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GIS has a role everywhere, whether it is an understanding change in crop patterns, assessing water availability, or implementing climate models. Geospatial technology indispensable for building a sustainable world.

Thus wrote Pushpendra Johari in the Financial Express. But shouldn’t we need to accelerate digital adoption in line with the SDGs In any case and without further ado, here is the story.

Geospatial technology indispensable for building a sustainable world

By Pushpendra Johari

The application of geospatial technologies for sustainable development is emerging fast. (The image above is by NITI Aayog)

We all are aware of the earth’s constantly changing landscape. Humans are selfishly moving ahead to grow themselves at the cost of nature, causing overpopulation, deforestation, rapid urbanisation, and industrialization. These activities have been exhausting our natural resources and changing climate by pushing pollutants into the environment. Sadly, climate change is happening faster than we can even imagine. It’s making the earth more vulnerable to disasters and affecting our very existence. It is time we think about building a sustainable world to cater to these changing geological dynamics.

Building a sustainable world entails effective planning that every human action should ascertain its impact on the environment before any implementation. Policies should drive this thinking. Only if we take care of our planet, the planet will take care of us.

Environmental issues are spatial in nature that drive “what” might happen, “where”, “when”, and “how much”. So, we need to align our thinking to these criteria and do our planning considering them. This is where technologies like ‘’geospatial’’ come to our rescue. Geospatial technologies provide us tools to capture information about any location on the earth’s surface, whether historical, real-time, geological, or climate-related.

The application of geospatial technologies for sustainable development is emerging fast. It is helping us in getting solutions to the issues revolving around climate change, natural calamities, food security, and human habitation.

Tracing “where” element for food security and addressing climate induced changes

Climate change is impacting the entire food system by affecting its availability, accessibility, quality, and utilization. It’s influencing the weather patterns and changing the suitability of the crops that are currently grown in certain areas, impacting the crop yields because of hydro-meteorological events, and causing soil erosion.

So, how do we tackle such issues? Here, the “where” element is of high significance. GIS enables comprehensive assessment and monitoring of environmental conditions related to sustainable agriculture development and food security.

GIS helps answer some of the toughest agri-related questions such as developing smart agri systems for crop diversification/shifting, development of an application for climate-resilient seeds, irrigation planning, groundwater storage, fertilizers and pesticides based on climatic conditions, yield forecasting, crop acreage, mapping crop vulnerability, etc.,

Availability of water has a strong bearing on food security. Climate projections reveal that water is going to be scarce in the future. So, it is becoming important to understand water availability to address food security issues. For instance, to understand the crop shifts, GIS-based water availability modelling is applied to evaluate the current situation of a crop and where it can be grown in the future.

GIS has a role everywhere, whether it is an understanding change in crop patterns, assessing water availability, or implementing climate models. It is required to ascertain everything on the surface of the earth.

Assessing natural disasters

As a result of climate change, the rainfall patterns have changed from longer spans of milder rains to very short span of high-intensity rainfall, rising temperature on land and ocean, and melting glaciers. All this is driving the severity of floods, cyclones, droughts, and potential of sea-level rise. The severity and frequency of flood and cyclone events in India have increased in recent years. For instance, the recurring flood like conditions in Mumbai every year, Hyderabad floods (October 2020), Assam Floods (July 2020), Cyclone Amphan (May 2020), Cyclone Fani (May 2019), Chennai Floods (December 2015), and J&K Flood (March 2015).

Since the rainfall pattern has changed, mechanisms needs to be developed to store excessive water effectively for future. Using GIS, we can identify locations to harvest the excessive rain/flood water and create ponds, lakes, and reservoirs.

Geospatial technology is helping create flood forecasting models and early warning systems. A flood forecasting system is an automated software that monitors real-time rainfall and water levels and combines it with forecasted rainfall to generate flood extents and depths to identify potential risk areas.

Additionally, cyclone is another hazard experienced by our country. GIS based scientific cyclone models can estimate cyclone events related parameters such as from where they originated, speed of the wind, surge height, likely landfall points and areas at risk. Thus, helping enhance the Government’s preparedness, recovery and response to the events, safeguarding human life and infrastructure.

Building resilient infrastructure

Estimates reveal that by 2050, 7 out of 10 people across the globe will be living in urban areas. To manage rising urbanization, it is essential to design and implement programs based on understanding the frequency and magnitude of climate events and how they are likely to change in the future. For instance, the extremely severe cyclonic storm ‘FANI’ in 2019 caused massive infrastructural damage in Odisha. It took nearly 40 days to restore power.

Disaster mitigation, prevention, preparedness, and emergency response can be planned with a prior risk assessment. But how do we assess these risks? The primary information is to know where our infrastructure elements are and relate their key characteristics to the potential hazard intensities. GIS help us to build detailed repository of all infrastructure elements along with key attributes. Understanding of the hazard intensities developed using GIS based techniques when applied to the infrastructure attributes helps to understand their risk better and plan for actions that can reduce those risks.

Mapping renewable energy

As human civilisation is growing, our energy needs are also growing at a phenomenal pace. With excessive energy consumption, it’s time we switch to renewable energy and use what’s naturally available to us in the form of sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, biomass, and thermal energy. But where do we find these resources in abundance? How do we harness that resource in a specific area? GIS technology helps in making this decision quicker and simpler. It aids policymakers and decision-makers in identifying the right location for renewable energy based power generation.

For instance, to establish a renewable energy plant in any area, GIS techniques can derive insights on the wind and solar potential, distance from cities, and socio-economic impact. This analysis shares a clear picture of which location would be ideal for implementing a renewable energy power plant. For resilient consumption, GIS plays an effective role by determining where to focus and how to manage these resources. Geospatial technology showcases the potential for sustainable energy resources.

Deregulating use of geospatial data – What the future holds

With so many technological interventions in store for building a better and sustainable future, the recent policy on deregulation of geospatial data has unlocked socio-economic opportunities necessary for sustainable development. The new policy will not only spur innovation but open several avenues for sustainable developmental initiatives. The changes in the deregulation will help in generation of high-resolution data sets like digital terrain models, bathymetry, soil maps, street view maps etc. that will play a very critical role in taking this sustainable development charter forward.

A highly accurate digital data infrastructure will provide a much-needed thrust in terms of availability and enhancement of high-resolution location data for the country, enabling several Indian companies to create world-class maps and mapping technologies.

In addition, the high-quality location data will help improve the accuracy of real-time measures to safeguard the public from disasters and climate change crisis. This is likely to accelerate scientific research and innovative practices to plan better disaster assessment and mitigation strategies.

This open access to geospatial data will ensure informed decision-making and help accomplish Sustainable Development Goals by boosting environment informed development of resilient infrastructure, public sector services, and food security in the country.

(The author is Senior VP – Sustainability at RMSI. Views expressed are personal.)