International development requires an integrated approach to address complex challenges experienced within sectors such as agriculture, environment, health, education, economic growth, democracy and governance, and disaster response.
This is where the use of GIS comes in.
Using GIS allows organisations to go beyond making maps of just land cover. It enables them to combine layers of information, and study the spatial relationship between selected indicators to get a more holistic view of places or regions they are working to develop.
At present, these organisations are using GIS in missions to collect data about the in-country projects they fund across all sectors. The resulting mission portfolio databases are most often used to generate maps of their projects to visualise their respective location, track progress, and communicate what is going on and where. This is quite similar to how an organisation such as the World Food Program (WFP) uses its GIS during its disaster response and recovery operations.
According to Syed Fawad Raza, Program Officer and Spatial Analyst at the World Food Program in Pakistan, the agency leverages GIS for food security analysis to target which areas are hotspots and food-deprived. Based on its research and through studying the spatial relationships of variables involved, it is then able to plan intervention in affected areas.
“GIS plays a very crucial role in supporting WFP’s mandate in helping communities cope with the effects of calamities or disasters, and also in helping those affected communities stand up again and rebuild their lives. That’s how our cycle works and of course mapping is central to monitoring and evaluation, identifying areas, gaps, crucial hot spots, and where to go,” he said.
In other cases, GIS is being used as a component of a larger program to address a specific development challenge.
In Uganda for example, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) involved local villagers in participatory mapping as part of a biodiversity conservation project to reduce human-wildlife conflicts. The maps produced by the community were compared to the district government’s land use boundaries, and helped resolve the conflict about rights to land resources.
At a regional level, the Central African Regional Program for the Environment uses satellite imagery to map forests and monitor changes due to logging. Information derived is then shared with the governments of nine countries spanning the catchment basic of the Congo river.
At a Global level, USAID supports a global program called the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which aims to establish a repository that would then provide geographically-linked HIV-related data for mapping in a GIS. In addition, USAID is also collaborating with NASA in a program called SERVIR (which means “to serve” in Spanish), which aims to build the capacity of countries in the Mesoamerican, East African, and the Hindu-kush Himalayan regions to use remote sensing, mapping tools, and geo-visualisation to address climate change and other environmental issues.
More than a decade ago, world leaders gathered together at the United Nations Millennium Summit to pledge the achievement of eight development goals by 2015.