Published on Sustainable Cities

Join us on the geospatial way to a better world

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Join us on the geospatial way to a better world. Photo: Kris Krüg / Flickr CC Join us on the geospatial way to a better world. Photo: Kris Krüg / Flickr CC

Disruptive technology, supported by location-based – or “geospatial” – databases, is on track to change our lives, transform economies, and shake up big and small businesses.  In fact, this is already happening in cities and communities around the world, thanks to fast-developing mobile technology and the growing speed of mobile communications.

For example, a Cairo-based startup called “Swvl” is disrupting commuting in the In the Middle East and North Africa region by mapping out commuters’ travel directions and enabling app-based, affordable bus rides that can compete with on-demand ride-hailing.

Location-based data is a major factor contributing to success stories like this. Simply put, geospatial information is a foundation for:  

  • e-government applications, including smart cities, property registration, and utility management;
  • the commercial sector, including companies such as Amazon, Uber, Alibaba, Didi, etc.; and
  • our daily life – to navigate where we go, shop, and eat.

Making geospatial information more useful for a sustainable world was the subject of the first United Nations World Geospatial Information Congress (UNWGIC) held by the United Nations and the government of China in Deqing, Zhejiang Province, China, November 19–21. I attended the conference along with more than 1,000 participants from 83 countries, various international organizations, and many geospatial technology and information industry leaders.

One of the important subjects discussed at the conference is how to implement the Integrated Geospatial Information Framework in development programs and projects. Jointly developed by the World Bank and the United Nations, the framework aims to help countries bridge the “geospatial digital divide” by providing guidance on building a geospatial information infrastructure. While many advanced economies have been successful in developing such infrastructure, sadly, very few low and middle-income countries have achieved that goal.

The framework includes nine pillars, together which complete the puzzle of a solid foundation for the geospatial information infrastructure. The pillars include: governance and institutions, policy and laws, finance, data, innovation, standards, partnerships, capacity and education, as well as communication and engagement. An Implementation Guide will provide detailed guidance to countries on implementing the various pillars of the framework. The Implementing Guide will be finalized by the Ninth Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM) in New York in August 2019.


Integrated Geospatial Information Framewor
Source: Integrated Geospatial Information Framework (World Bank and United Nations)

In parallel, the World Bank has started supporting countries to implement the framework at the national and local levels. Action plans were completed in the Palestinian territories at the national level and Albania for the city of Tirana, with more to come. Once the governments develop and approve their respective action plans, the World Bank will prepare to finance the implementation of such plans.

Country-level action plans include:

  • preparing draft laws and implementing regulations on geospatial information infrastructure;
  • establishing an institutional coordination mechanism;
  • creating data standards and data-sharing protocol;
  • building a national geo-portal to allow geospatial data sharing among government agencies and to private entities, taking into consideration privacy and data security as required by the law;
  • establishing a Geodetic Reference Framework and permanent Global Positioning System (GPS) core stations to allow for accurate measurements; and
  • collecting fundamental datasets that are necessary for the entire economy, such as street maps and addresses, cadastre/property data, topography, surface water, land use, protected areas, among others.

The action plan also addresses financing needs, including what should be funded by the government and what would make financial sense for private sector financing.

It may take years to establish the infrastructure for geospatial information, even for most advanced economies. For instance, the INSPIRE Directive, which regulates geospatial data in the European Union (EU), was adopted in 2008 and gives EU countries till 2022 to comply. Many of the countries are still far away from full compliance. Making progress may be a lengthy process, but we need to start somewhere.

This is the moment. The World Bank and the United Nations are committed to working together to advance the important agenda of geospatial information and technology for development. We have challenged ourselves to assist at least 30 countries in three years. We call on other partners in development to join us in this effort!



Wael Zakout

Senior Technical Advisor and Global Lead, Land Policy and Geospatial

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