such as cyclones
move and change in location, speed and direction,
which means they need to be tracked using GS&T.
Similarly, the people who need to be evacuated or
the emergency response resources of a society also
move, and this movement needs to be directed in
response to changes in the hazard. GS&T therefore
contributes greatly to the various phases of disaster
risk management, as summarized by Table 5.1.
New methodologies for applying GS&T to DRM

Table 5.1: Main contributions of geospatial science and technology

DRM Phase Activity Main GIScience and Earth Observation contribution


Damage assessment Satellite-based damage assessment, spatial data
infrastructure, automatic classification, high-resolution
images, InSAR, crowdsourcing, mobile GIS applications,
collaborative web-mapping, GIS databases, web-GIS,
telecommunication, planning, GIS analysis

Humanitarian assistance

Resources analysis


Clean-up, restoration of services

High-resolution EO data, collaborative web-mapping, mobile
GIS, Global Positioning Systems Rehabilitation of damaged


Reconstruction planning High-resolution EO data, land administration, GIS analysis,

multi-hazard assessment, map updatingRevitalization of affected sectors


Disaster databases
EO-derived input data, Digital Elevation Models, magnitude-
frequency analysis, linking of advanced modelling tools with
GIS analysis, EO-derived assets data, mobile GIS, Spatial
Multi Criteria Evaluation, probabilistic risk assessment,
participatory GIS, cost-benefit analysis, decision support
systems, environmental impact assessment, risk atlases,

Hazard assessment


Risk assessment

Physical/ structural mitigation works

Land use planning & building codes

Education, training and awareness


Community planning
Participatory GIS, measurement networks, satellite
measurements, change-detection, telecommunication,
spatial data infrastructure, web-GIS, remote sensing

Early warning


Emergency planning


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

can be developed and fully explored (Kaiser et
al., 2003), and are regularly reported in scientific
journals and conferences (e.g. in the proceedings
of the International Symposium on Geo-information
for Disaster Management). Sections 5.2 to 5.4 will
now illustrate some of the key applications of GS&T
in the main phases of disaster management.

The following sections examine the applications of
GS&T to the phases of DRM set out in table 5.1 in
more detail.

5.2 Disaster relief, recovery and reconstruction

GS&T plays a major role in rapid damage
assessment after the occurrence of major disasters.
Automatic and manual classification methods,

based on optical, thermal or microwave satellite
images, have been developed to extract hazard-
related features (e.g. flooded areas, burnt areas,
landslides) or damaged infrastructure from satellite
images. For instance, for flooding, EO satellites can
be used to map inundation phases, including the
duration, the depth of inundation, and the direction
of water flow (Smith, 1997). Information about the
damage of physical assets can be obtained using
medium-resolution optical satellite data (lANDSAT,
SPOT, IRS, ASTER), high-resolution optical data
(QuickBird, IKONOS, WorldView, GeoEye, SPOT-5,
Resourcesat, Cartosat, Formosat and AlOS-PRISM)
and microwave radar satellites (RADARSAT1, 2,
CosmoSkyMED). Satellite-derived information is
one of the key contributions of GS&T to disaster risk

Box 5.1: Crowdsourcing combined with satellite technology: Haiti earthquake

The 2010 Haiti earthquake demonstrated how many organizations are involved in post disaster damage
mapping. The International Charter “Space and Major Disasters”, set up by various space agencies, has
been activated over 350 times (see section 5.2). When the Charter is activated, these agencies generate
initial satellite images on the disaster area. Subsequent data processing and damage mapping are then
done by a number of different organizations, including the DlR Centre for Crisis Information (DlR-ZKI),
UNITAR, and the Service régional de traitement d’image et de télédétection (SERTIT, based at Strasbourg
University, France) among many others. Moreover, commercial players, such as the ExpressMaps service
by SPOT Imaging and Infoterra France, provided reference maps.

In addition to the maps produced by traditional agencies, there were two other prominent approaches to
post-disaster mapping in Haiti. The first approach involved crowdsourcing and the use of Google Map
Maker and Open Street Map to rapidly map Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of volunteers with local knowledge
created a comprehensive basemap of the disaster area within a few days, working on image data but
often also using ground knowledge. This local knowledge was an advantage that the largely European-
based map production of the Charter process lacks.

The second approach was done under the Global Earth Observation-Catastrophe Assessment Network
(GEO-CAN) initiative led by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery
(GFDRR). Over 500 individuals used remote sensing data to map damage visually, using an image-based
collaborative mapping tool called Virtual Disaster Viewer developed by ImageCat. In contrast to the first
approach, this one relied on experts and controlled access to its development.

Such extensive mapping is in principle welcome. In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, up to 10,000
NGOs were estimated to be active, so there was clearly strong demand for data. However, the more than
2,000 damage maps for Haiti suggest considerable duplication and a lack of coordination. It is not clear
which of those maps were actually used and whether they were useful to emergency workers on the

Despite these qualifications, the response to the Haiti earthquake demonstrated that non-professionals
have significant potential to contribute to post-disaster information gathering. The response also showed
that there is a great willingness by volunteers to contribute to such efforts.

Source: Kerle, N. (2011)


An important initiative focused on the provision
of space-based data for disaster response is the
International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’
(Disaster Charter, 2011). The Charter mobilizes
14 space agencies around the world and benefits
from their satellites and expertise through a single
access point that operates 24 hours a day, seven
days a week at no cost to the user. The International
Charter aims to provide a unified system of space
data acquisition and delivery to those affected
by natural or man-made disasters. The satellite
images of affected areas provided by the Charter
are analysed by other bodies and used to inform
disaster responses (see Box 5.1). As of today, the
Charter has responded to over 350 calls acquiring
over 3000 images by around 20 different imaging
satellites, and the number of times it is activated is
growing steadily year after year.

The United Nations Platform for Space-based
Information for Disaster Management and
Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER, 2011) has
been established by the United Nations to ensure
that all countries have access to and develop the
capacity to use space-based information to support
the disaster management cycle. In Europe, the
Global Monitoring for Environment and Security
(GMES) initiative of the European Commission
and the European Space Agency (ESA) actively
supports the use of satellite technology in disaster
management (GMES, 2011). The GMES Initial
Operations Emergency Management Service
– Mapping in Rush Mode, launched in April
2012, is the first service implemented within the
framework of the GMES initial operational phase.
This service is provided on a 24/7 basis, covering
the on-demand and fast provision of geospatial
information supporting worldwide requests coming
from authorities in charge of crisis management in
the aftermath of major events such as earthquakes,
floods, tsunamis, wind storms, industrial accidents
and humanitarian crises.

Systems have also been developed for fast
assessment of damage directly after the occurrence
of major events. For instance, the PAGER (Prompt
Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response)
system, developed by the United States Geological
Survey, is an automated system that rapidly assesses
earthquake impacts by comparing the population
exposed to each level of shaking intensity with
models of economic and fatality losses based on

past earthquakes in each country or region of the
world (PAGER, 2011).

In addition to these top-down institutional initiatives
which are often based on EO, several bottom-
up crowdsourcing initiatives are emerging for
collaborative mapping in emergency situations
or for the collection and updating of topographic
information. Some examples of platforms for
disaster response are Ushahidi (2011), Sahana
(2011) and Virtual Disaster Viewer (2011). The
Virtual Disaster Viewer is a tool for collaborative
disaster impact and damage assessment, and has
proven its effectiveness after the Haiti earthquake
in 2010. Hundreds of earthquake and EO experts
were assigned specific areas (tiles) of the affected
regions to review and to assess. They compared
“before” and “after” high-resolution satellite images
which became available on many platforms
immediately after the disaster and engaged in
collaborative mapping of the damage. Such
collaborative mapping applications might become
a very important tool in the future.

The use of geospatial information in damage
assessment is an extensive topic which has
only been explored briefly above. More detailed
overviews on this topic can be found in CEOS (2003),
IGOS (2007) and Joyce et al., (2009). Examples of
initiatives that focus on spatial data infrastructures
for disaster relief are Reliefweb (2011), Alernet
(2011), HEWSweb (2010), and GDACS (2011).

The geospatial technologies and data collection
methods described in this section help provide
essential information rapidly to aid responses to
disasters. This information can be disseminated to
and used by a wide range of organizations on the
ground to improve their effectiveness in delivering
assistance to those in need.

