The South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) successfully uses Geographical Information Systems (GIS) technology for water risk management purposes.
Information on rural water supply issues is of vital importance to community development throughout the Pacific, but the exchange of knowledge is hampered by the great distances, the limited institutional capacity, and the many natural climatic and geological hazards that characterize the region. Reliable historical records are limited, and systematic monitoring of water resources is simply non-existent in many rural areas.
In early 2003, with the help of the European Development Fund, the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) launched a project to address these problems. The initiative, ‘Reducing the vulnerability of Pacific ACP States’, aims to improve communications among stakeholders in three areas that are of particular concern to Pacific Island states: the extraction of aggregates for construction (sand extraction can cause permanent damage to coastlines, lagoons or reefs), hazard mitigation and risk assessment, and water resources, supply and sanitation.
Following on-site data collection and comprehensive studies, one of the project’s principal ‘enabling tools’ is the establishment of a comprehensive ICT centre in each island state, with training courses for local capacity building. Among the many ICT aspects of the project are regular e-newsletters for information exchange among stakeholders, and, in particular, the use of geographical information systems (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) applications.
In implementing the project, SOPAC will build on a decade of experience in developing and promoting local knowledge of GIS and RS applications. For years, the Commission has encouraged local staff to map and inventory their assets, ranging from typical water utility applications such as distribution networks in Tonga, to the coverage of roof rainwater collection systems in Tuvalu.
SOPAC’s GIS and RS-generated information has already directly benefited farmers because it encourages entire communities to improve their agricultural practices. For example, excessive logging and other poor watershed management practices on the larger islands have altered drainage characteristics, with adverse impacts on agriculture and fisheries. Once vegetation is removed the topsoil is not retained and flushes out into streams and lagoons, resulting in excessive soil erosion, and silt-laden, nutrient-rich runoff. To counter these developments, SOPAC has used high-quality satellite imagery to demonstrate to landowners the need to inventory their forest resources and monitor any changes due to logging.
A particularly successful application has been the Fiji Forestry Export Market System (FFEMS), in which all logging activities are recorded and mapped, and each tree is labelled and tracked until it is exported. Accurate monitoring supports sustainable forestry practices, enabling landowners to take advantage of ‘green labelling’, a scheme that promotes environmentally friendly products.
For the FFEMS, a distributed database system was developed using an SQL replication server and an MS Access and MapInfo interface. Divisional Forestry Office (DFO) staff enter data for their area into the database, and the information is subsequently transmitted to the Forestry Office HQ over standard telephone lines. Thus, each DFO has a complete view of their own area, while the headquarters have an overview of the whole of Fiji. This setup improves management decision-making processes and guarantees a faster return of information – and of royalties when the trees are sold – to the landowners.
The SOPAC project will draw upon this regional experience to provide a comprehensive range of integrated planning and Island Systems Management (ISM) services. The provision of web-based map servers (i.e. web servers connected to a remote GIS database) in each country will enable a much larger section of the population, particularly in rural areas, to access and analyze information without having to purchase new software. Of course, the lack of Internet connectivity in some countries is a challenge that the project will need to address. In the long run, however, the Internet is likely to provide the best outreach system at the lowest cost.
For more information, visit the project website.