SDI in North Africa

The term Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) refers to a collection of fundamental geospatial technologies, policies and institutional arrangements that encourages and improves the availability, access and exploitation of spatial data.  An SDI provides a framework for spatial data discovery, evaluation, and application for users and providers within all levels of government, the commercial as well as the non-profit sector, academia and individuals in civil society. SDIs comprise the main components of the wider information infrastructure of a nation or government, that is, agreed information standards, a requirement to create and publish metadata meeting these standards, and agreed policies on access to and reuse of spatial data, taking full account of current national practice regarding such policies.  SDIs can theoretically be developed at different scales and extents, for instance, at the largest scale a global SDI advances international cooperation between nations by facilitating data availability and accessibility through multi-lateral agreements on guiding principles.  On a smaller scale, any geographical unit defined by governments (districts, provinces, et cetera) having a common governance interest supported by a framework of fundamental spatial information could be considered an SDI.


In Africa, many countries have not been systematically mapped and only a few have maps covering their entire territory that can be adequately used for national development purposes. Generally, these maps and the associated data have been collected for the implementation of various development projects. However, this data often satisfies only the minimum requirement of the particular project and the data collection is done in a sporadic and uncoordinated manner with no intention of maintaining it. As a result the data generally become obsolete after the completion of the project and is often not accessible for purposes other than that of the project. This situation is negatively impacting upon effective decision making and development planning in Africa.


GPC group, a group of companies that provide geospatial consulting services and solutions globally, led an international team of consultants in the planning, design and initial implementation of the Libya Spatial Data Infrastructure (LSDI) initiative.  The LSDI was initiated formally in April 2006. The program was launched as a multiagency, collaborative process being coordinated by the Libyan Post, Telecommunications, and Information Technology Company (LPTIC), and under the leadership and guidance of the Chairman and the Chairman Advisory Committee. The first phase of the program is now complete, thanks to the cooperation and hard work of representative from the 17 government and institutional entities that have been most directly involved in this foundation building stage. With the successful completion of Phase 1, the LSDI program is now ready to move to the next stage of development to build towards a comprehensive national geospatial database network, to broaden the community of involved stakeholders, and to institutionalize information maintenance and sharing procedures across the government.


Definition and promotion of a national GI policy is lead by The National Council of Geographic Information (NCGI). Created in 1996, the NCGI constitutes a framework of dialogue for the activities relating to GI in Algeria. It is this Council who aims to integrate GI policy with the Algerian developments in Information Society activities, including activities relating to their NSDI. In terms of developing Algeria’s national GI capacity, the NCGI has engaged studies articulated around several features. Firstly, the production of GI has been explored in terms of standards, the amounts of information needed and the rate at which localised data is being used to cover the national territory. They have also been trying to determine what support structures would be needed to increase their capacity and what expertise exists in the Algeria. This has occurred alongside an examination of the operational means for the production of geographic information. The public sector has had a specific role in this capacity building activity, alongside the creation of the NCGI. Their activities have included workshops and seminars to show the importance of Geographic Information to the wider community; a space program which aims to partly produce large scale cartography. In contrast, the private sector activity is limited to selling GI software and hardware. In some senses, Algeria lacks strengths in the development and implementation of GI, with particular weaknesses in their GI Association, communication and education and no involvement with European policies and legal frameworks. The public institutions are felt to be making significant progress but it is the private sector, in particular, who are seen as supplying the necessary communication, coordination, education and awareness of GI to other sectors. The most ‘satisfactory’ developments have occurred in terms of governmental activities, in relation to regulatory and legal frameworks and public administration, with the provision of GI and their NSDI and financial resources also seen as adequate. Understanding such developments have to be seen in the context of international cooperation, with neighbouring countries and beyond. Algeria participates in a number of GI activities with their North African partners. In terms of cartographic and reference functions, Algeria plays a role in the Regional Centre of Remote Sensing of North Africa States and the Regional and African space geodesy project, which will help to define a new geodetic reference system in co-operation with the International Association of Geodesy. They are also active in the Regional Information Centre for Spatial Science and Technologies which provides a research role in the region. There is also activity in environmental matters and monitoring desertification in the region has included participation in the Sahara and Sahel Observatory. Finally, they are also member of the Information Committee for Development, which is related to the Economic Commission for Africa and provides a base for development for Algeria and her neighbours.


