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GIS in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Mountains

The sustainable management and development of natural resources in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is a complex task. Relevant and precise information is essential Kathmandu Valley web home pagefor appropriate planning at all levels of the decision making chain. The use of GIS has greatly facilitated this process. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), with its headquarters in Nepal, serves as a forum for sustainable development within the region and as the hub of an information exchange network. In 1991, the Mountain Environment and Natural Resources' Information System (MENRIS) was established by ICIMOD with the aim of promoting the use of GIS applications that result in sustainable development. Its close contacts and collaboration with partner and research institutions, space agencies, universities, and the private sector have fostered the establishment of a strong GIS network serving this vast and diverse region. A key factor in the success of this dissemination network has been the strategic alliance with Esri—established at the inception of MENRIS—that has resulted in invaluable and continuing support through the provision of software and technical know-how.

Above right: The Kathmandu Valley GIS CD-ROM is packaged with comprehensive, local data sets.

ICIMOD, through MENRIS, focuses its efforts on strengthening the capacity of partner institutions in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, and Pakistan to use and apply GIS and related technologies. As Basanta Shrestha, the acting head of MENRIS, explains, "The potential for developing GIS-based solutions for our region's environmental problems is enormous. However, a major constraint is the lack of skilled GIS personnel. The transfer of GIS knowledge and skills to our partner institutions has created a strong network that is now acting as the foundation for continuing growth throughout the region."

To this end, nearly 800 people from more than 100 partner institutions have been trained by ICIMOD in the use of GIS technologies. Since 1997, nearly 240 people have been trained in GIS applications that are specific to mountain areas. Several partner map of dry matter demands from forestsinstitutions have in turn become nodal agencies that train professionals and students from many varied disciplines. A recent MENRIS project has been the production of a training CD-ROM on the application of geoinformatics for sustainable mountain development using ArcView GIS Desktop software from Esri. This CD-ROM is the first step in a computer-based approach to training that should one day offer students in the region the options of distance learning, Web-based training and, eventually, university courses. To bring GIS to a broader audience, MENRIS is also producing a handbook with CD-ROM for schools and colleges entitled GIS for Beginners. The CD-ROM is packaged with comprehensive, local data sets and ArcExplorer software from Esri. A pilot version was launched in Nepal on the occasion of GIS Day 2000 (see "Applications of GIS within the Himalayan Region"). The final version is currently being prepared for wide distribution in schools and colleges.

Above left: Dry-matter demand from forest from the report on the State of the Environment for Nepal.

ICIMOD-MENRIS also supports the expansion of GIS utilization within ICIMOD and by partner institutions at local, national, and regional levels. An ICIMOD initiative at the local level has been the application of GIS in the community for watershed management and planning, where the production of large-scale maps integrated with information on natural resources and socioeconomic conditions has allowed communities to identify which locations within their watershed require particular types of management. At the regional level, ICIMOD is involved in using GIS technology to develop a platform for examining the location of various agricultural systems within particular agroecological zones and integrating the many technical methodologies that can be applied to these agricultural systems. A recent example of a local-level application by a partner institution is biodiversity assessment and conservation planning in the forests of eastern Arunachal Pradesh in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in India. Spatial classification was conducted to generate a map on land cover. This information was analyzed to determine habitat fragmentation and diversity. Priority areas for biodiversity conservation were identified. PC ARC/INFO was used to digitize the topographic maps and ArcInfo Workstation was used for data preparation and final map composition. ERDAS IMAGINE and ArcView were used for satellite image processing and spatial analysis. The use of GIS technology meant that the many data sets needed to develop a workable action plan could be integrated effectively at a cost that was acceptable within a limited budget.

methodology chart for the Kathmandu Valley
Methodology of GIS database development
and analysis for the Kathmandu Valley.

An important national-level application is the production by ICIMOD, in collaboration with the Ministry of Population and Environment, of a report on the state of the environment for Nepal. This is a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) initiative following the 1992 Rio Summit that aims to provide guidelines for environmental action planning, policy setting, and resource allocation. The Nepal report will feed into the preparation of the Decadal 2002 Global State of the Environment Report. Five key national issues—forest depletion, soil degradation, solid waste management, water quality, and air pollution—were identified. Data sets from secondary sources on the present status of environmental conditions and socioeconomic driving forces were collected and compiled in a database. The key issues were analyzed using a pressure-state-impact-response (PSIR) framework. Parameters were integrated, analyzed, and presented in map form using ArcView software. Apart from the environmental issues, this work identified that inconsistencies in the databases, unavailability of spatial and temporal data, and difficulties in data sharing are limitations that need resolving.

At the regional level, land cover mapping for the entire Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is being undertaken. Although this type of information would be extremely useful for environmental planning across the region, the methodology for collecting data sets and mapping physical details is hampered by political concerns, as well as physical and financial ones, in the several conflict zones of the region. The intention is to develop a standardized method for deriving temporal land cover characteristics and detailed core area map for biodiversity conservation in eastern Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Indiaforest types using GIS and remote sensing that can be applied to each country within the region. An important element of the work has been the development of a method for selecting training samples that are spectrally homogeneous and spatially significant for accurate image classification. Sushil Pradhan, a GIS analyst at MENRIS, comments, "Training samples are statistically unbiased as their spectral homogeneity is measured by means of a standard deviation. They are the basis units for ground data collection." This method has been tested in deriving land cover for Bhutan and Nepal. The study used IRS Wide Field Sensor data. The digitization of the various layers was done using PC ARC/INFO, image processing was carried out using ERDAS IMAGINE, and the analysis and outputs were made using ArcView. Pradhan concludes happily, "The overall accuracy of the land cover classification for Bhutan was 83 percent and that for Nepal was 88 percent." This method will be disseminated to partner institutions in other countries of the region and will be tested to validate the methodology.

Above right: Identification of areas for biodiversity conservation in eastern Arunachal Pradesh in India.

A common situation in countries of the region is that existing data is often dispersed, heterogeneous, and inaccessible. There is considerable duplication of effort by organizations collecting information for their GIS databases. A recent example directed at overcoming this problem at a local level was to create a GIS that bridged the gaps in data that have become apparent for the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. This work was carried out to promote a national policy of database sharing, development, and standardization. Digitized maps were created from existing topographic maps. Spatial information on land use and capability, road and drainage networks, services, contours, and spot heights was assembled. Socioeconomic information was integrated into the database. High-resolution satellite images were collected and processed using ERDAS IMAGINE. All the spatial and tabular data sets were finally integrated into a single information system that was created using ArcView on the desktop and workstation-based ArcInfo. Shrestha comments, "Developing databases takes a lot of time and resources; production costs are normally 70 percent of the budgets of most GIS projects. This integrated database can be used by many organizations for various applications." Some potential applications already under scrutiny are cost-distance modeling for transportation networks, land cover change analysis, urban growth detection, and area suitability analysis for carpet industries. Shrestha adds, "It is hoped that this type of initiative will eventually spread throughout the region and that a regional geoinformatics infrastructure can be developed."

For more information about ICIMOD-MENRIS, contact Basanta Shrestha, acting division head (tel.: 977-1-525316, e-mail: or visit

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