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A significant milestone has been reached by the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) following the adoption of a draft resolution by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) entitled “Strengthening institutional arrangements on geospatial information management”. The move is an acknowledgement of the UN-GGIM’s efforts over the last five years to co-ordinate and facilitate geospatial information management at an international level.

The adoption of the resolution followed a consultative review of the work and operations of the UN-GGIM and took place prior to the sixth session of the UN-GGIM which was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York from 1 to 5 August 2016.

The resolution acknowledges that the Committee of Experts is well placed to continue to contribute to the work of the United Nations, especially in the context of assisting member states to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway.

During his opening remarks, Wu Hongbo the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, stated that the resolution represented a milestone for the Committee of Experts, that it would streamline the work of the subsidiary bodies of the council in the field of geospatial information management, and strengthen and broaden its mandate as the relevant body to report to the council on all matters relating to geography, geospatial information and related topics.

He further stated that the UN-GGIM has a valuable role to play in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which aims to guide the world’s collective social, economic and environmental transformation over the next 15 years. Hongbo pointed out that the resulting new data needs are unprecedented and that they will require co-ordinated efforts at global, regional and national levels. He emphasised that “efforts to increase the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data, disaggregated by a range of metrics, including geographic location, will be critical in order to track progress, make informed decisions and to ensure no one is left behind.”

The adoption of the draft resolution on strengthening institutional arrangements on geospatial information management, means that ECOSOC has agreed to broaden and strengthen the mandate of the Committee of Experts and to confirm the inclusion of the annual session of the committee within the regular United Nations calendar of conferences and meetings. Member states will also be encouraged to provide voluntary contributions, and to ask the Secretary-General to mobilise additional resources to support the activities of the UN-GGIM.

This is good news for all who work with geospatial information. The resolution gives geospatial data and its management a more prominent role on a global stage, and will ultimately assist South African initiatives, such as our own Committee for Spatial Information, to acquire the status and authority required in order to operate successfully.

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2016 is shaping up to be a very tough year. There’s no water, there’s no money, jobs are dwindling, local elections are looming, and political infighting is intensifying. This year we will all be paying the price for inadequate planning, and for allowing corruption and inefficiencies to take root.

The sooner we all acknowledge that it’s time to stop passing the buck, time to stop turning a blind eye, the better. South Africa needs all hands on deck, and in particular, it needs its geographic information specialists to come to the rescue.

The gloomy economic scenario facing South Africa needs to be fought head on with systems that will enable optimisation of efficiencies for asset and resource management, revenue protection, budget expenditure, monitoring and logistics, utility maintenance and so on. Geospatial personnel, geodata infrastructure and geo-tools hold the key to enabling this efficiency optimisation.

In previous boom times, decision makers weren’t too concerned about efficiencies as there was enough fat in their budgets to obscure mismanagement and/or wasteful expenditure. In these trying times though, budgets are fat-free. Decision makers wanting to keep their jobs need to identify how to extract maximum value from limited budgets to ensure that their business units fulfill their mandated responsibilities.

It is clear that the Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, intends fulfilling his mandated responsibility – the prudent fiscal management of South Africa. Just like his courageous predecessor, Nhlanhla Nene, Gordhan has stood up against the monetary waywardness at South African Airways and, unlike Nene, he hasn’t been fired. Running on with Nene’s baton, Gordhan is continuing the race for financial prudence and we can expect a very tight budget for 2016.

Bearing this in mind, geospatial practitioners across all sectors, whether working with minerals, energy, water, education, transport, health, local government, environmental affairs, social services etc., need to understand the business value of their work. If they don’t understand the financial implications of their work, they need to make it their responsibility to ascribe a value to their efforts. In addition, geospatial specialists need to communicate this business value effectively to the executive management structures of the organisation they work for.

Geospatial practitioners are experts in geospatial matters but it is imperative that they understand the money principle; that when money talks, people listen, and that when Pravin is on the warpath, people’s listening improves dramatically.

There is also strength in numbers, and geomatics colleagues from across government departments need to collaborate, to join forces, and communicate with the finance minister. They need to use policy maps and geo-visualisation tools to show how geospatial personnel, geospatial tools and geospatial technologies are being used and how they can be better utilised to ensure efficient financial management of our country and its resources on behalf of all its people.

