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Central America Data Integration and Technical Capacity Building Workshop

Produced by Jean Parcher, Cartography Commission member and USNS Vice President


In Central America, the National Geography Institutes are at a turning point to modernize their mapping programs. With the large number of weather related natural disasters in the region, there is a great need to make seamless geospatial data for disaster planning and environmental monitoring. The small size of the region on a global scale and the number of environmental issues and natural disasters, make it imperative to have regional mapping coordination and available geographic information for various uses. This proposal is to carry out a working meeting between representatives from all countries in Central America. The principal activity and product of the workshop is to apply participatory cartography methods to harmonize and integrate their digital mapping data for the region at the 1:250,000-scale or better. The goal of the meeting is to foster collaboration between Geographic Information System (GIS) specialists and environmental scientists within Central America, devise a working plan to harmonize the datasets, and provide hands on capacity training for new data products to the member nations. 


Monitoring environmental change on a global scale requires cooperation between nations. To make this cooperation effective, nations need to share and make compatible environmental, geographic, and demographic data at a level that promotes collaboration but does not compromise national security. In Central America, many of the National Geography Institutes have completed their Global Map datasets and are considering applying the Global Map standards and data content to higher resolution data for their countries. Some disaster related data may exist from previous disaster mitigation activities, along with project related environmental data, but are not maintained or incorporated into the National Geography Institutes framework. Therefore the next logical objective for Central America is to coordinate data integration across country boundaries, build regional applications, and develop higher resolution datasets at the 1:250,000-scale and 1:50,000-scale. Participatory regional coordination of mapping activities is essential to ensure long-term data compatibility throughout the region. 


Relationship building between technical specialists is the crucial step towards successful data sharing across international boundaries during a natural disaster or an emergency.  To help achieve the goal of seamless datasets throughout Central America, the U.S. National Section of PAIGH is proposing a 2-week working meeting consisting of each country sending a representative from the National Geography Institute and a representative from the National Environmental Agency. During this working meeting, the participants will cooperatively develop a plan for integrating data both across Central American boundaries and from various environmental or disaster projects, prototype the plan in a working session, and develop long-term partnerships between their counterparts in each country. In addition, the working session will have presentations from partner organizations such as the Mexican Institute of Census and Geography (INEGI), the Center for Humid Tropical Water for Latin America and the Caribbean (CATHALAC), the International Hydrography Organization, and the U.S. Geological Survey to present on emerging technical capacity and applied data models. These may include a National Hydrography Dataset, Seamless Elevation Dataset, Land Cover Classification, International Bathymetric Chart of the Caribbean, and analysis of satellite imagery. 

The major objective of the workshop will be to apply participatory mapping methods to build working relationship between geographers and natural resource specialists of Central America while building a seamless map of the region at the 1:250,000-scale that can be distributed to partner organizations in the region. A secondary objective is to develop priorities for additional data layers within the region, such as watershed boundaries, hydrographic networks and/or applied data models. 


For the meeting to reach its greatest potential, a coordinator from the U.S. National Section of the MGA project will make contact with each participating country, request that the complete the Global Map of the Americas Survey, discuss their progress on the Global Map, request a letter from their agency concerning the availability of sharing their geographic information at the 1:250,000-sclae, and inquire about additional resources needed for the working meeting.  These resources may include high-resolution satellite imagery, of which the USGS may be able to obtain from commercial resources for use in the workshop. The workshop will be held in a location where each participant can have access to a GIS-ready computer. The Mexican Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI) in Aguascalientes, Mexico, has offered to host the workshop. INEGI had dormitories for lodging and a well-equipped training center. 

Each country will arrive with its 1:250,000-scale geospatial data in digital format. At the workshop, computers with ArcGIS will be available to begin the task of integrating the datasets. International boundary lines will not be altered, but for the other data themes, such as hydrography, transportation, and populated areas, the features on the border of each country will be analyzed for consistency of content and geospatial representation. Where there are discontinuities, the appropriate technical staff of the participating countries will decide on the best manner to correct the data. 


The final product of the workshop will be a seamless integrated digital map of Central America at the 1:250,000-scale with metadata documentation. Other products will include: a long-term integrated plan for maintaining the digital map, a list of data gaps for the region, and priorities for additional thematic layers and technical training needs. An intangible product will be the working relationships between geographers and natural resource specialists from all countries in Central America, Mexico, and the United States. 

Anticipated Benefits

For several years, the National Geography Agencies in each country have expressed the need for enhancing their Global Map data at a larger scale, such as 1:250,000.  This scale is applicable for regional and subregional applications, such as environmental monitoring, risk and vulnerability assessment, climate change, and economic adaptability to a changing environment.  In order to assure that the data are useful, the data must be harmonized or integrated across international boundaries.  The most efficient and accurate manner to accomplish this is by using a participatory mapping approach, whereas the technical experts work together to improve their datasets along international boundaries. This working relationship strengthens the long-term chances of maintaining these working relationships. 

Several international partners have expressed great interest in partnering with this initiative. They include the Proyecto Mesoamérica (formerly known as Plan Puebla Panamá), whose current initiative Reducción de Riesgos de Desastres Naturales calls for a Sistema de Coordinación Mesoamericana de Información Territorial. Proyecto Mesoamérica is willing to collaborate with our project to not duplicate efforts.  The Panama Regional Office of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) is extremely interested in partnering with this initiative.  UNEP’s focus is on environmental issues, thus the need to bring together both National Geography Agencies and Environmental Agencies to the working meeting.  Once the participatory mapping process has been established between member countries, the project may want to focus on high-priority transboundary watersheds to solve land use or sustainable development issues. The Organization of American States Sustainable Development area may also be interested in providing additional funding. 


During the PAIGH Directing Council meeting in San Salvador, El Salvador held November 19-21, 2008, four nations of Central America (Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala) and Mexico agreed to participate in this workshop.  In January 2009, Nicaragua agreed to participate.  All of these countries have already completed the Global Map of the Americas survey.  There is still a need to ensure that Honduras and Belize will participate. Proyecto Mesoamérica and UNEP have verbally agreed to fund part of the workshop in their 2010 budget.  Therefore, upon receipt of the funding from PAIGH for projects in 2010, the workshop can be organized to take place in the spring of 2010, with follow up activities through email and conference calls during the remaining part of 2010. 

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