Geographical Information Systems

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are systems designed to store and manipulate data relating to locations on the earth's surface. The major advantage of GIS is that it can read and analyse different layers of spatial information in the form of maps and satellite images easily and allows identifying the spatial relationships.

In Bangladesh there is a growing application of GIS in land inventories, the population census, urban planning, forestry, petroleum and gas exploration industries, utilities, transportation systems and so on, where the data banks contain locational references such as a district, or the actual boundaries of land parcels.

GISs are run on the all spectrum of computer systems ranging from personal computers (PCs) to multi-user supercomputers, and are available in a wide variety of software languages. There are number of tools that are essential for effective GIS establishment which are computer, digitizer, GPS (Global Positioning System), plotter, network, CD-ROM drive, printer and of course software which links all of the equipment to run properly.

Canada has been a pioneer in the development of GIS. The Canada Geographic Information System (CGIS), initiated in 1963 by the Agriculture Rehabilitation and Development Agency, was the first operational land resource GIS. Another early system was the Geographically Referenced Data Retrieval System of Statistics Canada, started around 1965. But GIS was not widely used until late 1970s, when technological improvements and lower costs made computers widely available. The use of GIS tools has grown dramatically in the 1980s from obscurity to become commonplace in businesses, universities and government where they are now used for many diverse applications.

The use of GIS application in Bangladesh started in 1991 by ISPAN (Irrigation Support Project for Asia and the Near East) for the FAP-19 (Flood Action Plan-19) project. The organisation is now named as EGIS (Environmental and GIS Support Projects for Water Sector Planning). At present there are over 50 GIS installations in the country. At the beginning, most of the GIS installations were donor supported and operated by foreign experts with limited local personnel. Now the situation has changed, a number of government and non-government organisations have installed GIS with their own finance and are operated by local expert.

Major using GIS software in Bangladesh ArcInfo and ArcView GIS are common and popular software in the country. ArcView extension tools are being used for advance GIS modelling like Spatial Analyst, 3D Analyst, Network Analyst, Image Analyst, Internet Map Server. The other useable software are ERDAS, ERDAS IMAGINE, IDRISI, Tosca, ER Mapper, SPANS, MapInfo, MapBasic, Imagine, Earth View, Surfer, Lantastic Network, AutoCAD, ArcFM, ArcMap, Map Objects, Arc Objects and ArcGIS. All these softwares can run following DOS, Windows and Unix platform operating systems.

Organisational applications The application of GIS is new in Bangladesh because of its higher hardware installation cost and lack of expertise. In spite of these hurdles it is developing steadily. GIS is a need to a wide variety of users for planning, development and monitoring purposes in various organisations. Brief descriptions of them are as follows:

Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) has executed some projects where GIS is used as an essential tool. National Minor Irrigation Development Project (NMIDP) is one of them. This department also controls the activities of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council (BARC). BARC is executing a project entitled 'Utilisation of Agro-ecological Zones Database and Installation of GIS for Agricultural Development' initiated in 1996 with technical support from UNDP and FAO. The main objective of the project is to create a National Agriculture Land Information System Database in GIS environment to fulfil the agricultural planning and research needs.

bangladesh bureau of statistics (BBS) has established automated cartographic section with GIS and remote sensing support. This organisation is using GIS to provide text data along with map for perspective planning, developing, census-based population and demographic data in GIS formatting, making large scale mouza maps and thematic maps for different types of reports and also creating user service facility.

Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) is a research organisation, established GIS set up in 1993. The purpose of GIS activities is to provide different projects and also act as a training centre for universities, research institutes, NGOs and various government and private sectors. BCAS successfully completed the following projects by incorporating their GIS facilities: Vulnerability of Bangladesh to Climate Change and Sea Level Rise, Solar Energy Pilot Study Project, Health Facilities of Dhaka City, Bangladesh Climate Change: Country Study.