In order to weather the storms of 2016 and beyond, all members of the South African geomatics community need to make a concerted effort to get decision-makers in their respective organisations on to the geospatial highway as soon as possible.

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As South Africa enters its worst drought in over 20 years, the balance of power in the food security versus land reform debate has shifted fundamentally.  Speaking at the 2015 Grain SA Congress in early March, the  Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana expressed concern over the impact of drought on food production for 2015 and 2016 stating  that  “the scale of the drought and its impact will change quite a few of our priorities”.

As of March 2015, the maize crop is likely to be 32% lower than last year and the sunflower crop 31% lower. An Emergency National Drought Task Team Meeting has been set up to discuss the drought conditions in the affected parts of the country and other drought risk management related matters within the sector, with feedback expected shortly.

The expected drop in the 2015 maize yield and the anticipated higher maize prizes, will have an additional impact on food security as maize is a basic input for the production of other food items e.g. red meat , chicken, eggs and milk, leading to associated price increases for basic food products. The power crisis has also contributed to (and will continue to contribute to) heightened food production costs via load shedding and raised energy costs, which will in turn have further additional impacts on South Africa’s food security.

The Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, which President Zuma spoke about in his State of the Nation Address and which Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti said would be passed into law by September 2015, has the potential to further negatively impact South Africa’s food security via its proposal to limit agricultural land holdings to 12 000 hectares. Farmers have been quick to point out that the 12 000 hectare limit would have a dire impact on certain types of farmers in certain locations i.e. a sheep farmer in the Karoo. Fortunately the agriculture minister has also been quick to re-iterate that nothing is cast in stone on this matter and that more debate is needed.

In addition, the ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe reiterated a number of times at a land reform imbizo held on 26 February 2015 that the ANC fully recognised the importance of food security and the role of commercial farmers in ensuring food security. He also made it clear that the ANC was not in favour of changes that would destroy the agricultural sector.

While land reform does need to be addressed, it is vital that it should not be carried out at the expense of food security. Land reform initiatives need to enhance food security for South Africans by developing effective support programmes for land redistribution beneficiaries, and by supporting joint ventures between successful farmers and new-entrants. Monitoring programmes too are vital for tracking the progress of land claims, the effectiveness of beneficiary support programmes, the provision of adequate supporting infrastructure, and ensuring that adequate crop reserves have been retained for times of drought.

The geospatial community – whether via surveying, GIS, remote sensing, and/or mapping  – has the skills to ensure that all of this gets done. The powers-that-be, the ultimate decision-makers, the ministers, the director-generals, need to be made aware of the super-powers that reside within the geospatial sector so that they can adequately fund and make effective inter-departmental,  co-ordinated use of these skills.

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It is a national disgrace that parts of Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane experienced water supply disruption in recent weeks, and government’s response to this unprecedented situation has been singularly disappointing.

At a media briefing on 26 September 2014, the Minister of Water and Sanitation,  Nomvula Mokonyane, said there was a need to move beyond the “blame game”, and a joint statement released by the department and Rand Water on 30 September 2014 stated that the interruptions had “largely been as a result of vandalism and circumstances beyond our control.”

I put it to the minister that this is not a game, and that the circumstances are not beyond the department’s control. This is a matter of national security, and the perpetrator was not a terrorist grouping but rather the very organisations legally tasked with the responsibility of regulating the storage and supply of water for Gauteng, as well as the rest of South Africa.

The Department of Water and Sanitation is well aware of the obstacles standing in the way of its goal to provide effective, sustainable municipal water services. The department’s own reports indicate that these include relying on a workforce with an increasing lack of technical skills, aging water infrastructure, increasing investment requirements, inadequate water resources, rising energy costs, competing political priorities within municipalities, and poor water services planning and prioritisation amongst others.

