Workshop report Environmental data management in Tanzania 21-23. October 2014

The necessities of coordinating environmental information

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The necessities of coordinating environmental information

Tanzania is a partner to the Oil for Development (OfD) program. The aim of the OfD programme is to reduce poverty by promoting economically, environmentally and socially responsible management of petroleum resources. In an early report from Oil for Development (Norad, 2007) the programs environmental pillar was explained this way:

To ensure a sustainable development, it is vital that the exploration and the production of oil and gas resources are carried out without negative long-term effect on the environment.

The main challenges are:

  • Taking environmental issues into account in an adequate way when opening areas for drilling and production

  • Carrying out risk assessments and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), and act in line with the conclusions

  • Taking action to avoid accidental pollution and reduce the consequences in case of spills

  • Carrying out environmental monitoring as part of the running activities

  • Limiting the discharge and emissions of hazardous or harmful substances to the air, water and soil

  • Planning and carrying out shut-down and decommissioning in an environmentally acceptable manner

  • Avoid flaring of gas except for safety reasons

The environment pillar is an important part of the support to handle planning and emergency response activities related to the development of the Tanzanian petroleum resources. Data management is one of the areas prioritized for collaboration between NEMC and NEA.

Environmental data management is a crucial part of any decision making related to the regional, national and global aspects of the environment. Good decisions rest on good quality, up to date, accessible and relevant information. Emergency response systems relies on good information about sensitive areas and resources.

Agreeing and adhering to national and international standards is an integral part of managing spatial data. Knowledge about standards and support to use them is something the Norwegian partners can contribute to.

In Tanzania many government offices, organizations and companies struggle with the different aspects of collecting, storing and disseminating their own information. The Oil for Development program through the Norwegian Environment Agency recognizes that NEA can give relevant contributions. Through discussions with NEMC it has become evident that coordination of environmental data is a good area for collaboration.

The author of this report and one of the workshop facilitators, Ragnvald Larsen, presenting.

Data sharing in Tanzania

We can find the history of the process towards a national spatial data infrastructure in Tanzania described in a paper presented at the XXIII FIG Congress in Munich (Kalande & Ondulo, 2006). It has also been subject to research by the Swedish student Jonas Johansson. Johansson did a field study on Spatial Data Infrastructure in Tanzania in 2006 (Johansson, 2006). Exploring the National Spatial Data Infrastructure Initiative in Tanzania.

Johansson interviewed several individuals and organizations central to the development of a NSDI plan in Tanzania:

  • University College of Lands and Architectural Studies (UCLAS)

  • National Bureau of Statistics (NBS)

  • Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited (TANESCO)

  • University of Dar es Salaam Institute of Resource Assessment (UDSM-IRA)

  • Surveys and Mapping Division (SMD) of the Ministry of Lands and Human

  • Settlements Development

  • Dar es Salaam City Council

  • National Environmental Management Council (NEMC)

  • Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security

  • Department of Survey and Urban Planning, Zanzibar Land and Environment (SMOLE)

  • Soil and Water Ltd

  • Tanzania Meteorological Agency


  • National Development Corporation (NDC)

  • Swedish Geological

In his study, he points to the following findings with regards to funding for the NSDI initiative in Tanzania:

Funding has turned out to be a factor in the Tanzanian NSDI initiative. Remaining donor funds from the 2002 Population and Housing Census initially enabled the steering committee to hold a few meetings. When that source was depleted, the potential sources of funding of NSDI at the beginning of 2006 seem to be the involved organisations separately. Interesting research is going on today on the topic of national budgeting and SDI, where cross-agency budgeting for SDI have been presented as an option.

He also refers to a dialogue with the National Environmental Management Council in Dar where an important issue was raised:

Another reason that the steering committee activity has declined, according to NEMC, may be simply that a NSDI is not deemed critical to perform day-to-day work at the involved organisations.

Some stakeholders considered this a passing issue and firmly believed that a NSDI will be established soon:

Considering global trends however, several respondents believe that NSDI will eventually be established in Tanzania and that it is just a matter of time before that will happen.

Based on this report and the paper by Kalande and Ondulo it seems that there is an interest over many years for further work on a National Spatial Data Infrastructure.

In a more recent paper (Lubidaa, Pilesjöa, Esplingb, & Runnströma, 2014) base their findings on a questionnaire sent to GIS professionals, predominantly within district GIS officers and some national level institutions. One of their more important findings point to the fact that:

[..] a majority of the respondents expressed concern over the low capability of many institutions to collect and manage geographic data in order to cater for the growing demand for geospatial data.”

The cure is according to the authors:

To enhance this, training of staff responsible for spatial data and the establishment of a policy is essential.

Their respondents supported this indicating the following:

A majority of the responses (79%) showed awareness creation as the main issue to be taken into consideration, while 72% showed lack of policy on the subject matter. Other comments are related to training of staff, storage, and updating issues, as well as the need for a lead organization to oversee SDI implementation.

Apart from working on the capacity to collect and store data, it is fundamentally important to establish or acknowledge systems and legal basis for sharing environmental data.

Starting up the work with a data exchange mechanism supporting environmental information is in our view a response to the situation description as well as the suggested activities. It is our hope that a bottom up approach related to environmental data infrastructure will increase the institutional as well as thematic capabilities.

When the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (Kalande & Ondulo, 2006) at some point is established, it is the view of the author of this report that any work related to environmental information must be integrated in a national spatial data infrastructure.

On the more informal side the Tanzania GIS User Group (TZGISUG, 2006) deserves some mention. This is a mailing list and informal contact point initiated by David Ericksson, Grant Hopcraft and others in 2002. Since then the mailing list has supported thousands of requests for data, contacts and techniques. In 2006 a website was initiated by the author of this report, and has since also supported some data. In around 2012 the caretakers of the website decided against providing data on the website arguing that an official website based on a governmental initiative would be the best way to disseminate such data.

I consider the work we now have started on to be an important step forward in establishing systems and practices to support the exchange and use of environmental data in Tanzania. It will however rely on the priorities of Tanzania, NEMC and relevant stakeholder to bring this initiative forward. Establishing a community and practice for sharing environmental data will not only be based on laws and regulations. It will in the end of the day rely on individual capacity, knowledge and motivation of the many professionals involved in the process.

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