5.3 Disaster prevention – hazard and risk

GS&T contributes significantly to disaster
management through supporting hazard and
risk assessments. These assessments require a
multitude of data from different sources, including
many types of geospatial data depending on the
type of hazard and the area covered.

Hazard assessment using GIS can be carried
out at different geographical scales, depending


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

InSAR can be used for detecting changes in
topographic heights, due to various hazardous
processes, such as land subsidence, slow-moving
landslides, tectonic movement, ice movement and
volcanic activity (Ferretti et al., 2001; Farina et al.,
2008). For detailed measurement of tectonic plate
movement, Differential Global Positioning Systems
at fixed points are used extensively, e.g. for
mapping strain rates and tectonic plate movements
(Vigni et al., 2005), volcanic movements (Bonforte
and Puglisi (2003), and landslides (Gili et al., 2000).

Hazard assessments are often conducted on a
global scale with multiple actors from across the
world working together. One example of such global
collaboration is the GEO Geohazard Supersites
and Natural laboratories collaboration, which is
described in box 5.2.

In many instances, accurately assessing hazards
requires complex mathematical models that
consider multiple factors. For example, mapping
of forest fires with GS&T is done by mapping the
fires themselves using thermal sensors, or through
the mapping of burnt areas. But to accurately
predict how fires will spread and produce effective
early warnings, many other inputs are needed. For
instance, vegetation conditions play a critical role:
the expected rate of spread and energy released
depend to a large extent on hourly variations in fuel
moisture conditions. In this case, vegetation indices
for qualitatively and quantitatively evaluating
vegetative covers using spectral measurements

on the objectives of the study, the availability of
geospatial data and the size of the study area (Van
Westen, 2012). These scales range from global to
a community level. For hazardous events, such as
windstorms, drought, earthquakes, and tsunamis,
which affect large areas, hazard assessments
must use a global or international mapping scale.
For example, the Global Seismic Hazard Mapping
Project (GSHAP, 1999) produced regional seismic
hazard maps for most parts of the world, and
is now followed up by the Global Earthquake
Model (2011). Digital Elevation Models (DEMs)
measure differences in elevation of the earth. This
is important for several hazard models, because
small changes in elevation can have a big impact
on whether a certain area will be effected or not.
Models for assessing floods are one example of this.
The main sources for global DEMs used in hazard
and risk analysis are Shuttle Radar Topographic
Mission and ASTER-derived DEMs. In the near
future, the TanDEM-X satellite mission will provide a
global DEM for the entire Earth, with relative height
accuracy of 2m, and a spatial resolution of 12m
(Zink et al., 2008). This higher-resolution DEM will
allow a much better analysis of the areas that are
potentially at risk. Other GS&T applications (such as
sonar measurements and high spectral and spatial
resolution satellite images coupled with a non-linear
machine learning technique) can be used to obtain
detailed tsunami hazard maps.

Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR) is
another powerful GS&T tool for assessing hazards.

Box 5.2: Global cooperation in hazard assessment

The GEO Geohazard Supersites and Natural laboratories (SNl) is a membership-based consortium
of universities, research institutions, national agencies responsible for geohazard observations, and
space agencies. The aim is to systematically acquire, and provide access to, remote sensing and in situ
geophysical data for areas exposed to geological threats (“Supersites”). SNl provide a platform allowing
fast, easy and free access to complete geospatial datasets from multiple sources and disciplines. This
interdisciplinary approach has the potential to reduce the uncertainty of future disastrous events and
provide essential information to policymakers in endangered areas.

There are four earthquake Supersites (Tokyo, Vancouver-Seattle, los Angeles and Istanbul) and three
volcano Supersites (Vesuvius/Campi Phlegreii, Mount Etna and Hawaii). In addition, there are event
Supersites for earthquake and volcanic disasters. The Geohazard Supersites can provide critical scientific
information about the nature of the geologic events to civil defence authorities. The initial objectives of
the Geohazard Supersites are to establish a free multi-satellite online data repository for the selected
Supersites and to dramatically enhance the scientific community’s access to remote sensing and in situ
data. The long-term objective is to develop an international, sustainable and integrated approach to
geohazards, optimally utilizing the remote sensing and in situ resources of GEO members.


such geospatial risk assessment tools have been
developed by specialized companies, but these are
proprietary and are mainly used in the insurance
sector. The best publicly available software tool for
estimating potential losses from hazards is HAZUS
(which stands for ‘Hazards U.S.’). HAZUS was
developed by the United States Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA). It is a nationally
applicable standardized methodology that contains
models for estimating potential losses from
earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes. HAZUS uses
GIS technology to estimate physical, economic,
and social impacts of disasters (FEMA, 2004).
Although the HAZUS methodology has been very
well documented, the tool was primarily developed
for the USA, and all data formats, building types,
fragility curves and empirical relationships cannot be
exported easily to other countries. Notwithstanding,
several other countries have been able to adapt
the HAZUS methodology to their own situation, e.g.
in Bangladesh (Sarkar et al., 2010). The HAZUS
methodology has also been provided a basis for the
development of several other open source software
tools for potential losses from hazards.

Another prominent risk assessment tool is the
regional CAPRA initiative developed in Central
America in collaboration with the World Bank. This
tool is an excellent example of the regional level of
GS&T application, and is described in box 5.3.

can be assimilated within models to better estimate
phenological stage and, in turn, moisture content
and biomass of fuels. These parameters can be
used to feed fire behaviour models coupled with
meteorological forecasts to produce medium-range
fire weather prediction.

Another example of a complex geospatial hazard
assessment model is the MARSOP-3 project
on crop yield forecasting. This includes the
management of a meteorological database, an
agrometeorological model and database, low-
resolution satellite information, statistical analyses
of data and crop yield forecasting. It also publishes
bulletins containing analysis, forecasts and thematic
maps on crop yield expectations using a Web-GIS
application (Reidsma et al., 2009). The application
of such types of crop forecasting systems allow
national governments, NGOs and international
organizations (e.g. FAO, WFP, WHO, UNOCHA) to
better plan their response actions for hazardous

The geospatial tools described above all allow
scientists and policymakers to better understand
and predict natural hazards. However, assessing
hazards is only one part of the issue, in order
to understand the risks posed by each hazard,
another set of tools are needed to help assess how
these hazards will interact with societies. Many


Box 5.3: CAPRA – regional disaster risk in Central America

The Central American Probabilistic Risk Assessment Initiative (CAPRA) aims at increasing understanding
of disaster risk in the Central American countries. It does this by developing a system which utilizes state-
of the-art technology in Web-GIS and disaster models. These are used to generate an open platform
for disaster risk assessment, which allows users from the Central American countries to analyse the risk
in their areas and be able to take informed decisions on disaster risk reduction. CAPRA is an initiative
by the World Bank, together with the Central American Coordination Centre for Disaster Prevention
(CEPREDENAC), in partnership with Central American governments. The initiative is supported by the
United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Secretariat (UNISDR), the Inter-American
Development Bank (IDB), and the World Bank.

CAPRA aims to develop probabilistic risk analysis techniques to quantify the future impact of hazards
in monetary and population losses. The methodology focuses extensively on the development of
probabilistic hazard assessment modules for earthquakes, hurricanes, extreme rainfall, and volcanic
hazards, and the hazards triggered by them, such as flooding, windstorms, landslides and tsunamis.
The methodology also includes a component for the generation of exposure databases, working at three
levels, from using proxies and indicators at the national level up to a detailed inventory of assets using
Google Earth software applications. The vulnerability module allows creating and managing vulnerability
curves for physical vulnerability assessment. Actual risk assessment is carried out using a tool called
CAPRA-GIS, which combines the hazard data exposure data and vulnerability curves.

Source: www.ecapra.org

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

The geospatial technologies and data collection
methods described in this section allow scientists
to better model the areas that might be affected
by hazards and their intensities, at different scales
of analysis. The methods also allow for better
estimation of the possible losses of these events,
which are the basis for policymakers to design risk
reduction strategies.

