ICIMOD, the Nepal-based NGO has launched MENRIS or Mountain Environment and Natural Resources' Information Systems, http//menris.icimod.net. It's a UNDP supported one-stop shop for geo-information on the Hindukush range. The idea of a geo-portal where everyone (except the government) pools their geographically pinned data-sets and information for others has been doing the rounds among Indian NGOs.
Collaborative geo-spatial websites face universal questions about operability, answers to which are only beginning to emerge. How do you standardise the information coming from numerous sources? What protocols are to be followed to ensure quality and integrity of information on a map? The biggest challenges faced by such portals, however, pertain to human failings.How do you make people share work when the academic world is pre-occupied with copyright issues?
The ICIMOD site offers a few maps and images. But for users of GIS, maps are only the end product of an immense mathematical databank which links geographical co-ordinates to some attribute. To attract them MENRIS shall have to ensure the portal becomes a warehouse of immense data. If it doesn't, chances are the effort shall fade into oblivion, like many before it. Let's hope that doesn't happen because at present there is no other institution in South Asia capable of attempting something like this.
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