Although some data in Egypt exist in digital form, most organizations are still keeping their data as paper maps. Digital data are not available and even analogue data are not widely accessible. Although the description of metadata is an important aspect in developed countries, it is almost ignored in Egypt. Most spatial data is still not documented. Moreover, obtaining data from organizations is restricted by unnecessary formalities. For example, because the digitization of topographic maps is not allowed, the users are moving to illegal digitization.

SDI in Egypt is still immature with many bottlenecks yet to be resolved, such as poor of partnerships, lack of digital data and metadata availability, lack of clear institutional framework, absence of an access and sharing mechanism to search desired data, and lack of national standards. These drawbacks will demand a lot of effort and requires coordination from different organizations to solve them. As of 29th June 2010, there had been developed a portal for spatial data, Egyptian spatial Data Infrastructure portal. This was to be run by the Egyptian Geography Network which is a national network of geographic information users and providers. The portal and all the links on the page, however, are not accessible, as the site was last updated on 29th June 2010.

The role of the Egyptian Survey Authority (ESA)

ESA is a governmental organization responsible of the cadastre services, topographic services and maintain the geodetic network in Egypt, besides other services. ESA has its own standards for all steps in producing maps. It also has all the assets of the maps produced by ESA or by other organizations, so all geospatial data are in its own warehouse. It has produced their metadata for the topographic maps with its different scales. It also made the cadastral catalogue for the 26 government units. There is also the digital catalogue which gives information about all digital maps covered by the topographic sector or the cadastral sector. The topographic and digital catalogue is available at ESA shop. ESA is building its own clearing house to publish their metadata over it. This is the first step in introducing their market for the services and products over the clearing house.


Several departments are users of spatial data, mostly as hard copy, but increasingly, in a digital format. The two most significant organisations with respect to the creation, management and distribution of digital spatial data at a national level are the Administration of Land Conservation, the Cadastre and of Cartography and the Royal Centre for Remote Sensing (CRTS). Other departments involved in the creation of base digital spatial data are the Geology Directorate and the Statistics Directorate. The limited involvement of the private sector focuses largely on the development of specific applications.

The Department of the Prime Minister is creating a National council for Geographic Information (CNIG) that will develop the digital geographic information sector and put in place an institutional framework for the coordination of exchange procedures and the dissemination of digital spatial data. Currently the National Council for Cartography deals with aspects relating to mapping, while the National Council for Remote Sensing has recorded information concerning existent programs and base data developed by different departments. Both these committees’ research users’ needs and initiate programs in response to these needs.

Each institution is responsible for dissemination the data it produces. The CRTS provides information on the availability of digital spatial data and how data may be accessed through its website, A further project underway is the archiving and access system for digital data, which became operational in September 2000. A study is underway regarding metadata and procedures for access and utilisation of digital spatial data. There is an awareness of the role that the availability of metadata can play in minimising duplication in data capture and ensuring appropriate use of existing data. While standards in general are addressed by a component within the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which by and large adopts international standards, it is anticipated that the CNIG will form a working group to deal specifically with digital spatial data.


Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has been cooperating with the Tunisian government by providing technology transfers to assist in designing a national infrastructure for digital geographical data. Tunisian national geomatics program (GEONAT) website was officially launched on 26th April 2005. GEONAT is a national geomatics program that will provide Tunisia with a geospatial data infrastructure, making geomatics an important economic lever and establishes it as an activity that contributes to sustainable development. The website,, is still under construction.

As of 2008, Tunisia had initiated SDI development through legislation. Projects are on going to implement geographical databases alongside the creation of Geographical Repository and Spatial Data Warehouse especially in national organizations such as Agriculture and Environment. This will provide the framework for a Federated Research Project called the Global Information System Relative to the Air, the Earth and the Sea. The principal objective of this project is to offer the participants access to accurate and up-to-date data within the framework of Spatial Data Warehouse. The adopted steps consists of creation of National

Director of Geomatics office whose mandate is the identification geomatics programs and actions that should be concretised in the short and medium terms within the framework of implementing an information infrastructure as an important engine for socio-economic in the country.


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