A 2013 Strategic Overview of the Water Sector in South Africa prepared by the then Department of Water Affairs reveals that few water service authorities practice proper management of their water services infrastructure and as a result there are regular service failures resulting in non-functionality of schemes, customer dissatisfaction, threats to health and financial losses. In addition, a presentation by Department of Water Affairs’ representatives at the 2013 World Water Week in Stockholm identifies Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, and Tshwane as being “highly vulnerable” water service authorities on a Municipal Strategic Self-Assessment of Water Services (MuSSA) vulnerability index of 17 priority municipalities.

In view of this, surely the Department of Water and Sanitation and Rand Water should be operating on high alert, and planning ahead to deal with possible scenarios capable of having a detrimental impact on Gauteng’s integrated water network. Black outs are not unusual occurrences, and neither is cable theft. The impact of incidents of this nature on the water supply system need to be fully understood, and contingency plans need to be developed to minimise the risk.

There are ample technologies – geospatial, mechanical and automative – available to facilitate the effective and efficient management of the country’s water supply, and these should have triggered alarm bells when pumping stopped and Gauteng’s reservoirs started emptying. It is not apparent though whether these technologies are being used in our integrated water management systems. Were alarms triggered? And what action was taken if these alarms were triggered?

The Department of Water and Sanitation and Rand Water have been entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and managing our water resources and systems. Taking responsibility for what happened and ensuring that it does not happen again, is certainly within their control.

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The South African geospatial industry needs to participate in the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) regulatory process driven by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). This process seeks to govern the use of UAS in South Africa with the initial establishment of interim regulations in 2015. By participating in this process, the geospatial industry and its representatives will be able to ensure that the requirements of the sector, whether UAS suppliers, UAS operators, data collectors and/or data users, are met by the interim regulations and ultimately the final regulations.

Like it or not, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS), or UAS are here to stay. As technology has advanced, these systems have become increasingly sophisticated. These days UAS feature lightweight airframes and advanced propulsion systems with built-in accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS and altimeters. They are capable of carrying payloads that include high resolution/hyperspectral/lidar cameras, and can operate for significant distances, at high altitudes, out of line-of-sight, and are efficient to operate and require little maintenance.

With the increasing popularity of UAS, it is not surprising that a major concern for civil aviation bodies around the world is the safe and responsible operation of UAS. Few will disagree that this needs to be addressed, but many worldwide are concerned about the lengthy delays in regulating their use.

The Association for Unmanned Aerial Systems International (AUVSI) predicts that the economic impact of integrating UAS into US air space will result in an economic impact of US$13,6-billion in the first three years resulting in the creation of 34 000 manufacturing jobs and more than 70 000 jobs in the first three years of integration. AUVSI is of the opinion that every year that the US delays, it loses over US$10-billion in potential economic impact. While these figures may not be as great in South Africa, they will probably still be very significant and it seems a great pity that South Africans are being held back in their attempts to get this potential growth sector up and running.

Clearly, it is vital that the geospatial industry, in the form of individuals, companies and associations, gets involved in the UAS regulatory process to ensure that the regulations cover the needs that the geospatial sector will require of this burgeoning UAS technology.  It is essential that the regulations do not impinge unnecessarily on the potential quality of data collected by today’s UAS, and the UAS of the future. Already issues regarding night flights, out of line-of-sight flights and payloads are a concern, and these are factors that will impact on UAS operators seeking to service the geospatial sector.

By participating actively in this regulatory process, the South African geospatial sector will be well placed to educate its members on the responsible handling and optimal use of UAS. Keeping in touch with developments in this arena will also ensure that the geospatial industry is well positioned to take advantage of the potential economic benefit of UAS technologies.

For additional information see: Unmanned aerial operator body discusses way forward

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The Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, formally announced the re-opening of the land claims process on 1 July 2014. This followed the enacting of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act, 2014 which extended the date for lodgement of land claims for those who did not claim by the initial deadline of 31 December 1998, to 30 June 2019.

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) is not certain how much funding it will need to process the new claims as this will be determined by the number of claims lodged as well as the extent of the claims. However, a Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) conducted by the department estimated that 397 000 valid claims will be lodged and that it will cost between R129-billion to R179-billion, depending on the options selected by claimants and whether those claims are settled within 15 years. This means that the department will need an additional allocation of R8,6-billion to R11,9-billion per year for the next 15 years to settle the new claims.