5.4 Disaster preparedness

GS&T plays a major role in disaster preparedness
by monitoring and forecasting hazardous events.
This can be done in different ways. The most
straightforward is by directly measuring the
phenomena, using networks of stations, e.g.
earthquake strong-motion data, flood-discharge
stations, meteorological stations, coastal tide gauge
stations, or wave measurement buoys. Seismic
networks have been formed globally (e.g. GSN,
2011), and a tsunami warning system has been
developed for many parts of the world after the
tragedy of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Several
GS&T-based early warning and monitoring systems
are operational. The most relevant ones monitor
tropical storms and cyclones, volcanic eruptions,
gas emissions and ash clouds, forest fires, and

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) can be achieved
if science is successful in providing society with
clear and detailed information on the potential risk
it is facing. Objective and reliable information on
hazards, vulnerability and exposure, presented
through an analysis of expected impacts for given
scenarios, can trigger and sustain the political will
and economic commitment needed to achieve
adaptation and mitigation. Within this framework,
GS&T has the powerful capacity to represent and
describe complex dynamics and processes by
means of detailed, objective and up-to-date risk
assessment maps. Additionally, GS&T has an
important role to play in supporting the scientific
community through the development of large-area
vulnerability modelling and mapping.

The hazard and risk assessment tools described
above and in section 5.3 can help science to
provide clear, critical information about hazards and
risks earlier and more simply than was previously
possible. Policymakers can then use this information
to prepare for the hazardous event and reduce its

impact. If such preparations are sufficiently effective,
a potential disaster resulting from a natural hazard
can be prevented altogether. However, in order
to effectively prepare for potential disasters, two
key steps are required. First, the information must
reach policymakers; second, policymakers must be
able to use the information to respond quickly and

In fact, the economic and societal impacts of
disasters are weakly related to society’s capacity to
respond to extreme events after they occur. Instead,
they depend to a large extent on the vulnerability
of the infrastructure and the preparedness of the
society. Within this framework, GS&T and GIS can
make a difference, since the use of satellite imagery,
combined with all the available in situ data, makes
it possible to dramatically improve the management
of risk in all phases: before, during and after a
disaster. This vision was captured in the GEOSS
10-Year Implementation Plan, which clearly defines
its role in advancing the Societal Benefit Area of
Disasters: “GEOSS implementation will bring a more
timely dissemination of information through better
coordinated systems for monitoring, predicting,
risk assessment, early warning, mitigating, and
responding to hazards at local, national, regional,
and global levels” (GEOSS, 2005).

In support of this aim, GEONETCast has been
developed as a global network of satellite-based
data dissemination systems providing a wide and
growing range of environmental data and products
to a worldwide user community (Mannaerts et al.,
2009). Also, as discussed in section 5.2, UN-SPIDER
works to give all countries access to space-based
information to support the full disaster management
cycle. This includes early warnings and risk and
hazard assessment as well as post-disaster damage
assessments. Another system for disseminating
this information is the Sentinel Asia programme, an
initiative for sharing disaster information in the Asia–
Pacific region on the Digital Asia platform by making
the best use of Earth observation data for disaster
management in the Asia–Pacific region (Sentinel
Asia, 2011).

Once policymakers have the information they
require, they can attempt to manage the risks they
face. Risk management cannot take place without
proper risk governance. Risk governance has been
promoted in the ISDR, Hyogo Framework for Action
(see box 5.4) to: “Promote and improve dialogue


As discussed in section 5.2, PGIS can play a
significant role in disaster relief but it can also
have an impact in disaster preparedness and
prevention. The concept of community-based
disaster risk management (CBDRM) has emerged
during the past two decades in many countries.
The promoters have included NGOs, citizen’s
organizations, humanitarian agencies and
government departments in different countries in the
region. Despite this rapid expansion in application,
the great majority of CBDRM practitioners
lack opportunities for skills development and
capacity-building. One of the main organizations
involved in capacity-building is the Asian Disaster
Preparedness Centre (ADPC), which actively works
towards the realization of disaster reduction for
safer communities and sustainable development in
Asia and the Pacific. It has organized many training
courses and implemented local programmes on
good governance and disaster risk management
systems development (Abarquez and Murshed,
2004).21 As in other areas, PGIS and crowdsourcing
may have a growing impact on the use of GS&T in
disaster preparedness.

The geospatial technologies and data collection
methods described in this section allow stakeholders
involved in early warning and disaster preparedness
(such as civil defence organizations, NGOs,

and cooperation among scientific communities and
practitioners working on disaster risk reduction,
and encourage partnerships among stakeholders,
including those working on the socioeconomic
dimensions of disaster risk reduction” (UNISDR,
2005). Governance depends on political commitment
and strong institutions. Good governance is identified
in the ISDR framework for disaster risk reduction as
a key area for the success of effective and sustained
disaster risk reduction (IRGC, 2005).

One of the important processes in risk governance
is risk communication, the interactive exchange
of information about risks among risk assessors,
managers, news media, interested groups and the
general public. An important component of this is
risk visualization. Since risk is a spatially varying
phenomenon, GIS technology is now the standard
approach for the production and presentation of risk

An example of effective risk governance in practice
from Cuba is given in box 5.5. In this example,
it is important to note that the hazard and risk
assessments provided by GS&T are just enablers.
What actually prevents disaster is effective risk
governance. Consequently, without effective risk
governance in place, the use of GS&T gives little
direct benefit on its own in the field of disaster risk


Box 5.4: The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA)

Following the risk governance guidelines of the HFA 2005–2015, a 10-year plan was made to make the
world safer from natural hazards. It was adopted by 168 Member States of the United Nations in 2005
at the World Disaster Reduction Conference, which took place just a few weeks after the Indian Ocean
tsunami. The HFA is the first plan to explain, describe and detail the work that is required from all different
sectors and actors to reduce disaster losses. It was developed and agreed on with the many partners
needed to reduce disaster risk–governments, international agencies, disaster experts and many others–
bringing them into a common system of coordination. The HFA outlines five priorities for action, and offers
guiding principles and practical means for achieving disaster resilience:

1. Ensure that disaster risk reduction is a national and a local priority with a strong institutional basis
for implementation;

2. Identify, assess and monitor disaster risks and enhance early warning;

3. Use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels;

4. Reduce the underlying risk factors;

5. Strengthen disaster preparedness for effective response at all levels.

The HFA goal is to substantially reduce disaster losses by 2015 by building the resilience of nations and
communities to disasters. This means reducing loss of lives and social, economic, and environmental
assets when hazards strike.

Source: http://www.unisdr.org/we/coordinate/hfa

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

national and local governments, and international
organizations) to better predict the time, place and
intensity of disaster events. This enables them to
ensure that the population is better prepared, so
that the consequences of the imminent disaster can
be reduced.

5.5 Challenges

GS&T can contribute significantly to understanding,
modeling and monitoring natural hazard processes,
at various scales and using a range of techniques.
GS&T findings and tools have been used successfully
in analysing the risk to vulnerable societies, and the
results have been communicated to stakeholders
who have often used them in appropriate disaster
risk reduction strategies. However, with both
extreme events and the numbers of vulnerable
people on the rise, several challenges will need
to be overcome to better estimate future hazards
and risks. As with chapters 3 and 4, challenges
particular to the application of GS&T to DRM are
discussed below, while general challenges will be
covered in chapter 6.

Aligning the scientific community with disaster
stakeholders: Scientific advances in hazard and

risk assessment and demands of stakeholders/
end users are still not well aligned. In many cases,
scientific findings do not leave the confines of the
scientific community (IRGC, 2005). One cause of
the gap between the science and stakeholders/
end users is the complexity of human–environment
interactions. This has led to the development of a
diversity of approaches, often difficult to implement
by the end user community.

Taking a multidisciplinary approach to the
impacts of natural hazards: Impacts of natural
hazards on the environment and on the society are
still tackled using monodisciplinary approaches.
Monodisciplinarity is evident in scientific research
(single approach and tools for each type of
hazard). Management tools, models, and local-to-
regional technical solutions have been proposed by
numerous projects for single hazards. Only a few
of them have tackled the issue of risk assessment
and management, however, from a multi-hazard
perspective. The integration of geoinformation
systems and local community knowledge relevant
to hazards, vulnerability and risk modelling is
still in an initial stage (Maskrey, 1998; Ferrier and
Haque (2003); Zerger and Smith, 2003). Systematic
collection of data from significant events using

Box 5.5: Cuba as an example of best practices in disaster risk reduction

Between 1998 and 2008, Cuba was struck by more than 20 tropical storms, of which 14 became hurricanes
and seven were of great intensity. During this time period, a total of 11 million people were evacuated.
Disaster risk reduction is a priority for the Cuban government, as can be seen in its vast legal framework
and structural and educational actions that positively impact social, economic and safety indicators of
the population. After assessing risk in a municipality, the Government establishes an order of priorities to
reduce identified vulnerabilities. This implies planning the necessary material and financial resources for
the gradual reduction of risk, until it reaches a level considered acceptable for all. To facilitate this work
at the local governmental level, the Cuban Civil Defence created the Risk Reduction Management Centre
strategy and prioritized its implementation for the most vulnerable municipalities.

