Geographic Information System for a Sustainable World

17 Apr 2018 to 19 Apr 2018
Geneva, Switzerland


Event report/s:
Barbara Rosen Jacobson


This year’s GIS for a Sustainable World conference focused on the application of the geographic information system (GIS) to the ‘planet, people, prosperity, and peace’, in the context of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The participants were encouraged to learn about new technologies, explore new applications, share, collaborate, and communicate experiences.

Mr Einar Bjorgo (Manager, UNOSAT) opened the conference by stressing that the SDGs are ‘really about capacity development at the local level’. He added that unless countries adopt an integrated approach to the SDGs at the national level, it would be difficult to achieve them. GIS provides a way to get better at measuring what is done to ensure we can reach the goals.

In a keynote address, Ambassador Stefano Toscano (Director of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining) underscored the potential of GIS in humanitarian demining, as it can provide clarity on the location of explosive hazards and their proximity to populations and physical structures. He also stressed the importance of recognising interdependencies between the development and humanitarian sectors, and the interrelatedness of the SDGs, as ultimately, mine action is about building sustainable livelihoods. Therefore, ‘either we go interconnected or we go unsustainable’. GIS helps to visualise this complex environment and guides holistic decision-making.

Toscano’s address was followed by examples of cases where GIS is used in humanitarian and development contexts. Mr Cedric Vidonne (Information Officer, UNHCR) provided an example of a GIS storymap developed to communicate the situation of the Rohingya refugee crisis. By including interrelated elements in the context of the crisis, including health and disaster risk indicators, the storymap could help break silos between different humanitarian communities. Ms Nikki Paripovich-Stifle (GIS Manager at Kohler Company) explained how the Kohler Company fosters innovation and adopts an integrated approach to development around the world. Ms Chahine Hamza (ICT Manager) and Mr Kassem Chaalan (DRR Programme Manager, Lebanese Red Cross) presented the use of GIS at the Lebanese Red Cross, which is applied to disaster management, analytics, and the improvement of operations. Mr Mark Harvey (Founder and CEO of Resurgence) and Mr Sanjaya Bhatia (Head of ONEA-GETI, UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction) presented the ‘Make Cities Resilient’ campaign, which aims to create awareness of urban risk and make cities safer from disasters, and encourages urban planners to consider data as infrastructure that needs to be invested in, governed, and managed. Among other things, the campaign is developing an open data infrastructure roadmap for disaster resilience.

Finally, the conference’s sponsors – ArxIT, DigitalGlobe, Getech, and Blue Raster – were invited to briefly explain their work.

After discussing the management and technical aspects of GIS in breakout groups, the participants reconvened for a session on ‘People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace’.

Ms Sonja Betschart (Co-Founder and CEO, WeRobotics) explored the use of robotics, and in particular drones, for the benefit of aid, health, development, and environmental solutions. The organisation aims to create global solutions as well as local capacity in developing countries. Focusing on the use of drone data, Betschart mentioned some of the limitations and challenges of drone technology, as well as the importance of local capacity to make the most of the data.

Mr Ackbar Joolia (Data Manager, IUCN) explained how the organisation is using GIS to visualise the risk of extinction of different species in the context of its ‘Red List’, which is used for analysis, conservation planning, international conservation policies, influencing funding allocations, education and public awareness.

Ms Claudia Blagu (GIS Specialist, IRI IKEA) presented how the company is using GIS as a transparency tool in forest management for IKEA’s forests in the Baltics, Romania, and the USA. GIS allows for a better understanding of the property managed by IKEA and is a useful platform to share data transparently. Blagu indicated that the specific use of GIS differs from country to country, as each is characterised by different levels of data availability and quality.

Ms Nadika Senadheera (GIS Officer, World Food Programme (WFP)), explained how GIS is used by the WFP in delivering food assistance in emergencies. Maps are used for each operation, embedded in an emergency dashboard. She emphasised that maps and applications should follow needs, rather than the other way around.

The day was concluded by a practical exercise in field data collection using drones, to check the inventory of trees for Geneva’s Jardin Botanique.


The event 'Geographic Information System (GIS) for a Sustainable World' will be held on 17–19 April 2018 in Geneva, Switzerland. The event is being co-hosted by the United Nations Insitute for Training and Research's (UNITAR) Operational Satellite Application Programme (UNOSAT) and Esri.

Formerly called the GIS for the United Nations and International Community Conference, the event explores how the platform, ArcGIS, empowers the international community to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The 2018 edition of the event includes a GIS solutions expo and showcase, an interactive environment to drive collaboration among GIS peers, GIS management sessions, technical workshops, and a new track engaging the private sector to use GIS for sustainability. Topics to be discussed include, inter alia:

  • GIS infrastructure – best practices and challenges
  • Field data collection, drones, and monitoring operations
  • Web GIS in low/no bandwidth environments

Participation is geared towards professionals in the sustainable development community, but registration is by invitation only.

For more information, visit the event website.


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