Bangladesh Forest Department has installed GIS set up in 1995 and executed Forest Resource Management Project with the assistance of World Bank. The main activities include forest plantation planning as well as to provide professional and technical services in the field of GIS and associated technologies. The department prepared forest plantation maps for specific site matching.

A range of environmental and GIS projects initiated in 1991 under the FAP-19 were ultimately integrated into a single Environmental and GIS Support Projects for Water Sector Planning (EGIS) in 1995. It is a project under the Ministry of Water Resources funded by the Government of the Netherlands. But in 2002, EGIS established an independent institute named 'Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services' (CEGIS). A Board of Trustees governs this institution with major representation from public agencies. CEGIS services are available for public and private sectors for GIS based consultancy, training and research and development.

It may be wise to mention here that EGIS has been a pioneer organisation in the development of GIS in Bangladesh. It has developed capabilities in terms of experience, hardware and software for digital image processing, analysis, building digital spatial databases, modelling, differential GPS surveys and meta-databases. EGIS also attempts to collect data sources from high-resolution optical images (European ERS-1, ERS-2, Canadian RADERSAT-1 SAR images) that can be used for planning and management.

Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) has established GIS set-up in early nineties to facilitate establishment and maintenance of computerised national database for implementation of the rural infrastructure development programmes in Bangladesh. The GIS unit of LGED has completed so far all upazila/thana base maps, district maps and road maps of the country. All these maps contain various layers including administrative boundaries, physical infrastructure, educational institutions, settlement patterns, agriculture and socio-economic infrastructures based on nation wide coverage of SPOT panchromatic satellite imagery of 1989. LGED has also developed a number of GIS based planning tools to be used by the decision-makers at the local level.

Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (Rajuk) installed GIS in 1993. In this organisation the main field of GIS application is urban planning. Here, the GIS activity mainly concentrates on mapping and data management for development planning of Dhaka Metropolitan Area. Rajuk also prepared urban landuse planning map and infrastructure map at strategic 1:50,000 to detailed 1:3,960 using spatial and attribute data.

In 1995 Roads and Highways Department (RHD) under an Institutional Development Components (IDC) Project sponsored by Overseas Development Agency (ODA) completed GIS mapping programmes to create national transport network. In 1996 the project also successfully built a comprehensive geographical database for the road and rail sectors, which started operation in 1997.

Survey of Bangladesh (SOB) mainly installed GIS technology for making and publishing digital maps. For this reason SOB works in cooperation with other national organisations like SPARRSO, BBS, DLRS and international organisations like JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), IGN of France, ITC of Netherlands and Ordinance Survey of England.

The major GIS (installed in 1991) activities of SPARRSO are to facilitate remote sensing and other spatial and attribute data for various applications in environment and resource sectors. The successful projects of SPARRSO in this regard are Crop Assessment, Forest Cover Mapping, Shrimp Culture Potentiality Mapping, Census Mapping, Monitoring of Ecological Changes, and Landuse Mapping.

Soil Resources Development Institute (SRDI) render supports for preparing Thana Land and Soil Utilisation Guides including a soil database, soil fertility and landuse monitoring, salinity monitoring and preparation of soil and landuse related maps. All these activities of mapping and monitoring systems are GIS related.

Surface Water Modelling Centre (SWMC) is using GIS as a data processing, modelling and planning tool. By using GIS, SWMC is succeeded in monitoring optimum operation of Karnafuli Hydro Power Station, arsenic contamination of groundwater and crop damage assessment. They are also successful in GIS based software development. Interactive Information System (IIS) is one of the key development software, which combines topographic maps prepared under a Geographical Information System and field information of channels, structures, roads, embankments, homesteads stored in a Rational Database Management System (RDMS).

The Water Resources Planning Organisation (WARPO) prepared and updated 'National Water Resources Database' (NWRD) for preparing the National Water Policy adopted by the Government of Bangladesh. The database is designed with SQL (Structured Query Language) in back-end and GIS based graphical user interfaces in front-end. The primary activity of NWRD is to meet the demand of water resource planners for a consolidated and reliable data bank.

