The importance of spatial data

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We at the Namibia Statistics Agency produce various types of data, or statistics. The most common data or statistics we produce is economic and demographic information. Economic data mostly includes information on inflation, economic growth and trade statistics.

Inflation provides us with an insight on the changes in prices of goods and services. Economic growth indicators give us a snapshot on how our economy is performing. This is derived at by analysing how the different sectors, such as mining, agriculture etc, performed over a certain period of time. Demographic data concerns itself with statistics of the population and services that are provided and available.

However, there is one aspect of data not commonly known by all, but definitely some of the most important data around. This is known as spatial data. Spatial data concerns itself with information that makes reference to space. To put it simply, it is data or information that identifies the geographic location of features and boundaries.

It refers to data that has a component of location to it. For example, boundaries or borders are very good examples of spatial data. It would be unimaginable for Namibia not to know its boundaries as aligned to other countries. Such lack of information of spatial data, for example, could lead to chaos and instability.

Knowledge of what exists somewhere in any country is a very important means for government to plan, evaluate, monitor and execute development projects aimed at improving the socio-economic conditions of our societies. Our government utilises spatial or geographic information in many ways. These include, but are not limited to, spatial planning, disaster management, monitoring and evaluation, inventorying of government facilities, poverty mapping and analysis, as well as research and national security.

Due to this multifaceted nature of spatial data it is important for any government to build, conserve and safeguard its national spatial data. Fundamental spatial datasets typically have national coverage and are widely needed for a variety of purposes by many users. Government is the main producer and consumer of spatial data as part of its planning and decision making. Spatial data sets includes information on digital imagery, transportation, utilities such as power, telecommunication, water supply, sewerage, as well as education, health facilities and social services, just to mention a few.

The private sector, NGO’s and institutions of higher learning also produce spatial data. Because of the value and importance placed on spatial data, government included the development of a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) in the Statistics Act, No. 9 of 2011. This national spatial data infrastructure is a data infrastructure similar to a telecommunication infrastructure involving the technology, policies, standards, human resources, and related activities necessary to acquire, process, distribute, use, maintain and preserve spatial data.

The goals of the national spatial data infrastructure are to reduce spatial data duplication among public agencies, improve geospatial data quality and timeliness, and make access more widespread through partnerships with public and private agencies, as well as the general public.

The Namibia Statistics Agency is the coordinating body of different government agencies, while equally participating and contributing to this infrastructure. The National Spatial Data Infrastructure policy was gazetted in March and since then the NSA has developed a 5-year strategic plan to guide the implementation.

This Strategic Plan, approved by the Minister of Economic Planning and Director General recently, will be released to the public on Wednesday, November 4. From now on, there will be no excuse for not knowing which types of infrastructure can be found where in the country.

* Iipumbu Sakaria is the deputy director of strategic communication at the Namibia Statistics Agency.