The Cuban model of Risk Reduction Management Centres, which have been supported by UNDP Cuba through
diverse initiatives, establishes the possibility of mitigating disaster impacts through an informed, coordinated,
multidisciplinary and decentralized approach which focuses on identifying hazards and acting pre-emptively
to reduce risks. This approach has contributed to the excellent track record in Cuba of protecting human life
and livelihoods through preparedness and institutional capacity-building at a local level.

In order to establish the basis for the national disaster management activities, the Cuban Civil Defence,
together with national expert organizations, carried out a comprehensive multi-hazard risk assessment,
taking into account all types of hazards that may affect the country. For this project, GS&T has been
essential in determining the historical databases of hazard events, generating maps of factors that control
the hazards, modelling the potential areas affected and the intensities expected, mapping the exposure
of buildings, population and other elements at risk, and eventually in determining risk scenarios.

Source: http://www.preventionweb.net/english/professional/publications/v.php?id=14963


public participation can provide a very useful
component for the development of data sets to be
used as input for risk studies at community level,
and as a basis for risk management and community

One programme which could help address both
of these challenges is the Integrated Research on
Disaster Risk (IRDR).22 IRDR is a decade-long,

interdisciplinary research programme sponsored
by ICSU in partnership with the International Social
Science Council (ISSC), and UNISDR. The IRDR
Science Plan envisages an integrated approach to
disaster risk management through a combination
of natural and social sciences. It could help build
a bridge between the scientific community and
policymakers in this area as well as encouraging
more multidisciplinary research.


5.6 Summary of benefits

Table 5.2: Summary of GS&T-enabled benefits in disaster risk management

GS&T Enabler Direct Benefit Societal Benefit


Rapid damage assessment, where many people
(experts in many locations, and people in the
affected areas) can rapidly collect a lot of infor-

Faster and more accurate assessment of
damage of disasters allows for more effective
disaster response, leading to less loss of lives.


Improved use of and access to observations
and information related to disasters and risk
and hazard assessments.

Better informed policies, decisions and
actions associated with disaster preparedness
and mitigation. More effective access to
observations and related information to
facilitate disaster warning, response and


Dissemination of space-based information for
disaster responses.

Coordination of the multitude of organization
involved in DRR results in better and faster
disaster response, leading to less loss of lives.

CAPRA, HAZUS and other hazard
risk assessment tools

Hazard risk assessments indicate where hazard
may occur, how frequent, and how much dam-
age is expected.

Estimation of possible losses due to disasters,
allow the society to adopt measures to reduce
their effects in terms of loss of lives and eco-
nomic damage.

Various early warning systems

Early warning of impending hazard events. Early warning gives the society the time to
prepare response operations, evacuate peo-
ple, and stop activities that would cause more

21. http://www.adpc.net/pdr-sea/publications/12Handbk.pdf
22. See http://www.irdrinternational.org

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

level in terms of developing common standards,
there is no way of ensuring that these are always
followed. It is also difficult to apply these standards
retroactively to existing databases and systems.

6.2 national strategy and vision

Chapter 2 introduced the concept of a national
geospatial strategy or SDI. At the national level, there
are many challenges to implementing an SDI and
developing a clear strategy and vision for the use of
GS&T. This study has provided examples of some of
the ways that GS&T can support development, and
there are many other potential applications of GS&T
which have not been covered. Selecting which of
these areas to focus finite resources on is therefore
the first challenge at the national strategy level.
Further, in each area there may be several different
available technological tools ranging from free and
open source software programmes to expensive
proprietary ones. Policymakers will need to decide
not only what opportunities to pursue but what
tools to pursue them with, based on a cost-benefit
analysis of alternative options. This will require a level
of knowledge of the different available tools, which
may be lacking, as well as a detailed understanding
of the country’s needs.

Second, national strategies must take account of
a number of different stakeholders. Stakeholders
will need to be identified and engaged with, but
new technologies mean that the set of people
who use and are affected by GS&T is rapidly
expanding. Providers and users of GS&T may now
include government ministries, local and regional
governments, NGOs, geospatial scientists and
researchers, foreign governments, the United
Nations and other international bodies, local
communities and increasingly individual citizens
themselves (see section 6.4). In developing
countries, many programmes may be funded
directly by donors who will also be key stakeholders.
All the groups listed above will have diverse and
sometimes contradictory priorities and objectives,
yet they are all important for a well-functioning SDI.

A further stakeholder challenge is that user and use
follow-up and feedback are essential for improving
geospatial models and software products. This
requires continued engagement with end users to
get their constructive feedback. In other words, it will
be necessary to establish a community where all the

6. challenGes to UtiliZinG Gs&t

Chapters 3 to 5 have demonstrated some of the
powerful ways that GS&T can aid development in
the areas of sustainable urban development, land
administration, and disaster risk management.
However, it will not be easy for the benefits described
above or in any areas to be realized. The previous
chapters addressed some specific challenges in
each area, but several general challenges must also
be overcome before GS&T can deliver its potential
development benefits.

This chapter considers the wide variety of challenges
to implementing GS&T under seven headings:
global strategy and vision; national strategy and
vision; infrastructure and data; participatory GIS
and crowdsourcing; cost and cost-efficient access
to GS&T systems; capacity-building of human
resources; and research.

Chapter 7 then discusses proposed recommenda-
tions of how to overcome these challenges.

6.1 Global strategy and vision

As discussed in chapter 2, the cross-border nature
of Earth processes and GS&T systems mean that
countries must work together to approach the
provision of geospatial data globally. In developing
such a global strategy, there are two key challenges
that must be overcome.

First, there is a challenge of coordination. There is
significant redundancy in EO systems resulting from
a lack of coordination where different organizations
observe and monitor the same processes.
Conversely, there are areas of the globe and some
thematic topics of interest where data is lacking or
non-existent (GEO, 2005). The goal of using one
observation to serve a number of different users
is often not realized, and this duplication prevents
resources from being used as efficiently as they
could be.

linked to the challenge of coordination is one
of interoperability and data sharing. To eliminate
duplication of observations, different organizations
will need to share information with each other (GEO,
2005). There are technical challenges to this, such
as incompatible data structures and policies, as well
as cultural and institutional challenges, with some
organizations reluctant to share their data or make it
public. While progress has been made at the global


6.3 Infrastructure and data

Implementing the SDI will require good-quality data
to be collected, analysed and disseminated as well
as the necessary physical structure to support this.
However, studies have identified several challenges
in both these areas, which while largely overcome
in developed countries are still a significant factor in
the developing world (Craig et al., 2002).

In terms of infrastructure, problems include the
security of buildings where equipment is stored,
reliability of the power supply, speed and availability
of internet connections and various problems
with hardware (Stuart et al., 2009). Any of these
problems can significantly reduce the viability of an
SDI, as they limit the ability to store, analyse and
disseminate data.

Once these challenges are overcome, data of
sufficient quality needs to be collected to be fed
into the infrastructure. However, a recent study by
GEO identified several common problems with data
that can undermine their usefulness (GEONetCab,

• The information cannot be found, cannot be
accessed or is otherwise not available;

• The information is accessible, but not usable or
reliable for forecasting or scenario development
on different subjects;

• Appropriate models and product generation
cannot be identified;

• The information cannot be processed in a way that
supports the decision-making process;

• The information is shareable, but not timely
delivered or up to date: inadequate quality of
the information to support the decision-making

Which of these problems apply will be determined
by the type of data sought and the collection and
analysis methods available. What is clear is that the
technology itself is of no use without the necessary
data, and that often it may be challenging to collect
data to the required standards.