All the universities of Bangladesh installed GIS for their academic curriculum in order to create skilled manpower for the country. The department of Geography and Environment, Jahangirnagar University set up GIS lab in 1992. The following year several other university departments established GIS lab. These are: the department of Geography and Environment, University of Dhaka; the department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Rajshahi University; Urban and Rural Planning Discipline, Khulna University; the Department of Urban and Regional Planning (URP) and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET). Recently the department of Geology and the department of Soil, Water and Environment, both from Dhaka University and the department of Geography, Chittagong University also established GIS lab for research purposes.

Some other GIS installed organisations and companies are: Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWBD), CIPROCO Computers Limited, Cooperation of American Relief in Everywhere (CARE), Directorate of Land Records and Surveys (DLRS), Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), Development Design Consultants (DDC), Department of Environment (DOE), GEOSERV Limited, Geographical Solutions Research Centre (GSRC) Limited, International Centre for Diarrhoea Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Natural Resources Programmes (NRP), Banglapedia Project of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, The Mappa, etc.

The following table represents some common fields and activities of GIS technique with concerned organisations:

Field of applications Activities Organisations
Agriculture Monitoring, evaluation and management BARC, SRDI, MOA
Environment Monitoring, modelling and management for land degradation; weather and climate modelling, prediction and forecasting; river and coastal erosion modelling; flood management SPARRSO, EGIS, SWMC, DOE, MOA, CARE
Health Areal distribution of different diseases in relation to environmental factors ICDDR,B; DPHE
Forestry Management, planning; map prepare for site specific matching DOF
Regional/Local planning Development of plans, maintenance, management; infrastructure development programme, Land Registration Rajuk, DLRS, SPARRSO, LGED, CARE
Research and education Different sites problem solution from personal to national level Educational institutions and Consultant Organisations
Resource Management, planning, monitoring, recording SPARRSO, DOF, BCAS, EGIS, LGED
Social studies Demographic trends and developments analysis BBS, Educational institutions
Transport network Planning and management RHD, LGED, SOB
Others Thematic mapping, Topographical mapping, Site and Location Information, Services, Consultancy etc. SOB, LGED, DLRS, WARPO, Banglapedia, different firms/companies

Current trend In Bangladesh Agro-ecological Zoning (AEZ) method is important in finding the rational solutions of various problems like soil fertility constraints, landuse changes, land degradation assessment and possible control measures of land resources for planning at sustainable level. AEZ also provides the techniques to spatially discriminate areas with unique combination of physiography (landscape, geology) soil, hydrological and agro-climatic characteristics. The databases of AEZ collected from 1980 to 1987 are housed at BARC computer centre, Dhaka. It is now being used to generate readily accessible information on the land resources of the country for researchers, extension workers and decision-makers of land and agricultural resources management as well as agricultural development planning. This database constitutes the foundation for a new effort to develop a comprehensive multiscale GIS based Land Resources Information System (LRIS). The LRIS also includes additional databases on socio-economic and demographic factors influencing agricultural production.

GIS based flood-forecast models (MIKE-11) have recently been developed in Bangladesh. MIKE-11 and its GIS interfaces are suitable for application at the planning, design, implementation and operation levels. In the planning and design phase, the MIKE-11 system is a valuable tool for determining flood control and drainage structure operation rules, and providing inputs to flood preparedness programmes. At the implementation stage, MIKE-11 may be useful for a range of needs from scheduling flood prone construction works to a flood preparedness training aid.

Recently several alleviation schemes have been proposed to get rid off water logging problems of Dhaka City and a pilot hydrodynamic drainage model using GIS technology is made for low-lying parts of the city. Similarly, Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and SWMC's MOUSE model have also been installed to evaluate the various alleviation schemes.

Arsenic researchers of the country are also applying GIS technology for detailed arsenic contamination mapping, modelling the related physical processes of arsenic contamination and for formulating a watershed management strategy using mathematical modelling techniques. [Mohammad Abdul Hadi]