Thailand: Information Technology (It) Applications For Environmental Management

1999

Dr Helen Ross

Demands and opportunities are emerging rapidly for IT applications in Thai environmental management. There is a generous but dispersed supply of research data, which decision-makers find difficult to gather together for particular planning, development or environmental management purposes. Compilation of statistics on water resources, agricultural production, and village development is a huge task requiring explicit coordination. A number of government departments have commenced data sharing networks, for instance in the field of meteorological and water resources information. The practicality of sharing information will expand with the completion of the national Government Information Network, part of the government's capacity building in IT infrastructure and education through the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre. Mahidol University has produced a CD ROM database of environmental literature.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) enable data to be matched and compared according to location. Much of the government data collected on a time-series basis, or for specific planning investigations, lends itself to spatial presentation suitable for GIS. It is important that such systems be designed to cater for existing and affordable technology, recognising the high cost of powerful GIS programs, site licences, and the computers on which to run the programs. The Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Science, and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration are among agencies currently developing GIS.

There is also interest in simulating how environmental processes work, in order to anticipate the potential environmental and social outcomes of policy and management options. 'Models' of environmental processes enable efficient generalisation from places where one can measure all necessary data (for instance, rainfall, forest cover and streamflow), to places where less detailed data is available. Given problems of availability and reliability of data, environmental models need to be robust with limited data. The Royal Project Foundation, in collaboration with The Australian National University, is developing models which incorporate water and socio-economic processes, with GIS databases.

Equity considerations are emerging as a significant dimension in the development of Thailand's IT capacity. The national IT policy aims to build an equitable national information structure, in which the 'information superhighway' and its educational tools are accessible to all sectors of Thai society. Simplistic databases and models which ignore or deal poorly with human dimensions of such important public issues as deforestation, sustainable agriculture and water allocation, could support inadequate and publicly contentious decisions, and risk further distortion of existing power relationships in decision-making.

WATCHPOINT: Demands and opportunities are developing in the Environmental IT field, but further infrastructure development and research and development is necessary before workable systems become widespread.

 

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