6.4 Participatory GIS and crowdsourcing

As previous chapters have highlighted, participatory
GIS and crowdsourcing have vast potential to
improve the timeliness, cost-effectiveness and

key stakeholders are able to exchange ideas and
stay in regular contact. This will take time and effort,
and require a critical mass of stakeholders to be
engaged. Therefore, identifying and engaging with
these various stakeholders will prove a significant
challenge for governments as they attempt to
develop a clear strategy for GS&T.

Third, there are also institutional challenges that
will need to be overcome at national level. Given
that GS&T will have application across several
government ministries, it is not clear who should
have overall responsibility for it. In many countries,
ministries may not have previous experience of
working together and a cultural change may be
required. Governments will need to find a way to
allow all ministries to access data and have input into
the GS&T strategy. Any changes to the institutional
and policy framework will need to overcome inertia
and other constraints and develop new business
models to enable public and private customers to
adopt GS&T solutions. They will also need to be
locally driven, making use of local dynamics and
organizational structures.

Fourth, there may also be legislation required to
free data for sharing. Typical legal issues that may
impact the application of GS&T include intellectual
property rights governing access to and use of
geospatial data (such as copyright and patenting
of software and algorithms), privacy and data
protection law, and liability law. The example from
chapter 4 of privacy laws preventing the use of HRSI
for adjudication and surveying of land in certain
countries illustrates this point. Existing legislation
may unintentionally create obstacles to the use of
geospatial technologies created after the legislation
was written. Countries implementing an SDI should
therefore consider whether any existing legislation
requires updating to take into account the GS&T
applications they intend to implement. However,
any strategy that requires the implementation of
legal changes increases complexity and risk, as
delays or disagreements in the legislative process
can impact timelines.23

Finally, there is the need to keep abreast of global
and regional developments to ensure that the SDI
being developed will be compatible with other
countries and allow for interoperability. Given that
global coordination of GS&T is in its infancy and still
evolving, this may not be straightforward.


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

accuracy of data collected for use in GS&T as
well as empowering local communities. However,
several challenges present themselves to any
government or other organization attempting to
harness the power of crowdsourcing.

First, there is the challenge of verifying the
accuracy and authenticity of data supplied by
the crowd. Many crowdsourcing platforms such
as Open Street Map have their own verification
process built in, and independent studies have
verified the quality of their data in certain areas
(Haklay, M., 2010). However, other areas, such as
needs requests during a disaster or crowdsourced
land registration data, can be more problematic.
In such instances, the people submitting the
data may have vested interests that will raise
questions about the data they provided. If you rely
on crowdsourcing to inform you of the needs in a
disaster zone, you risk only responding to people
with smart phones. If you rely on crowdsourcing for
land registration, you risk giving legal rights to land
to whoever claims it first.

The other side of this argument is that if policymakers
and geospatial scientists treat all data from the
crowd as suspicious until verified, then many of
the benefits of crowdsourcing will be negated.
Crowdsourcing is quicker and cheaper than
existing methods, but if the users of crowdsourced
data seek to verify all such data before using
then, then these advantages disappear. Striking
a balance between these two opposing views
is therefore a key challenge to effectively using
crowdsourced data.

A second set of challenges with crowdsourcing
relate to the diffuse and diverse nature of the crowd.
First, it may be difficult to ensure that only relevant
and useful data are submitted by the crowd.
Consumers of data such as emergency response
coordinators on the ground face the challenge of
communicating to the diffuse crowd exactly what
information they need. There is therefore a risk that
volunteers in the crowd will spend a significant
amount of time and effort producing data that are
subsequently of little use. Another consequence of
the crowd’s diverse nature is that some members
may lack the technical skills required for certain
tasks. How to engage with and upskill the crowd
is a significant challenge for the GS&T community
and policymakers seeking to collaborate with the

A third key challenge is how to best mobilize the
crowd. While high-profile disasters such as the
Haiti earthquake attract an instant response from
significant numbers of people eager to help, it
is more difficult to mobilize the crowd for lower-
profile disasters or for proactive work. How to turn
the crowd into more of a community that can be
engaged with and coordinated in a structured way
is a significant challenge, but can open up a whole
new world of citizen involvement.

6.5 Cost and cost-efficient access to
geospatial data

Geospatial technologies all have costs
associated with them to varying degrees. While
there are a variety of open source software
packages available, often the best products
in particular areas are proprietary and come
with software licence costs. Using open source
software also requires highly knowledgeable
software developers, who may well be lacking
in certain countries. Also, in many instances the
effective adoption and use of GS&T requires the
development of applications that are tailored to
the specific needs of the organization. This means
that software development or customization may
be required, which will have associated costs.

In addition to software costs, GS&T relies on
infrastructure and hardware, as discussed in
section 6.3. Many technologies require easy and
fast Internet access to be used effectively. This is
particularly the case for crowdsourcing-enabled
processes, which rely on the public to submit
information using Web 2.0 technologies. For
locations without fast and easy Internet access,
achieving some of the potential benefits of GS&T
will not be possible without significant investment
in Internet infrastructure. Infrastructure investment
will also be needed to ensure that sufficient data
storage and processing power is available at the
level of the end user.

In many developing countries, priority for
limited resources is often given to supposedly
more pressing development activities instead
of GS&T. This frequently happens without a
clear understanding of how dependent most
development activities are on the availability
of timely, accurate and reliable geoinformation
resources. Consequently, the high costs involved


act as a major barrier to using GS&T for enabling

6.6 Capacity-building of human resources

Another challenge concerns the ability of
governments, NGOs, private sector and other
stakeholders to develop the skills to effectively
use and maintain geospatial technologies.
Insufficient capacity-building resources to
provide a sustainable human resource base
have been identified as a significant bottleneck
to implementing GS&T (GeoNetCab 2011). A
survey of GIS professionals in Africa identified
limited human resource capacity, particularly
a lack of trained staff, as the factor reported to
be the most significant in limiting the wider use
of GS&T (Stuart et al., 2009). There is a regular
need for professionals in geoinformation, both
in the technical disciplines24 and in applied
disciplines.25 This need ranges from the
vocational/technologist level to the Masters/PhD

While human resource challenges vary from
region to region, and while all regions have at
least some GS&T capacity, there are generally
not enough experts in GS&T to meet potential
demand. The low rate of the introduction and
incorporation of GS&T courses into the regular
curricula of higher learning institutions and
universities will exacerbate this problem. Also, as
the technologies and science involved develop
at a fast pace, there is a continuous need for
refresher training to ensure that experts’ skills do
not become outdated.

There is also currently a lack of performance
indicators or standards for accreditation and
certification procedures for education in the
field of EO (and for the use of GS&T in general).
This means that there is no global standard for
the quality of courses available. Employers are
unclear of the relative value of certification from
different institutions, and prospective students
are similarly uninformed.

In developing countries, there are further
challenges to capacity-building. Many
programmes and research projects are short-term
and fail to leave any legacy behind when they are
completed. GIS systems are often built deployed
by non-local human resources. Where projects

do have strong capacity-building aspects,
there remains the risk that local staff trained in
geospatial sciences by the project will leave as
soon as it finishes. Trained local professionals
often leave to join the private sector within their
own countries or to move to a new job outside
their country. This can hinder efforts to build a
critical mass of experts within a specific country.

Human resource capacity-building challenges
are not limited to training a sufficient number
of experts. There is also an issue with general
awareness of GS&T. Many managers and
policymakers in areas that could benefit
significantly from the use of GS&T do not
understand what GS&T can contribute and
what conditions would be required to enable
its adoption. Therefore, because of a lack of
understanding among potential customers of
GS&T it is not utilized as often or as effectively as it
could be. Finding a way to educate policymakers
and potential customers of geospatial data and
analysis about GS&T is an equally important and
challenging area of capacity-building.

6.7 Research

Significant research is still needed in a number
of areas to understand more fully the interactions
between GS&T and citizens and those between
GS&T and policymakers. Current gaps in
research also include collaborative research for
and in developing countries, capacity-building,
the crowdsourcing phenomenon, and research
on how to develop prototypes of geospatial
operational models and software products.

