Data: In order to facilitate and ease development planning and activities in the future, a project to develop a national geospatial data in the country is underway.

Implemented by the National Land Commission  Secretariat (NLCS) with financial assistance from JICA, the project began last year in February. The midterm review of the project was conducted yesterday in Thimphu among the stakeholders.

The project aims to develop a 1:25,000 digital topographical map covering 11,000 sq km in the southern region of the country. The project will cover eight dzongkhags in the region.

NLCs secretary Pema Chewang said that the country has been using the topographical base maps published in the 1960s, which are out-dated.

“With the pace of socio-economic development over the last 70 years, there are significant changes in the topography either through man-made or by natural calamities,” said Pema Chewang. “Unless and until, we have accurate topographical base maps, we are prone to making wrong decisions in the planning process.”

Project manager, Tenzin Norbu said that geospatial data are essential in designing and studying pre-feasibilities for construction of any kind of infrastructures. “Geospatial means location based data. For example a map or Google Earth can be considered geospatial.”

Tenzin Norbu said that the new 1:25,000 scale maps will be more accurate than the 1:50,000 maps that were used previously. “We have finished mapping the project area via satellite. The south-eastern part of the project area is also completed and by October the south-western part will be completed,” he said. “After satellite mapping, field validation is required for obtaining accurate data.”

Citing a review from the Survey of Bhutan (1981-86), NLCS director Yeshi Dorji said that any venture towards the country’s development would fail if accurate surveys of the land and reliable maps were not available to the policy makers, planners and administrators.

“Further the same review reads that the existing 1:50,000 scale maps were not suitable for planning and required 1:25,000 scale maps,” said Yeshi Dorji. “This was planned in 1986. We’re realising it only after 30 long years.”

He said the fact that the base maps were not updated and improved indicated that either people were not using the maps for planning or not planning at all.

“How we excel as a nation in few years will depend on how best we plan,” said Yeshi Dorji. “Our plans will invariably depend on the reliability of geospatial information that we have.”

Tenzin Norbu said that the project this time was focused on the southern region mainly because of the potential the area has in terms of both agriculture and infrastructure development.

“We are exploring measures to conduct similar projects in the northern part of the country. For this we are looking for donors.”

The project is fully supported by JICA at a cost of USD 5 million. The two-and-half-year project will be completed by September next year.

Younten Tshedup