The Tribune: The state of compilation of environmental data in Pakistan remained extremely poor, but with the introduction of the $2.1 million National Environment Information Management System (NEIMS), things might improve.
The NEIM, a collaborative project of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the climate change ministry, with the support from the Netherlands government, is almost ready.
The output of the NEIMS, developed by the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO), is in the form of interactive data maps of Pakistan, where users can also zoom in on different areas of the country for area-specific analysis. The web portal provides users a set of filters to change the display parameters for analysis.
A test version of the Geographic Information System, GIS-based web portal for NEIMS was inaugurated at the launch of the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) on February 26. The GIS is a system capable of capturing, storing, analysing and presenting geographical data.
“NEIMS is basically a digital mosaic of Pakistan’s environmental profile,” Javaid Ali Khan, Director General of Climate Change and Environment at the Ministry of Climate Change, said. “It shows key environment indicators in the country during the years 2000, 2005 and 2010.”
The SUPARCO acquired, processed and analysed satellite imagery of years 2000, 2005 and 2010 for forestry, biodiversity, desertification, settlements, rocky areas and water bodies, Rahmatullah Gillani, Divisional Head of space applications at the SUPARCO, said. The space agency also used other environmental datasets already available with different Pakistani organisations for many years. Since the data is spread over time, they can help identify patterns of environmental changes.
The system also contains information on glaciers, natural disasters and land use.
“For one, so much environmental data was never collected. Secondly, it was not collected on the Pakistan level,” Gul Najam Jamy, Assistant Country Director of the UNDP, said. “Individual organizations collecting environmental data would also sometimes run out of funds and the data suffered from reliability issues.”
Data deficiencies in different environment sectors have hindered proper planning, Jamy said. The information management system will help pin point areas where policy interventions were required. “For example, if we want to find one single village, one single district in Pakistan where there is the most water shortage, this system will enable us make such findings,” Jamy said.
As an example, SUPARCO conducted studies in 17 Pakistani cities to capture urbanization and industrialization trends by analyzing the land used by residential units and industries in 2000, 2005 and 2010.
In a demo of the system at the NCCP launch, SUPARCO officials used NEIMS maps to show that the rise in urbanization in Faisalabad has usurped agricultural land to the city’s north. The reduction of agricultural land was directly linked to food production and food insecurity. So policymakers can use the data to focus on cities and towns that might face a food crisis in the future.
The NEIMS data have been acquired through a remote sensing satellite. The data has not been verified with on-ground information.
On-ground data verification at the national level is an expensive exercise which requires extensive human resources as well. But NEIMS has the ability to incorporate corrections to its datasets based on physical data submitted by researchers.
The project, which was initially supposed to be completed in four years, took nearly six years to finish. Its evaluation will begin in April and ends in May. One major cause of the delay was the post 18th Amendment reorganization of ministries. Initially, the UNDP was carrying out the NEIMS with the now-defunct Ministry of Environment.
“Nearly a year was wasted during this reorganization,” Jamy said. But he maintained that the project did not go over budget.
The success of NEIMS depends on its update and maintenance.
Gillani said the system will need to be regularly updated with sectoral and dynamic information in the future.
Pakistan-Environment Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) will take over ownership of the project after May, Khan said. The NEIMS data and maps will be in the public domain. The web URL has not been announced yet, but Khan said it would be made available as soon as the test run of the website is complete.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2013.
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