Geospatial scientists conducting research in
these areas will face two distinct challenges. The
first is to ensure that their research is multidisci-
plinary and includes insights from the social sci-
ences and economics as well as from geography,
engineering and the physical sciences. Such a
multidisciplinary approach will be essential to
understand not just how GS&T can be improved
technically but also how its application and use
can be improved as well. This understanding will
enable the benefits of GS&T to be more easily
and more fully realized.

linked to this challenge and some of those
described in section 6.6, future research and
discussions within the GS&T community need to


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

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applications of GS&T to decision-makers, the
take-up of its findings will be limited.

find a way to better communicate with decision-
makers. Until the GS&T community is able to
clearly and simply explain the benefits and

23. SDI Cookbook, chapter 8, legal and Economic Policy, available at http://www.gsdidocs.org/GSDIWiki/

index.php/Chapter_8 (accessed on 2 May 2012)
24. Such as cartography, surveying, visualization, geospatial database management, geospatial data

handling and geo-statistics.
25. Such as water and natural resources management, agriculture, urban planning, earth sciences, mete-

orology, oceanography and land administration.


7. recommendations and

In order to address the challenges set out in
Chapter 6 and to realize the benefits identified
earlier in this report, this chapter makes a number of
recommendations under the same headings used
in chapter 6.

7.1 Global strategy and vision

To address the challenge of global coordination,
governments and governing bodies of international
and regional organizations should consider joining
the Group on Earth Observations (GEO). They
could also facilitate participation of their experts in
implementing the GEOSS Implementation plan, in
terms of achieving strategic targets in architecture,
data management, capacity-building, science and
technology, and user engagement. By participating
actively in GEO, governments would collectively
address current shortcomings in the following ways:

• Improve coordination of strategies and systems for
GS&T and identification of measures to minimize
data gaps, with a view to moving towards a
comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained
GS&T system of systems;

• Coordinate the effort to involve and assist
developing countries in improving and sustaining
their contributions to observing systems, as well
as their access to and effective utilization of
observations, data and products, and the related
technologies by addressing capacity-building
needs related to GS&T systems; and

• Exchange observations recorded from in situ,
aircraft, and satellite networks in a full and
open manner with minimum time delay and
minimum cost, recognizing relevant international
instruments and national policies and legislation

Institutional interoperability and fostering a culture of
data sharing can also be facilitated by membership
of GEO and participation in implementing GEOSS. To
address the challenges of technical interoperability,
governments and other organizations working with
geospatial data should follow the SDI implementation
guide from the GSDI,26 which is a frequently
updated, living document available publicly online.
This contains guidance on the most recent ISO
common standards for metadata, on how to build
geospatial data for multiple uses, what metadata

to use, how to make geospatial data discoverable,
and how to facilitate open access to data.

Another global forum working towards
interoperability of data is the Committee on Data
for Science and Technology (CODATA). CODATA
is an interdisciplinary Scientific Committee of the
International Council for Science (ICSU) that works
to improve the quality, reliability, management and
accessibility of data of importance to all fields
of science and technology. It has a specific task
group working on Earth and space science data
interoperability, which has been running since
2008.27 Also, as discussed in chapter 2, the GGIM
initiative is another forum where technical and
institutional interoperability can be promoted.

These global forums and institutions all bring
together practitioners from around the world in an
effort to align their data. If everyone uses the same
data standards, then technical interoperability will
become much easier, allowing for more exchange
and sharing of data.

7.2 national strategy and vision

To decide which areas of GS&T to prioritize,
governments should match the geospatial
technologies to the goals of their national institutions,
and their society. A long-term view is needed
among governments, especially in developing
countries: champions are needed and political will
must be maintained at all levels. Governments will
need to develop a vision of the desired future and
a clear sense of how SDI components could serve
that future and help to realize it. This will require
decisions to be made on the priorities of different
societal benefit areas and GS&T enablers that will
be focused on. To help achieve this, governments
could organize a workshop with key stakeholders
and define a national coordinating body, with
working groups and/or committees. In countries
where GIS implementations are highly dependent
on donor involvement in terms of funding and
technical expertise, donor representatives should
be considered as key stakeholders and included in
the process of building an SDI.

Once a vision is defined and agreed upon, an
assessment of the current position should be
undertaken. From a data perspective, the initial
focus should be on documenting those geospatial
data sets that have current or anticipated future use,


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

data sets that form the framework on which others
are based, and data sets that represent the largest
commitment in terms of effort or cost. The current
position assessment should also inventory available
systems and software, levels of skilled individuals
and what skills they have, and existing courses
offered in the region that are relevant. Once both
the current position and the desired position are
understood, a plan of how to move from the former
to the latter can be developed. Potential bottlenecks
and challenges in realizing the vision should be
identified in advance and steps taken to address

This plan and strategy should include a detailed
assessment of the available tools and technologies
that can help achieve the desired position and a
well-researched business case for the preferred
option that considers the strengths and weaknesses
of all the alternatives. It should also include an
assessment of whether any legislative changes
would be required and set out what these would be.

For the SDI vision to be achieved, it is important
that all key stakeholders are identified and engaged
with through both the visioning and implementation
phases. The stakeholders will include not only
people and organizations that use GS&T but also
people and organizations that will be impacted by
its applications. From an academic perspective,
researchers from a range of disciplines, both
technical ones such as cartography, surveying,
visualization, geospatial database management,
geospatial data handling and geostatistics, and
broader ones such as economics and political
science, should be included in discussions. For
specific aspects of SDI which require particular
expertise, governments should organize formal
working groups of interested parties and experts.
Such areas could include standards (metadata,
exchange), national geospatial data sets, policy,
legal /economic policy and capacity-building,
and approaches on how to assimilate existing
technological solutions into the local context.

With regard to institutional challenges, governments
should avoid locating the SDI within one of the
many ministries that rely on geospatial data and
analysis. To do so would risk the SDI being seen as
something specific to that ministry when it is in fact
applicable to several ministries. Therefore, rather
than the SDI being part of the Ministry of Agriculture
or the Economy, it should be separate. This would

better enable the geospatial scientists and other
staff to collect and analyse data for a variety of
equally important purposes rather than serving
a single ministry or a narrower set of objectives.
The Netherlands provides an example of how this
can be achieved. In the Netherlands, the national
mapping and land administration agency, Dutch
Kadaster, maintains a map base which is mandated
as an “authentic register” for the country: all
government agencies must use it for administrative
purposes. Moreover, agencies must send errors
and corrections directly to Dutch Kadaster for
updating. In return they are provided access to the
data set. This approach ensures that each agency
has access to the data that it needs and also that it
shares its data with other agencies. It also reduces
costs for all government users of topographic data
(van der Molen, 2005).

To ensure that national strategies remain aligned
with global developments, governments should,
wherever possible, pursue an incremental approach.
This reduces the risk that significant work is done
quickly which later ends up being incompatible with
what other countries and organizations are doing.

An incremental approach also has other
advantages. Meaningful, cost-effective applications
can be developed on the basis of a rudimentary
data set that can be progressively improved over
time according to a carefully considered information
strategy. Many improvements in both spatial data
handling use can be made by rethinking current
practices and actively seeking opportunities for
greater collaboration between all stakeholders—
public, private and civil society. Geospatial tools
support gradual improvement. Initially, systems
should be simple to create with appropriate
accuracies, but flexible and enable scaling and
refinement of accuracy over time.

7.3 Infrastructure and data

Minimum infrastructure is essential for effectively
implementing an SDI, and some investment may be
essential. If Internet access is a challenge, installing
GEONETCast could be considered as a low-cost
alternative method of receiving data (see section
7.5). For other infrastructure needs (such as secure
buildings, reliable electricity supply and databases)
investment, either from the country or from donors,
will be essential. Without the minimum infrastructure


requirements in place, it will not be possible to use
GS&T effectively.

Data quality issues are complex and diverse. The
specific challenge will vary depending on the type
of data requirement, the collection methods and
the level of accuracy needed. However, for general
support with data issue, government representatives
and other interested parties should consider joining
the GSDI association which was discussed in
Chapter 2. By providing best practices, suggested
policies and data standards GSDI can help its
members to tackle specific data issues that they
may be facing.

7.4 Participatory GIS and crowdsourcing

There is no single rule for verifying the accuracy
of crowdsourced data. In some instances,
consumers of data will have worked with the same
organizations multiple times and will be able to
trust the accuracy of the data based on past
performances. In other instances, data may be
provided by an unknown individual or organization
and may be more questionable. Just because data
come from the crowd and have not been verified
does not mean they are false, and it may be wrong
to assume that such data are false until proven
otherwise. However, consumers of geospatial data
should always think critically about the reliability of
their data, whether it comes from crowdsourcing
or more traditional means. They should be aware
of the possibility that unverified data may be
inaccurate, and acknowledge this in their analysis
and outputs.

