The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) has established a forum aimed at enhancing the capacity of the media in the promotion, advocacy and awareness-creation of Geospatial Information Science (GIS) on the African continent.
Geospatial Information Science refers to the technology used for the measurement, analysis and visualisation of features or spatial phenomenon occurrences. For instance, in the mining and oil sector, resources on the earth's surface require sophisticated technology to discover, extract and manage and since mining and drilling of oil require accurate knowledge of the earth's surface and subsurface.
Geospatial technology is best suited for the exploration and extraction of mineral deposits.
Again, projects such as roads and waterways require geospatial technologies for planning, construction and implementation.
According to the UNECA, GIS and related disciplines are now commonly found as the driving force of many applications and services in socio-economic development, offering a different way in which information required to manage communities and economic activities are produced and used.
But unfortunately, one of the great impediments to the use of the technology in Africa and its contribution to development is the communication gap that exists among major actors and players within and outside the sector.
It said as a tool, the technology was enormously important for decision-makers across a wide range of disciplines, industries and sectors so there was the need for journalists in Africa to understand how geospatial technology supported the management of Africa's development.
It is based on this realisation that the UNECA organised a two-day training at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a select group of media professionals from Western, Eastern and Southern Africa, with the aim of improving the quality of geo-information.
The media professionals, after the training, endorsed the establishment of the forum for Geospatial Information Systems aimed at enhancing the capacity of the media to promote Geospatial Information advocacy and awareness on the continent and pledged to promote the creation of National Geospatial Science Journalists Association in their respective countries.
Speaking at the function, Miss Aida Opoku-Mensah, Director of the ICT, Science and Technology Division of the UNECA, noted that the wide usage of the technology in Africa could help influence the management of Africa's development.
Unfortunately, she said, the geo-information sector was not effectively communicating with the general public, leading to low adoption of geospatial science and technology in Africa and thereby its low contribution to development.
She noted that the technology was radically changing the way information was being used for development planning elsewhere in the world so Africa should embrace it fully.
"Too often, the geospatial sector loses itself in technicalities and language not familiar in management circles. Space is, therefore, insufficiently considered by senior managers as part of the economics," she added.
In the media field, for instance, geospatial data could provide rich information that could be combined with aerial photographs aligned and laid on maps to depict the location of natural resources such as oil and gas or gold, expected disaster-prone areas, the location of an unfolding event on a map, census or rating territories.
Again, data from the technology could be used for a visual analysis to inform readers or viewers of the exact location of an unfolding news item. As such, Ms Opoku-Mensah said the engagement of media professionals and researchers was vital to overcoming the communication gap.
Also, the technology could allow businesses to integrate customer locations with other enterprises or third parties.
Mr Mekonnen Teshome, President of the Ethiopian Association of Science Journalists (EASJ), said the organisation of the workshop "comes at the right time when we African Journalists are well organised and seeking better information on science and technology."
Mr Kwami Ahiabenu, Director of Penplusbytes and chairman of the meeting, said all over Africa, technology was playing an important role in transforming the life, society and economy of its nations.
Mr Sultan Mohammed, Director-General, Ethiopian Mapping Agency (EMA), in his keynote speech, emphasised the point that only societies using information efficiently and wisely would succeed in their development endeavours.