Geospatial information is crucial for Africa’s economic development

August 15th, 2019, Published in Articles: PositionIT

In a keynote address at an event marking Digital Earth Africa Day, the Economic Commission for Africa’s (ECA) Oliver Chinganya said the ECA views geospatial technology as a significant component that will help push Africa’s transformative development agenda even further.

Oliver Chinganya

The commission understands that it is imperative for every African country to deliver relevant information that can promote and sustain economic growth and will therefore continue to work in partnership with organisations such as Digital Earth Africa to ensure nations develop their technical capacity.

It is of greater importance to have access to real-time and precise spatial information, given Africa’s size and complex biophysical environment, to support effective decision-making. For instance, while Africa’s demographic trends, including rapid urbanisation represent economic opportunities, they also represent real challenges with regard to human welfare and infrastructure needs.

Key development information and indicators are at risk of quickly becoming out-dated and of limited value to understanding the scale, speed and locations of newly developing urban areas and informal settlements. It is imperative for information with a geospatial component to inform the continent’s sustainable planning and development.

It is great to see that African governments and other sectors of society have become increasingly aware of the importance of geospatial science and technology as a tool to facilitate spatial data collection, access and use in the decision-making processes, both nationally and regionally.

Supported by the emergence of a community of robust geospatial experts, geospatial technologies are gradually becoming the driving force of many applications and services from land administration to natural resource management to agriculture across countries like Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, and Rwanda, to mention just a few.

I believe that through Digital Earth Africa, earth observation can enhance the way we provide services to our community and I would like to take the opportunity to champion the use of space technology and information services to drive Africa to become more spatially enabled.

The Digital Earth Africa programme has the capacity to ensure that consistent methods and tools are appropriately appraised and made available in support to member states at national and regional level, in a coordinated and coherent manner.

The identification of ECA as a suitable institutional home for Digital Earth Africa highlights our alignment with its mission to meet the information needs, challenges and priorities of all African countries. We see our partnership with the programme as one that will be strong, effective and influential.

I wish to echo the idea for a geospatial data revolution which would require the constitution of authoritative repository of development data (i.e. a one-stop-shop); the adoption of data democracy values (i.e. wider and easier access to geospatial data); the maintenance of the current, accuracy and consistency of geospatial data over its entire life cycle.

Without doubt, Digital Earth Africa can be a building block towards the continent’s efforts to harness information resources for an African information society and knowledge-led economy.

The challenges we face, from climate change and over exploitation of our natural resources to food security, can all be addressed through the insights, knowledge and analysis of changes across our land surface and coastline.

This new understanding of our changing landscape will not only benefit policy-makers and public officials, but will increase commercial efficiency and economic growth for businesses and entrepreneurs as we see new and innovative ways of using this much-needed information.

Whilst Digital Earth Africa will develop appropriate responses to the growing demand from users for simple, convenient access to online information, products and services, we should not forget that to fully leverage the enabling capabilities of satellite data for development in Africa, there are some key challenges and issues to overcome, especially in the African context. For instance, there is a need for a coordinated continental framework with negotiating arrangements for the access to information to avoid the risk that information sharing will develop in fragmented and inefficient ways.

Partnership is key to the successful implementation of Digital Earth Africa. From ECA’s standpoint, it is clear that progress in improving the availability and accessibility of global development information will depend on how well countries cooperate with each other, and to some extent the ability of the national data ecosystems to bring producers and users together to cooperate with and learn from each other and to promote collaboration on the development of national development information infrastructures.

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