Natural hazards occur around the globe on a daily basis – from big news stories like Cyclone Phailin, the strongest tropical storm to hit India in more than a decade, to smaller more frequent earthquakes around the Pacific Rim.
The significance of geographic information in helping governments respond to natural hazards is often overlooked; some of the questions governments have to answer are:
What would happen to the relief effort if the electricity grid was destroyed, and there were no water or gas services?
How do governments use geographic modelling techniques to understand the impacts of natural hazards in the urban environments and plan for their impact?
To help to answer these questions the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation (NASG) of China and the Secretariat of the United Nations initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) hosted a global forum with the theme ‘Development and Applications in Urban Hazard Mapping’ in Chengdu, China. The Chengdu Forum gave a platform to share knowledge and discuss priority issues relating to urban hazards and the impact and provision of consistent geographic information during extreme events.
The Chengdu Forum was originally scheduled to be held in April 2013 but had to be postponed following an earthquake, measuring 7.0 on the Richter Scale, whose epicentre was just 70 miles from Chengdu. The scale and magnitude of the earthquake, along with the possibility of aftershocks (1,815 were reported), the threat of possible landslides and the stability of buildings meant the Forum had to be postponed to allow all efforts to be concentrated into the rescue and relief effort.
On Tuesday 15 October the Forum was officially opened by Mr Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Mr Xu Deming, Vice Minister for the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and Director General NASG China and Dr Wang Ning, Vice Governor, People’s Government of Sichuan Province, China.
Mr Wu reiterated how the Rio+20 Conference recognised that geospatial information is crucial for both sustainable development and humanitarian assistance. He went on to say how the work currently being undertaken by the UN and Member States around sustainable development was realising the conference outcomes – a theme which would run throughout the Forum. Mr Wu talked about the importance of knowledge and information sharing and about the need for improved hazard risk management to help reduce disasters and facilitate humanitarian assistance; the role the geographic information supply chain plays in integrating multiple sources of information into usable formats is key to disaster management and humanitarian aid in the region.
As part of the opening address Dr Li Pengde, Deputy Director of NASG, highlighted to the delegates the status of China’s emergency mapping systems and demonstrated some of the emergency mapping applications used in the country.
Following the opening address, Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB, in her role as Co-chair of UN-GGIM presented Under-Secretary-General Wu with a large book containing hand written contributions from over 100 countries, about the importance to their country of the establishment of UN-GGIM.
Throughout the three days of the forum 24 keynotes were presented by a truly global panel of speakers; these ranged from ‘Delivering Reliable Geospatial Data during Emergencies’ to discussions around ‘Developing Geospatial Applications and Methods’. Ordnance Survey’s Director General and Chief Executive Dr Vanessa Lawrence CB presented in her role as a Patron of the British charity MapAction. MapAction works to provide rapid responses and geospatial support for decision making and information management in disaster and humanitarian situations around the globe.
Steven Ramage, Head of Ordnance Survey International, delivered a keynote on Open Standards for Sustainable Disaster Risk Reduction in his capacity as a member of the Global Advisory Council of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC). Using open standards can underpin activities such as emergency response and humanitarian assistance when responding to life-threatening scenarios caused by natural hazards.
Steven talked about the need for UN Member States to operate their national geospatial information infrastructures based on internationally recognised standards and stressed the importance of sharing and providing access to current, high quality, authoritative data for evidence-based decision making and policy development.
The Forum concluded with a panel discussion chaired by Vanessa, which summarised the decisions and outcomes made over the last three days, a total of 13 decisions were made, ranging from ‘Strengthening the relationships between the National Disaster Management Agencies and the National Geospatial Information Authorities so that the role of GI is better understood’ to ‘Coordinating strategies to provide leadership and raise the awareness of our governments so they understand the importance of GI in disaster prevention, mitigation and response, sustainable development and safeguarding life.’