By William Ysaguirre
Having geographic information of flood and fire risk to properties in flood-prone areas can help financial institutions make better risk management decisions and to better evaluate the value of properties offered as collateral, said Chief Operating officer Jose Cardona of British Caribbean Bank Holdings Ltd.
Cardona was addressing the opening of the fourth annual Geographic Information Systems (GIS) users’ conference at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel on Wednesday morning, May 7.
GIS information of population demographics and economic activity can also help the bank make more informed decision in its deployment of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) and its network of branches, Cardona noted. Land parcel GIS database can help banks map the location of land parcels held as collateral, and additional maps showing areas under sugar cane cultivation can also help the bank better assess the risk of floods to areas under agricultural production, and to loans made to assist farmers.
GIS also helps increase awareness of coastal communities, such as Gales Point, affected by beach erosion and sea level rise resulting from climate change, Cardona declared. GIS data also helps conservation agencies to better track deforestation, illegal logging, even illegal Xate poaching with map locations. Cardona also noted the importance of GIS data to tourism management, such as knowing the number of visitors accessing different tourism sites and attractions can better help to manage and plan the development of visitor amenities for these sites.
Flood and fire risk information by geographic location is equally useful to the National Emergency Management Organization, the Minister responsible for Labor and NEMO, Hon. Senator Godwin Hulse explained. Having data on population demographics in rural areas also helps in planning rural development, Hulse noted, and there is also the Belize Municipal Development Project, paving streets and building drainage which was planned using GIS data. Hulse admitted that many of the older heads in the Public Service have been slow to adopt the advances in technology, particularly information and communications technology.
With Belize Telemedia now offering 4G service, it’s so easy to share information, photographs and even video in real time. The new technology is changing the way we work, saving time, manpower and fuel. Hulse cited how emergency workers on the ground in Placencia were able to get images of a washed out roundabout to him using an iPad to help him make an informed decision without having to travel hundreds of miles down there.
The Dangriga Town Council is also using GIS data to identify property owners who owe the Council property taxes and so improve its tax collection and increase its revenues to provide services to residents, Dangriga Mayor Gilbert Swazo explained in his presentation.
GIS data is also helping Belize Electricity Ltd improve its service to customers, not just in dispatch of power, but also in making its street lighting more efficient, explained BEL engineer Rolando Santos and Navid Ahmadiyeh. The company is in the process of upgrading the nation’s entire street lighting network to Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting to make the system more energy efficient. This is of particular importance to BEL’s biggest client, the Government of Belize which pays the utility company for street lighting.
Having geographical data on the existing power distribution network, can be superimposed on a map of each town to show individual house lots It can also help the company process applications faster for new power supply installations to new customers, reducing the time from days and weeks to a single day for the prospective customer to get an estimate of the cost of the new installation.
The Sugar industry Research & Development Institute (SIRDI) is also using GIS data to develop a Sugar Industry Management Information System, explained SIRDI’s Jessamyn Ramos and Gregorio Canto.
The GIS data can also help bankers and insurance professionals manage their clients’ portfolios and assess risk, explained Juan Carlos Tarazona, ESRI’s Solutions Engineer for Latin America and the Caribbean.
ESRI’s Pamela Kershe explained how the GIS data can also be used in analyzing and accessing international markets, of particular interest to exporters and other entrepreneurs seeking to expand into export markets. Of course using the ESRI and GIS software does require a minimum internet speed, Tarazona recommended a minimum of 4 megabytes/sec bandwidth.
GIS uses are legion as Percival Cho Ph.D. of the Forestry Department explained how the technology is being used to help manage Belize’s forests.
GIS had an important role to play in the development of a computerized land records database, which in turn has important applications in urban planning. Juame Ruscalleda of the Ya’axche Conservation Trust also explained how they are using GIS in conservation management for sustainable development in Toledo.
Harry Noble of the Police Department explained how having GIS data on crime statistics is helping the department to better deploy its manpower to fight crime, with notable success in the reduction of murders compared to last year and 2012.
Meteorologist Frank Tench also explained how GIS is helping Belize map and anticipate weather patterns, manage flood control, and respond quickly to natural disasters.