Mapping the Future

Environmental Conservation and Management has never been made easier than in the 21st century. The use of satellite imagery and information & communication technology has enabled many scientists, researchers, managers, planners, community leaders and communities to map out, plan and monitor the status of existing natural resources and other developmental activities, a move that has propelled the implementation of sustainable development strategies in many countries around the world.

Among ways in which the environment has utilized information technology is the use of tools such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Geographical Positioning System (GPS) and the use of web based tools such as Google Earth. These tools have gone a long way to enable spatial data to be collected, managed and analyzed with regard to resources, landscape features, and socio-economic characteristics of an area in both space and time.

For instance, in Laikipia District, conflict between smallholder farmers and raiding elephants from Kenya’s second largest elephant population is a substantial problem. Elephants threaten the livelihoods of poor farmers while human population growth, the expansion of cultivated areas and increased water scarcity exert pressure on elephant habitats. Elephants are shot bringing conservationists into the picture. The human elephant conflict is becoming an issue of political and economic significance and land rights debates are flaring up. It is this challenge that led to the development of the groundbreaking GPS (Global Positioning System)-GSM (Global System for mobile Communication) elephant collar technology by a Kenyan Organization called Save the Elephants. This is a technology that uses Safaricom Communication Network to track the movement of elephants and other animals. This technology has gone a long way to control and prevent crop-raiding elephants, alleviate poverty and promote environmental management and conservation.

The indigenous Ogiek community has also not been left behind. Since 1997 the Ogiek community has been involved in litigation against the Kenyan government several times concerning their eviction from the Eastern Mau Forest and the resettlement into this area of farmers from other parts of the country. So far, their claims have been dismissed. Lack of concrete information pertaining to their territorial claims has contributed to this unfavorable outcome. A project to map the ancestral territories of 23 Ogiek clans in the Eastern Mau forest with the help of aerial photographs and use of a participatory mapping approach was launched in 2005. The Ogiek representatives will use the resulting Ogiek People’s Ancestral Territories (OPAT) Atlas as an information and negotiation tool in the context of litigation bringing claims against the government.

The Mekong River Commission Secretariat also carried out a GIS –based topographic classification and analysis in order to back up land use and land cover recommendations for the entire lower Mekong Basin. These recommendations aim to protect water and soil resources in the upper reaches of tributaries and regularize surface runoff in the basin. At the same time the secretariat established a forest cover map on the basis of satellite images and aerial photographs. The overlay of both data layers allows identification of critical areas in terms of soil and water conservation, there by enhancing regional priority setting for natural resource management.

Other ways in which ICT can be used is in mapping out weed invasions in a given area, for exploration of oil, land use patterns, changes in forest cover and to map out biodiversity hot spots among others.

Currently, the newest tool in the market is what we call G-Plates, the software that enables both the visualisation and the manipulation of plate-tectonic reconstructions and associated data through geological time.

As you can therefore see, integration of information and technology in environmental matters, what I would love to call Environmental Information and Communication Technology (EI&CT) or in simple terms, Conservation Geography, has proven to be one of the most powerful and ideal technologies for analyzing the impact of development and consumption of natural resources. These tools will also aid in finding a common ground among all the competing interests around the globe.

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