But where is this money to come from? All eyes will be on the new Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene to see whether the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement will reveal any additional funding for the DRDLR to finance the claims arising from the re-opening of the land restitution process.

In a statement issued at the re-opening announcement, Minister Nkwinti revealed that 14 lodgement offices and sites across the country have been opened in all nine provinces, and that “these sites have been equipped with advanced technology to ensure the speedy and accurate capture of relevant information” and that “every effort will be made to ensure the process from the submission of a claim to the time it is settled is a smooth one”.

That all sounds simple enough, but the reality is far more complex. Processing a land claim is a complicated affair and needs to be geospatially managed right from the get go. When making a land claim it is vital to get an accurate description of the location of the land.  Geospatial tools that can assist in the identification and delineation of claimed land include  GPS-enabled devices, historical topographical maps and the use of a geospatially enabled land claims lodgement system. Using these tools will go a long way towards bringing down the cost of the land claims process and speeding up the finalisation rate. A geospatially enabled land claims lodgement system will also allow for the efficient management of the land claims process and prevent opportunitistic individuals from manipulating the land restitution process for their own benefit.

Further complications when dealing with land claims is that very often the cadastral layout does not resemble the reality of what is on the ground. And what about land claims that don’t coincide with cadastral properties? Land that is located on a portion of a current cadastral property? Land claims that transverse current and historical cadastral boundaries? Never mind the various categories of land rights including unregistered rights such as share cropping and so on.

Another complication is the 8471 claims lodged before the 1998 cut off period that have not yet been settled or resolved, and which have been now been prioritised for settlement. The current system apparently uses surname as a unique identifier, which could make it difficult for the Land Claims Commission to differentiate between “old” land claims and “new” land claims.

Hopefully Minister Nkwinti has ensured that the Land Claims Commission will be drawing on the skills of geomatics professionals from within the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform to strive for efficient geospatial management of the land claims process. If he is serious about an effective land restitution process, he will be making sure that this is indeed the case.

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Reading through the submissions at the recent parliamentary public hearings into the Geomatics Profession Bill, it was evident that GISSA, SAGI, IMSSA, and PLATO had common concerns about the somewhat indifferent consultation process, the inadequate defining of the geomatics profession, and the representivity of the new geomatics council.

Most parties making submissions expressed their frustration with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) saying that comments submitted on previous occasions were not acknowledged, no feedback was provided and there was no evidence of the comments having been incorporated into the Bill. Even the parliamentary committee members expressed concern at the apparent lack of consultation. In addition, common complaints were that calls for comments were made over holiday periods with short time periods allocated for responses.

Effective consultation is a two-way process, and it is concerning that insufficient attention has been paid to the consultation process. The lack of consultation is evidenced by the fact that the definition of the geomatics profession is inadequate. Several organisations expressed concern at the over emphasis of land surveying at the expense of other disciplines. Understandably, GISSA expressed concerns about the definition of “geomatics practitioners” being biased towards surveying practitioners, while IMSSA and SAGI expressed concerns about the Bill failing to adequately describe the other geomatics disciplines such as mine surveyors and engineering surveyors.

Land surveyors are just one element of the equation making up the geomatics profession and it is very concerning to see that despite there being several periods where comments have been invited, the Geomatics Profession Bill has still not adequately dealt with the matter of defining the various disciplines within the geomatics profession.

Understandably, the inadequate definition of the geomatics profession has in turn led to concerns regarding the make-up of the new geomatics council. Complaints were made about the disproportionate representation of professional land surveyors on the council and several parties requested that the new council needs to be representative of the different disciplines making up the profession.

What is wrong with the suggestion that the recognised voluntary associations be allowed to nominate representatives to the new geomatics council? Who better to understand the challenges being faced by the various disciplines, than the very geomatics professionals involved in those disciplines.

Pleasing everyone who has provided commentary on the Geomatics Profession Bill is obviously not going to be possible. At the very least, however, it is important to address the issues of being truly consultative, drawing up an inclusive definition of geomatics professionals, and ensuring that the new council is representative of the various disciplines that it will be representing.

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