New, comprehensive digital maps are being developed that promise to be an important tool in guiding development in Cambodia, local and foreign experts said in a workshop Friday.
Consultants from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, discussed the first phase of a $13 million project to produce so-called Geographic Information Survey maps that can present and coordinate a much wider variety of information than ever could be presented on a paper map.
With just a few clicks of a mouse Friday, Huon Rath, the GIS expert for the Ministry of Public Works and Transit, went from a road map to a report on its condition and then a report on its susceptibility to flooding based on topographic maps. He called up a picture of a bridge along the road and then a report on the bridge’s condition.
GIS maps combine topographic surveys, satellite imaging, aerial photography, census maps and other kinds of surveys to coordinate information on geologic features, human settlement and land use, experts said.
“It puts layer upon layer. This is just a tool for decision makers,” said Fujio Ito, a consulting engineer who is overseeing the project for JICA.
The last comprehensive efforts to map Cambodia date from a US Army project in the 1950s, Ito said. Land settlement and land use were very different back then, he said.
While the project uses several existing maps and surveys, some maps are being built from scratch, said Heng Thung, a US-based geologist who first proposed the project.
Land-use maps will indicate locations of villages, farms and kinds of crops, and other human modifications to the landscape. Landform maps will outline basic geologic features such as flood plains and granite beds.
The software can automatically suggest new alignments for roads based on map information, Huon Rath said.
“Integrating the data we have is very important for use as base data for national infrastructure development,” he said.
By mapping out which vacant areas have the best soil, the maps could also suggest potential sites for resettlement or demining, said Khun Sokha, GIS project director for the public works ministry.
The maps can also identify “hot spots” which are most threatened by environmental degradation in the future, Heng Thung said. People who live in densely settled areas without enough good farmland could end up cutting down nearby forests, he said.
The project, underway since 1996, is now in a second phase, which entails surveying the less-populated eastern areas of the country.
A new round of aerial photography will begin with the dry season. Also with the dry season, teams of mappers will go out into the field to survey areas for which existing maps give conflicting information. Those field surveys were not an option at the outset of the project, when the Khmer Rouge still controlled parts of the country, Ito said.
Next month, a Web site is scheduled to go online that will provide road and map information that can be purchased, said Hideaki Umeda, a geologist and Web site coordinator.
Next year the project will produce improved country maps that will go to every Cambodian school, Ito said.
Thung said he first proposed the GIS project to Cambodian officials a decade ago, but bureaucratic infighting stalled it.
The continued success of the project will depend on ministries agreeing to share information, he said.
Participants at the seminar, including ministry and provincial technical officials, and a few from industry, were asked to describe what maps they could offer the project.
“There is so much data, but not easy access to that data,” he said. Later he added, “That is a true GIS, when everybody participates and shares.”