The solutions to the other challenges with PGIS
and crowdsourcing discussed in chapter 6
(ensuring data relevance, lack of specific skills in
some members of the crowd, means of mobilizing
the crowd for non-high profile events) are all
related. Essentially, the solutions to each of these
challenges can be achieved through collaborating
with the crowd to turn it into a community,
increasing communication within the crowd and
between it and the GS&T community. This can also
help address concerns over the accuracy and
authenticity of crowdsourced data by building long-
term relationships of trust between organizations in
the crowd and consumers of their data. Through
such communication, the GS&T community can
clearly articulate to the crowd what it needs, help

train the crowd and build its capacity, and mobilize
the crowd in a more structured and predictable

A number of communities already exist within the
crowd such as Open Street Map28, the Standby
Taskforce,29 Map Action30 and GIS Corps,31 among
others. The Digital Humanitarian Network is a recent
initiative to coordinate the crowd by acting as a
“network of networks”. It aims to “to provide an
interface between formal, professional humanitarian
organizations and informal yet skilled-and-agile
volunteer and technical networks.”32 It includes a
standard form for formal organizations to request
the services of the crowd, which coordinators
process and disseminates through the network. As
initiatives such as this and the existing organization
develop, the crowd will continue its development
into a community. This in turn will make it easier for
professionals to interact with the crowd, gaining
the data they need in the time frames and to the
standards that are required.

With PGIS more generally, a number of
recommendations can be made about how to best
work with communities to collect geospatial data
and information. These recommendations also have
relevance to crowdsourcing and are listed below:

• Define the purpose of PGIS activity: Analytical
and operational clarity about the purpose of the
PGIS exercise is a key element. There are many
purposes and justifications behind P-Mapping. It
is important to establish from the start whether the
purpose is to satisfy Government or community

• Ownership is key: Ownership of the outputs as
well as the knowledge inputs is vital. Ownership
determines who sets the purpose, and what that
purpose is. It decides on priorities and establishes
the extent of the practice in terms of technology,
information sources and spatial extent.

• PGIS facilitators should avoid raising
expectations: Ownership creates expectations.
Any process or project facilitated by an outsider is
liable to raise expectations of some benefits to the
community, even if clearly nothing concrete may
follow from the activity. If the purpose lies outside
of the participating community, the risk of this is


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

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However, as discussed in section 6.5, even
where software is free, customizing it for specific
needs often requires finance and highly skilled
software developers who may be lacking. New
deployment types such as the cloud (for software
and/or services and/or data maps) can significantly
reduce the maintenance cost of a platform while
increasing the potential number of users, opening
up a new dimension in system design and sizing.
Technological advancements can therefore drive
down the costs of establishing an SDI. In addition,
the private sector provides tools and functions for
freely sharing and accessing data over the web,
such as Esri’s ArcGIS Online. Data sets can be
searched and retrieved; communities of interest can
be built for data and knowledge sharing.

Despite these possibilities, ultimately developing
countries may well need support from donors if
they are to overcome the basic cost challenges
described in chapter 6. There is a strong record of
donor involvement in GS&T in developing countries.

Almost all government ministries using geospatial
technologies in Africa received the initial impetus
for GIS usage from projects funded by foreign
donors or international financial institutions (Conitz,
2000). While it is impossible to put a number on
the amount of foreign aid invested in Africa in the
geospatial sector, for land administration alone,
at least $715 million was invested for the period
2002–2012 (Johnson 2011). Other significant areas
of donor spending of GS&T includes climate for
development in Africa (ClimDev) at $136 million,
the West African Science Service Center on Climate
Change and Adapted land Use (WASCAl) at €100
million, and the Central Africa Regional Programme
for the Environment (CARPE) at $53 million (lance
et al., 2005). Donor targets have shifted over time
from Government, to the private sector, to NGOs
and civil society organizations (lance, 2012).

It is clear then that international donors can play a
significant role in helping developing countries to
overcome the financial and cost challenges they
face in implementing geospatial technologies.
Challenges remain for all parties concerned such
as how to coordinate initiatives between ministries,
recipients and donors to avoid a silo approach or
unnecessary duplication. However, developing
countries should continue to explore the potential for
donors to help them overcome financial challenges
when implementing SDIs.

• Clearly define outputs: It must be clear from
the start what the geospatial outputs or products
are going to be, and for whom they will be
relevant. PGIS products should be simple, clear,
understandable, testable, and convincing, as
well as relevant, reliable, logical, replicable and

• Anticipate conflicts: Every collaborative or par-
ticipatory process elicits conflict. Conflicts result
from misunderstandings or false expectations,
and can be mitigated by transparency. By dis-
cussing collaboratively what might be the (nega-
tive) impacts of the outputs, local people can
become more aware of discrepancies in terms
of resource allocation or negative environmental
conditions. Providing a platform for discussion
can prevent conflicts from escalating.

• Not all knowledge should become public
knowledge: Each community has a right of
confidentiality to the geospatial data it produces.
Community members in a PGIS exercise may be
“illegal” squatters. local authorities do not want to
publicize neighbourhood crime maps that give a
bad impression or would lower real estate values.
Ownership by the community would allow them to
decide who can access the data and under which

• Research the crowdsourcing phenomenon:
The novelty of crowdsourcing applications for
better governance is proportional to the difficulty
of understanding and explaining their success
or failure. little is known about the behaviour of
public officials towards information volunteered
by ordinary citizens and their willingness to grant
legitimacy to citizen-generated data on their core
business: the provision of public services.

7.5 Cost and cost-efficient access to geospatial

If a country or organization lacks high-speed Internet
access to receive geospatial data, it should consider
installing GEONETCast as a low-cost alternative
(see box 7.1). Also, if financial constraints limit the
ability to purchase commercially available software,
GEO has an inventory of open source programmes
for relevant tools that can be accessed through the
GEO Portal.33 This extensive inventory is frequently
updated with a range of open source tools which
are free of charge.


Box 7.1 GEOnETCast - low-cost access to geospatial products, services and satellite data:
practical opportunities for capacity-building

GEONETCast is a near real-time global network of satellite-based data dissemination systems designed
to distribute space-based, airborne and in situ data, metadata and products to diverse communities.
GEONETCast is a task in the GEO Work Plan and is led by EUMETSAT, the United States, China, and
the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Many GEO Members and Participating Organizations
contribute to this Task. Currently, GEONETCast applications are available for all societal benefit areas.
Prime application areas are weather, water and disasters.

GEONETCast is a low-cost dissemination system with the additional advantage that it can be used in
areas without fast and reliable Internet services, conditions which prevail in many African countries. The
system is already well anchored in the meteorological community.

Processing tools are needed to exploit the full potential of GEONETCast for use by non-meteorological
organizations. Several initiatives are ongoing to sustain the development of more applications. One
example is the GEONETCast toolbox developed at ITC, which builds further on EUMETSAT software and
enables users to import data into IlWIS GIS for further analysis. IlWIS is open source GIS software under
GPl license available at 52north (http://52north.org/). At this site, the GEONETCast toolbox can also
be downloaded. The number of downloads of the toolbox by interested users is steadily growing. The
GEONETCast applications based on the toolbox require little resources, while all knowledge to customize
applications to local needs is accessible online at no further cost.

As a result, a new community is emerging, promoting the use of free near real-time environmental and earth
observations data (in situ, airborne and space-based) and derived products for worldwide use. Using
inexpensive, off-the-shelf equipment, the data can be directly received from communication satellites. This
capability, in conjunction with data from freely accessible archives, provides the possibility of obtaining a
multitude of environmental and EO-related data. This information is highly relevant for various application
domains, such as weather, atmosphere, oceans, land, vegetation, water and environment.

To allow the user community to grow spontaneously as an open network, anyone can join by using own
resources to set up the system and by acquiring knowledge on how to install and operate the system and
set up specific applications. With online tutorials and manuals, exchange platforms, a distance education
system is available enabling anyone with basic knowledge of GS&T to engage in setting up a receiving
station and start with applications.

Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

7.6 Capacity-building of human resources

Chapter 2 discussed some of the benefits for human
resource capacity-building at regional level. This is
particularly the case for developing countries, which
may have strong financial constraints, as regional
capacity-building allows resources to be pooled
and economies of scale to be realized. The first step
in establishing a regional capacity-building plan
should be the prioritization of societal benefit areas,
by examining Earth processes and institutions in
the region. For example, in some regions disasters
may be the SBA of most concern, whereas in other
regions disasters may be of little concern and the
focus could be on other areas such as health or

The next step should then be the creation of an
inventory of capacity in the region with regard to
GS&T, in terms of research institutions, universities
offering GS&T education, space expertise and
private sector expertise. The advantage of a
regional approach is the ability to share education
and research capacity across nations. For instance,
one university programme in GS&T could cater to
the needs of the entire region; not all nations in the
region need to be space-faring and launch their
own remote sensing satellite to access the data
which they need.

The third step involves the identification of regional
opportunities and bottlenecks. The science,
engineering and technology capacity required
may exceed the combined capacity of all existing
research institutions and government departments
in the region. This being so, cooperation and
partnerships across the public–private sector divide
are an absolute necessity. The final step involves the
actual development of the regional strategic plan via
a network of regional organizations to contribute to
and benefit from GEO capacity-building initiatives;
identify existing programmes; and involve the
geospatial community.

Capacity-building packages depend on the
priorities relevant for the region/nation. A “one-size-
fits-all” approach to capacity-building will not offer
an optimal solution. From the variety of capacity-
building interventions, the optimal package for a
region or nation will depend on the SBAs relevant
for that region and the related target groups.
Capacity-building is a long process. Experience
shows that about 10 years may be needed before

a capacity-building programme with (joint) research
starting from scratch can become truly sustainable
(GeoNetCab, 2011).

At the global level, issues such as certification of
training, cross-border recognition of diplomas and
certificates, and quality assurance across nations in
a region are crucial. Within the framework of GEO,
various workshops are being organized to address
issues of cross-border recognition. A first step would
be the certification of international short courses in
GS&T. This would allow countries, organizations or
universities that already have systems in place, or
strong vested interests, to keep or establish their
own capacity-building systems while ensuring
coordination and compatibility.

As discussed in section 6.6, there is a danger that
when capacity-building programmes in developing
countries are completed, locally trained staff
immediately leave, taking their skills with them
and undermining the capacity-building objectives.
Two possible alternatives are available to deal with
this issue. One is to train more staff than will be
needed. This will clearly be reliant on funds but has
its advantages. First, it will ensure that a sufficiently
sized dedicated local team will remain in place to
meet ongoing needs after the project team has left.
Second, where trained staff do leave for the private
sector but stay in their country, this should also be
seen as a benefit. People trained in GS&T will still be
in the country and will remain part of the country’s
GS&T capacity. Alumni networks can be used to
keep in touch with former students and ensure that
their skills can still be used. The other alternative
is to place restrictive covenants in the terms and
conditions of training. These restrictions could
include an obligation to pay back any tuition fees
if the trainees leave their position within a certain
period of time.

The preferred method will depend on the specific
programme, but the key issue is that in any
development programme, capacity-building should
be considered as one of the main aims from the
beginning. Organizations conducting geospatial
projects in the developing world should always look
to collaborate with local staff and build capacity as
they go, rather than arrive, perform a service and
then leave.

In order to raise awareness and educate policymak-
ers and managers about GS&T, opportunities and


achievements need to be promoted and dissemi-
nated to various levels of decision-makers. There is
a need for short courses at all levels to familiarize
professionals of all types with GS&T applications.
These range from short courses for engineers or ge-
ographers with different backgrounds, to seminars
and workshops for decision-makers. The potential
demand for this type of capacity-building is huge,
as the benefits of GS&T applications become more
and more apparent. The number of different sub-
jects is also substantial. This demand can be partly
addressed by the regular educational system and
partly by specialized organizations and/or special
initiatives in a project or programme format.

7.7 Research

To address current gaps in knowledge, significant
research challenges need to be tackled at the nexus
of GS&T and citizens’ knowledge. Crowdsourcing
applications are new, and understanding and
explaining its successes and failures so that
these can be learnt from will be challenging. A
better understanding of the incentives for citizens
to contribute and ways to validate the quality of
citizens’ reports is needed. little is known about
the behaviour of scientists to citizens’ contributions
(e.g. in environmental monitoring) and of public
officials towards information volunteered by ordinary

Research is also needed at the nexus of
geospatial science and policymakers. Science
and public policy are not distinct domains. Their
interdependence is so strong as to spark processes
of co-production of relevant knowledge. Analysis is
needed of the social, policymaking and knowledge
production processes through which varying
types of knowledge (scientific, practical expertise,
administrative and citizen/lay knowledge) are co-
produced by scientists, policymakers, stakeholders
and citizens. This analysis should cover areas
including spatial planning, environmental policy,
land administration and disaster risk management.
The focus should be on the body of scientific,
cultural, pragmatic and lay knowledge which, in
different political regimes, informs decision-making.

Interdisciplinarity is essential in GS&T research.
Overcoming legal, institutional, and broader
social issues requires geospatial scientists, land
administrators, spatial planners to work with

scholars from public administration, economics,
law, and political science. Studying Earth processes
and organized human activity in disaster risk
management is only possible with interdisciplinary

Finally, researchers should consider the audience
for their work to be not just the GS&T community
but also the wider community of Government,
NGOs and other users of geospatial data and
findings. The GS&T community should therefore
seek to reach beyond its traditional audience and
disseminate its work more widely. Conferences and
other GS&T community events could become more
outward-looking, and in some instances include
policymakers as speakers or guests so that the
technical community could hear the policymakers’
perspective on GS&T.

7.8 Conclusion

This study has demonstrated some of the ways in
which GS&T can be used to support development
in a variety of areas. GS&T is a powerful tool that
can provide several benefits and as it develops,
the range and scope of benefits its application can
provide will continue to increase. GS&T experts have
predicted that in the next five to ten years, geospatial
data are likely to become more ubiquitous and
technological evolution will continue to accelerate,
leading to cheaper and more accurate geospatial
technologies. Previously niche technologies may
become mainstream, and the proliferation of
geospatial technologies in everyday products such
as smart phones is likely to fuel growing use of

However, it is important to note that no matter how
advanced geospatial tools become, they are not a
panacea and do not solve all problems. Geospatial
science only provides tools and enablers. These in
themselves do not solve issues relating to existing
legal frameworks, institutional blockages, social
arrangements or any of the development challenges
discussed in this study.

This study has provided a number of examples
where GS&T has been used by policymakers and
other actors to address specific development
needs. It would not be realistic for a single country to
attempt to develop capacity in every application of
GS&T covered in this study. Instead, an assessment
should be made of what the specific needs of a


Geospatial science and technoloGy for development

With a focus on urban development, land administration and disaster risk management

particular society are and which of those needs
GS&T can help to address. National SDI strategies
should therefore focus on the priority areas where
GS&T can have a significant impact. Not all benefits
will be equally important to all countries, and
therefore it should be expected that national SDI
strategies will vary significantly.

To fully realize these benefits, several challenges
need to be overcome. These range from the specific
challenges discussed in chapters 3, 4 and 5 (such
as difficulties in locating underground infrastructure
assets or the technological limitations of GPS in busy
urban areas) to the more overarching challenges
discussed in chapter 6. Governments will not be able
to effectively address these challenges by acting
on their own. With regard to the levels discussed
in chapter 2 (global, regional, government and
citizen), it is important to note that action at each
level is required and that the different levels are all

interdependent on each other. National SDIs would
not be nearly as effective without global initiatives
to agree common data standards allowing countries
to exchange information more easily. Regional
collaboration would not be possible without national
or subnational governments collecting data and
providing resources. Citizens collecting geospatial
data individually rely on globally available tools
such as Google Earth, Open Street Map or ArcGIS
Online to provide data on a global scale. Therefore,
governments will need to collaborate with each
other, with global institutions and companies, and
with individual citizens if they are to fully harness
GS&T to support development.

All of this will require significant investment in both
time and resources. However, the scale of the
potential benefits of successful application of GS&T
in development means that this investment should
be more than worth it.

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