The Case for the Development of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure by African Countries

I have, since my time in Government, and in particular, since 2009, made a spirited case for the development/up scaling of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) in African Countries.

NSDI is the data, technology, policies, standards and institutional framework that facilitates the easy access and dissemination of spatial data and is of immense importance to the development of any nation. NSDI provides information on the location of features (e.g.  Land parcels) on the earth plus their characteristics (e.g. the owners, values and specific land use). It is a critical national resource for development in various sectors including agriculture, mining, forestry, transportation, aviation, tourism, security and defense, census, health and water resources. Effective and efficient planning and decision making processes are underpinned heavily on spatial data. The World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Economic Commission for Africa have both recognized the need to promote the effective and efficient use of spatial data as a necessary requirement in support of sustainable development of every nation. This need is further underscored by the fact that 80% of planning and decision making processes in governments or organizations are based on spatial data, making it a critical national resource for economic planning and development.

In most countries in Africa, spatial data is generally acquired and maintained by various government organizations and the private sector, in varying standards and formats and at enormous expense particularly for resource/budgetary scarce developing countries. This uncoordinated approach has resulted in limited use and application of the data. It has also created unnecessary duplication leading to wastage of scarce resources.

The establishment of NSDI would provide, inter alia, the following benefits:

  • Provide land resource information for, inter alia, agriculture, forestry, water resources, petroleum and minerals, and social economic information for health, education , tourism as well as creating , maintaining and disseminating the relevant thematic information;
  • Expansion and maintenance of topographical mapping especially at large scales, and especially in urban areas, for the planning of such areas.
  • Provide parcel cadastre information for land registration, identification and ownership thereby eliminating overlap allocation and guaranteeing land tenure and much improved collection of land rates;
  • Provide an overall tool to facilitate informed decision making for managing land reforms, the environment, drainage and flood control;
  • Provide mapping locations of all properties and developments, under, on and above the earth’s surface for taxation purposes thereby enhancing revenue collection;
  • Provide proper geo-referenced charts and maps thereby enhancing safe navigation on roads, rail air and sea transport;
  • Enhance national security and defense by providing secure geo-referenced data;
  • Rescue and hazard mitigation by providing accurate location of every activity to avoid haphazard rescue operations;
  • Maximize returns on Government investment in collection, production, access and dissemination of spatial data thereby saving up to 80% of resources which it would otherwise waste on duplication of efforts; and finally;
  • Promotion of the concept of information as an economic resource and development of an information market.

In light of the above, I urge all African governments to immediately put in place an institutional framework to coordinate the policy and establishment of a NSDI.

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